Whether it was hosting a fundraiser for a children’s hospital or making costumes for the middle-school musical, Kimberlee Billok always had a knack for helping out with a smile.
The Saratoga Springs mother of three worked as a preschool teacher at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and was a leader for the local Girl Scouts, two roles where her passion for helping children shined brightly. And she carried an indomitable spirit into all her pursuits — a sense of eternal optimism that never diminished even when she faced almost insurmountable odds.
“She was just incredible,” said Michael Billok, her husband of nearly 18 years. “She was always so positive. She would always try to look at the bright side of a situation.”
Even when diagnosed with a rare, extremely aggressive form of cancer in October, Billok remained upbeat, her friends and family recalled. Rather than dwell on her very slim chance of surviving the disease, Billok embraced her faith and the happiest moments of her life.
“The attitude she had was like I’m fighting this to the very end,” said the Rev. Paul Borowski, pastor of St. Clement’s Catholic Church, where Billok was a frequent lector at Mass. “She didn’t ever lose hope and she never lost her sense of humor.”
Billok died on Saturday after a 31⁄2-month battle with mesothelioma. She was 42.
Originally from Massachusetts, Billok received a master’s degree in elementary education from Trinity University in Washington, D.C., during the same year she married her husband, who was then serving in the U.S. Navy. The couple initially came to Saratoga Springs in 2000, but moved away two years later. They returned in 2010 after her husband left the service and took a job with an Albany law firm.
Billok took a teaching job at St. Paul’s and quickly demonstrated her ability to elevate the church’s young students. Pastor Adam Wiegand recalled her as a very focused and compassionate educator who never hesitated to help out a child or family having a problem.
Jennifer Rooney, who worked as Billok’s teacher’s assistant for four years, recalled her friend and colleague as someone who was deeply committed to her children. Even as her health started to falter last fall, Billok continued to show concern for her class.
“When she was at home, she was still wanting to be involved with how the kids were doing and making sure I had everything I needed to keep the kids on track in class,” Rooney said.
Billok also helped St. Paul’s efforts to help children of the backstretch workers at Saratoga Race Course. The church hosted a program that provided the workers a place to send their preschool-aged children during the workweek.
“Kim was just a true dynamo for children,” Wiegand said.
With the Girl Scouts, Billok was a role model to both her children and other volunteers, said Linda Baker, the Saratoga Area’s community chairwoman. She had a knack for helping Scouts reflect on their experiences and learn in a way that enriched their lives.
“She was an incredible leader at the council level and the community level as well,” she said. “The impact she had on the girls is most important in all of our hearts.”
Billok also wasn’t shy about getting involved with causes. She and a neighbor hosted a backyard pizza party to raise $3,000 in aid for the relief effort following Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The fundraising effort continued the following year when a young girl in her neighborhood fell ill with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Billok helped host pizza parties that raised $12,000 in 2013 and $20,000 last year for the Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center, which had treated her neighbor.
The fundraiser in October came after Billok had been sick for several months and just days before her cancer diagnosis. Her husband recalled her being physically weak at the time, but remaining undeterred from hosting the event.
“She was barely eating at the time and took a nap,” he recalled. “Then she manned the check-in and silent auction in a way that you would have never known she was sick.”
Billok became known as the “costume lady” because she always offered her craftsmanship to outfit the young students participating in the annual musicals at the Lake Avenue Elementary School at the Maple Avenue Middle School, among other productions, her husband said. Even as she reached the final stages of her disease this winter, Billok still wanted to help.
“She lit up any room she was in,” he said. “She could make anybody feel at home and at ease. . . . I can’t’ even begin to describe how much I loved her. She was just incredible.”
In addition to her husband, Billok is survived by her daughters, Maddie and Grace, and her son, Sam; her parents, Ed and Della Latta; her brother Tim and his wife, Jocelyn, and their children, Maren, Sidney, Miles, and Juliet of Ashburn, Va., and her brother Joe and his wife, Laura, of Ellicott City, Md.
Calling hours will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the William J. Burke and Sons Funeral Home, 628 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs. A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Clement’s Catholic Church, 231 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs. Burial will follow at St. Peter’s Cemetery, 150 West Ave., Saratoga Springs.
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