Moosic resident Michael Meoni may have lost his year-and-a-half battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia on Aug. 29, but just weeks after his passing, those who knew him, and many who didn't, will celebrate his memory.
Patrick Martin of Scranton met Meoni, a geometry teacher at Lakeland Junior/Senior High School, about a year ago through mutual friends and his sister Kimberly, who donated stem cells in hope of curing Meoni's disease.
Martin had never before met anyone so young with cancer but was struck by how much Meoni cared for others' problems outside of his own. Meoni was only 27 when he passed away and was married not even a year.
"It sounds cliche, but he was a very caring person. He was a fighter, and he was strong," Martin recalled.
"He liked to teach. He was good with kids. Even though he would have problems, he was willing to listen to you and talk to you about something that happened at work. It wasn't always about him. He was always friendly and outgoing. I've known other people like that, but in that situation, I couldn't imagine I would be the same way, to tell you the truth."
When he found out what Kimberly was doing for her brother, Martin felt compelled to help out in any way he could, so he quickly began organizing a benefit to help the Meoni family pay for medical bills.
"I'm one of these people who cannot stand by and let things happen around me like that. There's no way to fix it, so this is the second best thing to me," he emphasized.
Martin immediately recruited his six-member improvisational comedy group Here We Are In Spain to participate and before he knew it, he had an eclectic line-up consisting of juggler and magician Michael Simon, Brendan Regan on acoustic guitar, fellow comedy troupe Unorganized Business Ensemble and indie rock band A Fire With Friends.
Local businesses, such as Pizza by Pappas, Canada Dry-Royal Crown, Fratellis Pizza and Pasta House, Steve & Irene's Hoagies, Comics On the Green, Embassy Vinyl and Penn Foster all donated free food, fliers, gift cards and baskets for $1 raffles.
"Everyone was on board almost instantly. It really made me believe that people care," Martin beamed. "Everybody was so willing to do it. I was so blown away by it."
His hope is that the variety of acts scheduled for Sept. 15 at the AFA Gallery, 514 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton, will attract the largest amount of people possible.
"That's why we're doing two shows, an 8 p.m. and a 10 p.m. If juggling and magic are not your thing, then maybe music is your thing. If music is not your thing, maybe comedy is. My goal is to get about 100 people per show and tickets have been selling well already," he explained.
"Every group brings something different to it, which is nice. Just knowing the acts, if you decide to go to both shows, you're going to see two completely different shows."
The funnyman is also looking forward to his group's part of the evening.
"If you like shows like "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" that's basically what we do. We go to the audience for a suggestion, and based on your suggestion we create a scene. I want to ask all the people who are coming out to bring suggestions. Bring your goofiest and silliest things; throw them at us. We like things that we don't normally get," he noted.
"I love entertaining. I love being on stage…I also like not having to memorize any scripts. It's like homework."
The most important part of the night, however, is supporting a cause that has touched many throughout the Northeastern Pennsylvania community.
"One, it's a great cause, so you're not going to lose money, so to speak. Two, it's great entertainment. Three, there's going to be free food at intermission at both shows. You can't pass that up!" he enthused.
"It's not only been a good experience getting to know Mike and his family, but putting this together has been a great experience…I'm really excited about the show and I can't wait to see what happens."
What: "Laughter with a Purpose: A Celebration of the Life of Michael Meoni"
Where: AFA Gallery, 514 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton, Secod floor
When: Saturday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Cost: $20; $1 raffle tickets or six for $5 and 13 for $10