Updated: March 24, 2021 06:10 PM
Created: March 23, 2021 11:00 PM
(ABC 6 News) - Mike Quackenbush loved his sister Liz.
She helped him break out of his shell as an introvert and helped people who needed it most, Mike said.
On March 3, Liz was found dead in New Orleans. Police suspect her boyfriend Preston Higgs fatally stabbed her. He's still on the run.
Mike said he's opening about Liz because it's important for people to know who she was.
"She obviously had a big heart," Mike said.
You only need to spend a minute with Mike Quackenbush to understand how much he looked up to his little sister Liz.
"She brought energy into every room she entered and she was a lot of fun to be with," Mike said. "We understood each other."
Liz was Mike's best friend and inspired him to lift other people up. Just like she did to students as a former science teacher for Rochester's Alternative Learning Center.
"I would say that's where she really spread her wings as an educator," Mike said.
Mike and old colleagues said Liz did more than help students pass class. She helped them see their worth. Her impact could still be felt years after she left for New Orleans in 2019.
"She cared about the people who needed it," Mike said.
Mike talked to Liz almost everyday. Nearly three weeks after her murder, he hasn't stopped.
"I still do. Everyday," Mike said. "Everyday."
It was the dream for Mike, his wife, mom, Liz, and Preston - the man now wanted for her death - to live together in Austin, TX someday, he said.
"I will tell you that I loved Preston like a brother," Mike said. "We welcomed him in, with full knowledge of his past, to our family. That's part of what makes it so painful."
Since Liz's death, friends, some who Mike hasn't talked to in decades, keep reaching out.
"That's what keeps us going," he said.
The grieving will never stop but neither will Mike's commitment to carry Liz's legacy by helping others just as she did.
Liz was a graduate of Mayo High School in Rochester. Old colleagues at the Rochester ALC are honoring Liz with projects she was passionate about.
Liz was 39-years-old.
Katie Sloan, former colleague and friend, said she felt an instant connection meeting Liz.
“I saw her and thought, ‘We are going to be friends,’” Sloan said. “She just had this way about her and I thought her last name was cool.”
While their personalities differed, Sloan said they complemented each other.
Sloan and Liz started the Green Thumb Initiative at the ALC. The program helps students gain real-life experiences through gardening and other outdoor activities. It eventually gained national recognition shortly after its launch.
The two looked at the program as a responsibility to help students obtain the academic, professional and personal skills needed to succeed beyond the classroom, Sloan said.
“We owe it to these kids,” Sloan said. “It was our most passionate pursuit.”
The program also advocates for food justice. This summer, Sloan said projects related to the program will be dedicated to honor Liz’s passions which will include continued food distribution through partnerships.
“I miss my friend so much,” Marian Holtorf-Jewell, former colleague and friend, said. “I think about how grateful I was to have her in my life.”
Holtorf-Jewell said Liz always challenged colleagues to be the best educator they could be. She said Liz was constantly asking questions to help the team grow and simply because she cared so much about her students.
Beyond the academic side, Liz would always remember little details about her students’ lives, she said. Liz has left such a mark – former students continue to reach out to staff and plan to be involved with summer programs in her honor, Sloan said.
“She saw their greatness,” Holtorf-Jewell said. “I was in awe of stuff she was doing.”
Staff held a moment to grieve together and share stories about Liz at the ALC. Sloan said Liz has taught her to be stronger and braver as a result of her influence.
“Her impact will be felt for years to come,” Sloan said.
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