Kaleb's Christmas wish for pal's gravestone coming true

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Monument Center, Inc. sand blaster Mike Daniels, of Troy, removes a rubber stencil from the granite face of the headstone for Kenneth "KJ" Gross.

It's beginning to look a lot like a 12-year-old boy's Christmas wish for his friend will come true.

Kaleb Klakulak began collecting deposit bottles and doing odd jobs a few weeks ago to pay for a gravestone for Kenneth “K.J.” Gross, who died May 1 of congestive heart failure. K.J. was 12, and had battled cancer since infancy. 

Kaleb, who lives in Romeo, said he was compelled to raise the money after he found out K.J.'s mom, LaSondra "San" Singleton, couldn't afford a headstone because she had quit her job to care for her sick son. 

Kaleb's mom, Kristy Hall, helped him set up a PayPal account for donations. His goal was to raise the money in time for Singleton to visit her son's marked grave during the holidays.

Mission accomplished — and then some.

Best friends Kenneth "K.J." Gross, left, and Kaleb Klakulak.

Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield donated a headstone after the owner read a Detroit News story about Kaleb’s efforts to raise the money.

"I'm glad," Kaleb said of the donation.

The marker was finished Tuesday, and is to scheduled to be transported Wednesday to K.J.'s gravesite at Detroit's Elmwood Cemetery.

"The story really touched my heart," Ira Kaufman owner David Techner said. "Here's this 12-year-old kid who saw a need and did what needed to be done. So I'm just following this young man's lead."

Monument Center, Inc. sand blaster Mike Daniels, right, of Troy, removes a rubber stencil from the granite face of the headstone of Kenneth "KJ" Gross as Monument Center, Inc. owner Dave Huber, left, of Waterford, and David M. Techner, center, of Birmingham, owner and funeral director of the Ira Kaufman Chapel, in Southfield, talk to a reporter. Techner helped pay for the headstone.

There initially was a concern because Elmwood Cemetery's policy is to hold off installing new gravestones until spring. But late Tuesday, Elmwood general manager Bonita Smith said she waived the rule to help make Kaleb's Christmas wish a reality.

The News' story of Kaleb's quest to raise money for his pal's headstone went viral, with media outlets as far away as China picking it up. K.J.'s mother, who has five children and is caring for a mother with Alzheimer's disease, said the response has been both uplifting and sad.

"I am very much overwhelmed and grateful," said Singleton, a Warren resident who works as a school cafeteria server. "But I’ve had to relive it so much these last few days with everyone wanting to talk about it. It's hard.

"But my 19-year-old son reminded me what I said when K.J. passed," Singleton said. "He told me, 'You said you wanted the world to know his story. When you ask God for something, sometimes you'll get it, but it won't be as easy as you'd like.' So I need to listen to my son."

The headstone, which Singleton picked out Monday, bears the inscription "KJ Gross, cherished son, brother & friend," next to a drawing of an angel holding a heart. The marker was made by Monument Center Inc. in Ferndale, which contracts with Ira Kaufman.

This is the finished headstone for KJ Gross.

"I'm just happy to be a part of this," said Monument Center employee Mike Daniels, who helped make the headstone. "It's a wonderful story." 

Kaleb and K.J. met in second grade and became best friends. After K.J. was hospitalized in January with heart problems brought on by years of chemotherapy, Kaleb visited him in Children's Hospital weekly. They'd sit in the hospital room for hours most Tuesdays, painting and playing video games.

After The News covered Kaleb's fundraising efforts, Techner was one of eight funeral home representatives who volunteered to donate a headstone. In addition, donations poured into Kaleb's PayPal account. 

Hall said all the money raised will be given to Singleton. She also said she wasn't surprised by her son's generosity.

"It's extraordinary to everyone else, but ordinary to me," she said. "I'm very proud of him. My mom would bring him the toy catalog at Christmas, and he'd come back and have toys circled for everyone else. My mom would say, 'no, tell me what you want.'

"Someone asked me if I was surprised that Kaleb wanted to do this, and I said, 'absolutely not. Not even a little.' I am surprised at how this took off. It amazes me. It's a little surreal."

Although Singleton said all the attention given to K.J.'s death has reopened old wounds, she said the experience has also been inspiring.

"It's a double-edged sword because it's sad, but at the same time, it's so wonderful to see so much compassion," she said.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN