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October 27, 1990 — June 12, 2008

By Liz Premo, Atlantic News Staff Writer

[The following article is courtesy of the Atlantic News]

HAMPTON — Tears mingled with laughter and treasured memories were shared at a Celebration of Life service held in honor of 17-year-old Lara Bunce, the Winnacunnet High School junior who died unexpectedly at home the morning of Thursday, June 12.

The sanctuary at Bethany Congregational Church in Greenland was filled to capacity on Monday afternoon of this week, when family and friends gathered to remember the golden-haired girl with the dazzling smile, strong athletic abilities and “beautiful and contagious spirit.”

Seated in the front row was Lara’s mother and father, Jennifer and Graham Bunce, and her sisters Kristina (Bunce) Zigler and Kiley Bunce. They were surrounded by other family members and some of Lara’s closest friends.

Lara’s image – a photo taken the day of her junior prom – smiled down from a pair of video screens high on the walls at the front of the sanctuary. A small contingent of friends, family and coaches took turns sharing their favorite memories from behind the podium. “Lara was such an amazing friend,” said Gigi Dawson, who spoke after a trio of WHS students performed “There You’ll Be” in piano and voice. Andrew Dawson, Gigi’s father and Lara’s soccer coach, recalled how he wondered where Lara developed her strength and courage on the playing field.

After spending time with the Bunce family in the previous difficult days, said Andrew, “I am very sure of where that strength and courage came from.”

He drew a ripple of laughter from everyone when he admitted he “took some secret comfort” assuring opposing soccer coaches that the “blonde fireball” they asked him about was most certainly on his team.

Lara Bunce
October 27, 1990,
June 12, 2008

WHS Coaches Jay Damren, John “Hodge” Hodsdon and Tina Fowler each reminisced about Lara’s steadfast determination and athleticism (the weekend before she died, Lara and her 4x100m relay team mates ran to victory, earning a spot at the New Englands track and field meet in Saco, Maine).

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Coach Damren. “Lara had the will and she found a way.” He added, “Lara, I love you, I miss you already … and I’ll never forget you.”

Relating a humorous tale of an icy bus ride the team had experienced during one away meet, Coach Hodge recalled how Lara “always had a way of coming through when it really counted.”

Coach Fowler remembered her as “a special person” with “a zest for life .. a spunkiness … a certain feistiness …” who was “always thinking of others before herself.”

Liz Clausen, Lara’s aunt, shared how “I know Lara lives on” in “the passion, and the spark and the joy she brought to so many.” Another aunt, Kathy Mack, said Lara “created love. That is her strength … It’s all about Lara and it’s about love.”

Tears and laughter flowed as Lara’s sisters related their own special memories of “our angel … our beauty queen … our gum-chewing champ … the thief of all of our clothes … our travel buddy … our genius who I had to write the occasional essay for … my blonde twin … our best friend … our baby sister … my love, my Lara.”

“She touched so many people,” said Graham Bunce, recalling his daughter’s gift of “unconditional love” and “everything our daughter gave to all of us … If you want to know what Lara’s monument is, take a look around you today – and smile.”

These heartfelt comments were followed by a slideshow presentation that captured Lara’s life from the time she was a very small child to the weeks before she died. Musical selections (including “Lara’s Theme” from “Doctor Zhivago” and “Bittersweet Symphony”) played while scenes from family get-togethers, sporting events, school activities and fun times with others were projected on the screens. The montage left many weeping quietly.

Bethany Church’s Rev. Dr. Dirk Rodgers offered clothing thoughts and prayers before inviting everyone to a reception in Fellowship Hall, where more photos were displayed and guest books were available for signing.

Both Jennifer and Graham Bunce said they were touched by the amazing outpouring of love and support shown by the community in the wake of their daughter’s passing. Others who knew her offered their own memories of Lara and how she touched their lives.

“She was extremely smart … she had a fantastic attitude, and was very outgoing,” said Brian Kimball, a fellow track and field teammate who recalled the incredible sadness and shock he and his fellow students experienced when they first heard the news. “She was always happy, and very selfless. My heart goes out to the family and close friends. I’m praying for them.”

“I remember Jennifer coming in here with her little princess, and that smiling face with the golden curls,” said Nita Niemczyk, who worked closely with the Bunce family as Hobbs House volunteers. “It’s beautiful when you see mom and daughter volunteer together.” With hearty approval from the Bunce family, Niemczyk and fellow volunteer Patty McKenzie are currently spearheading a special project: To place a granite memorial bench, engraved with Lara’s name, in a spot on the WHS campus overlooking the track oval. Donations are currently being accepted for both the bench and for a future scholarship fund, to be given in Lara’s name.

Those in the community who are interested in remembering Lara Bunce with the bench can send a check to Friends of Winnacunnet Foundation , PO Box 1002, Hampton, NH 03843; donations for the scholarship can be sent to Winnacunnet High School, 4 Alumni Drive, Hampton, NH 03842.

These tangible memories will long be shared by those who knew and loved Lara, whose message to all was “Life is too short to be anything but happy.”

“Even in that brief amount of time [with us], Lara was someone to be treasured,” said Niemczyk. “She was a golden girl.”

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