KJ Gross and Kaleb Klakulak became best friends in second grade. Kristy Ha;;/Facebook
KJ Gross and Kaleb Klakulak became best friends in second grade. Kristy Hall/Facebook

Keri Guten Cohen
JN Story Development Editor

Kaleb Klakulak, 12, has a wish for Christmas — he wants to buy a gravestone for his best friend’s unmarked grave. Kenneth “KJ” Gross, 12, died May 1 from leukemia and heart failure; his mother was unable to afford a gravestone.

Kaleb, who met KJ in second grade, has been working odd jobs and redeeming pop bottles to gather money for the gravestone. It was reported that he already has given KJ’s mother $900. Late last week, he got an invaluable assist.

David Techner, funeral director at Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield, arranged a meeting with Kaleb, his mother, Kristy Hall of Romeo, and KJ’s mother, LaSondra Lorraine Singleton of Warren, and her daughter at Monument Center Inc. in Ferndale.

There, Singleton picked out a black gravestone with gray engraved writing. Techner and David Huber, owner of Monument Center, together will supply the gravestone for KJ’s gravesite at Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit and have it placed by Christmas, Techner said.

David Techner

He was moved by a story about Kaleb and KJ’s strong friendship that ran Dec. 6 in the Detroit News. The story, written by George Hunter, described the incredible relationship between the two boys, which included Kaleb coming to the hospital often to visit with KJ to watch TV and play video games. Near the end of KJ’s life, the story said, Kaleb had a doctor’s special permission to visit in the ICU where juveniles usually are not allowed.

When asked why he stepped up to provide the gravestone, Techner said, “I was just following Kaleb’s example. He touched my heart. I watched CNN Heroes the other night and all those stories are remarkable, but none touched me like Kaleb working to buy a stone.”

And there’s another reason. Techner knows the pain of losing a child. His daughter, Alicia, died at 8 months and 1 day. Today, she would have been 41 years old.

“We belong to a really lousy club,” Techner said of Singleton. “I was fortunate enough to be able to bury my child in a family plot and put up a marker. I can’t imagine the pain of not being able to put a marker up; but with no funds, it becomes a challenge.”

David Techner

Techner is grateful for Huber’s partnership as well. Huber and his staff prepared the gravestone quickly. Now, with Detroit Mayor Duggan’s assistance, the gravestone is expected to be placed Wednesday, Dec. 12.

At the meeting at Monument Center, Techner says there were many different emotions going on, and lots of hugs and tears. “Kaleb was shy,” he said, “but you could tell he had pride in making this happen.”

Techner said Singleton told him, “Sadly, this will be the greatest Christmas gift I ever receive.”