'An inspiration to all': Ridgewood mourns teen who prompted COVID Cheer Up Mission

·3 min read

RIDGEWOOD — The village high school graduate who inspired classmates to alleviate his COVID-related isolation with a "Cheer Up Mission" and parade last year succumbed to his lifelong struggle with chronic illness Monday.

Michael Alters, 19, will be remembered at funeral services Friday as a "fighter," said Benjamin Franklin Middle School Assistant Principal Greg Wu.

"He was pretty much in every club I had in middle school," Wu said.  "He was an instructor with the Junior Police Academy. He was a DJ who saved one of my dances in October. Definitely a tech kid."

Ridgewood schools will close Friday for the holiday weekend, but Wu said he and other school officials were organizing a lineup of municipal vehicles and students to honor Alters' funeral cortege when it passes by Ridgewood High School at about 9:45 a.m.

Michael Alters, during the "Cheer Up Mission" parade outside his home last year. The Ridgewood High graduate died on Monday after a long battle with chronic illness.
Michael Alters, during the "Cheer Up Mission" parade outside his home last year. The Ridgewood High graduate died on Monday after a long battle with chronic illness.

Alters had suffered from a chronic disease since he was a baby and spent most of high school in and out of the hospital. Early last year, friends and family said they could see his condition deteriorating as he struggled with the isolation of the pandemic.

So the school community orchestrated a "Cheer Up Mission" for Alters in March 2021, with a drive-by celebration at his Pershing Avenue home, a video tribute and even an a cappella performance by the Maroon Men, Ridgewood High's singing club.

"It was a hard year," Alters, then a senior, said at the time. "I wasn't in school that much. I honestly didn't really think people would care this much about me, but it was really exciting to see that everyone showed up and cared."

His mom, Randa Alters, said Michael dealt with a variety of medical problems including an immune disorder, kidney failure, and lung and liver disease.

Bryan Chang, the 2021 class president, said the community gathered $1,200 in donations within 24 hours of posting notice of Alters' death on the class webpage. Part of the money will go for flowers, with the rest donated to the family, he said.

"He just wanted to be like everyone else," Chang said. "I knew him from sixth grade, but it wasn't until high school I realized he had a lot of health issues."

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Chang said his favorite memory of Alters came at last spring's senior prom, when a group of classmates "carried Mike around on a chair, like it was bar mitzvah."

"He didn't need a wheelchair or anything, we just did it. He was smiling," Chang said.

"Michael always had a positive attitude, and we loved seeing his smiling face in school," said Ridgewood Schools Superintendent Thomas Gorman.  "He was an inspiration to all of us and will be remembered forever."

Alters is survived by his parents, Pierre and Randa Alters, brother Anthony and sister Maria.  A family relative declined to comment on their behalf.

Funeral arrangements are through C.C. Van Emburgh Funeral Home, 306 E. Ridgewood Ave., Ridgewood, where visitation will be held Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m.

Services for Alters will be held Friday at 11 a.m. at St. John II Maronite Catholic Church, 199 N. Broadway in Sleepy Hollow, New York, followed by burial at Maryrest Cemetery at 770 Darlington Ave. in Mahwah.

Marsha Stoltz is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: stoltz@northjersey.com

Twitter: @marsha_stoltz

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Ridgewood High School mourns teen who inspired COVID Cheer Up Mission