KJ Gross and Kaleb Klakulak sit at a table and smile. One black boy and one white boy with red hair, both with glasses
Credit: Kristy Hall/Facebook - KJ Gross and Kaleb Klakulak met in second grade and became best friends.

Donors step in to help 12-year-old supply gravestone for his best friend.

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. He already has given KJ’s mother $900. Late last week, he got an invaluable assist.

David Techner - male with beard and glasses smiles in suit
David Techner Jackie Headapohl | Detroit Jewish News

David Techner, a 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, said Techner, who has been flooded by texts and emails about the story.

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 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 following Kaleb’s example. He touched my heart.”

There’s another reason, too. Techner knows the pain of losing a child. His daughter, Alicia, died at 8 months. She would have been 41 years old today.

KJ Gross's tombstone reading "cherished son brother & friend Jan. 4, 2006 - may 1, 2018
David Techner

“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.”

Techner is grateful for Huber’s partnership as well. Huber and his staff prepared the gravestone quickly. In fact, with assistance from Detroit Mayor Duggan and his office, the gravestone was placed on KJ’s grave 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.”

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