Cheri Lea, age 65, of Elkhart, Indiana, passed away on Saturday, November 27, 2021. She is survived by her loving husband of 34 years, Brent Lea, and her three sons: Marc Stephen (Kala) Cave, of Elkhart; Christopher Jay Lea, of Manila, Philippines, and Dr. Michael Brent (Lauryn) Lea, of St. Louis, MO. Cheri had six grandchildren: Aliya Coquillard, Madison Coquillard, Trista Cave, Karaleena Cave, Tatum Troyer, and Archer Brent Lea. Cheri is also survived by her sisters, Marcey (Paul) Corey of Florida, Patti (Bruce) Tehan of Indiana, and Cathey (Jeff) Weidmann of Minnesota.
She was born on February 3, 1956, in Elgin, Illinois to Jack and Imogene Cushing, who preceded her in death along with her brother, John Cushing, and her mother-in-law, Christine Lea. Cheri graduated from Arlington Heights High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois, in 1974. After high school, she attended Augustana College in Illinois and graduated from Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) with a B.S. and M.S. Degree in Special Education. After her master’s degree, she became a computer instructor for the summer school program for special education student teachers at IUSB.
Cheri retired from the Elkhart Community School Corporation in 2013, where she worked as a special education teacher at Mary Daly Elementary School. Her hard work and dedication, together with the cooperation of her principals, built the special education department from a half-day program into a full-day service for the students. Throughout her career, she also worked at Elkhart Memorial High School, Northside Middle School, Pierre Moran Middle School, and the Horizon School for special education. As a long-time member of the First Presbyterian Church of Elkhart, she also taught Sunday school to young adults and teenagers with special needs.
Out of the classroom, Cheri was a passionate swimming and basketball coach. She taught swimming at the former Elkhart YMCA, where she coached a young Lindsay Benko, who went on to win gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Cheri was her biggest fan and organized a group of students to meet Benko at the airport when she returned from the Games. As a former Girl Scout, Cheri also worked several summers as a camp swim instructor and lifeguard.
While coaching girls’ basketball at Northside, Cheri played every girl on the team, even in tournaments. She was concerned in every player’s development and believed they would only improve by playing; she coached to bring the star out in each and every player. Along with coaching girls’ basketball at Northside and Mary Daly, Cheri was also a counselor and coach at ADEC. At ADEC, Cheri coached their Special Olympic swimming team. She attended many Special Olympic events with her students all over the state through the years and was proud of their efforts, no matter the outcome.
Cheri would often see her former students and their families while out in public, while others would often call her just to say hello and chat. Cheri was an active mother to her children and was devoted to their various activities, including sports, art, music and Cub/Boy Scouts, where she was a den mother to her son’s troops. When a teammate of her son Marc’s was called for active duty, Cheri organized for her students to write letters and send care packages to him until he returned from Iran. Cheri was loved by her students, as well as all of us.
There was a celebration of her life at the Hartzler-Gutermuth-Inman Funeral Home in Elkhart, Indiana, on Friday, December 3, 2021, from 5:00-7:00 PM. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to The Special Olympic Programs at ADEC in Elkhart, Indiana. Online condolences can be made to Hartzler Gutermuth-Inman Funeral Home via https://www.hartzlergutermuthinman.com.
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