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Students honor remarkable teacher who died of breast cancer

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

When Ana Lopez passed away last December her family was devastated, but even they had no idea her passing would have such a deep impact on a young student at the Mesa school where she taught.

To her family and friends, Lopez was a crack-up, a larger-than-life presence who lit up the room the moment she walked in the door.

That was especially true of the students at Hawthorne Elementary School where she worked for 19 years.

She knew them all  by name, and in the case of Robert McVey, she developed a friendship when she would wait with him for his mother to pick him up from school.

Last December she lost her battle with breast cancer. It was news that shook the school to its core.

When Robert heard the of the fundraising effort for a memorial at the school, he showed a selflessness rarely found in a 10-year-old.

"I told them I wanted to empty my piggy bank," Robert said.

Taking on extra chores to boost his allowance, he raised a respectable $30.

But after his grandmother called CBS 5, the Pay It Forward program added $500 to the fund and arranged for Robert to pay it forward to her family.

"I wanted to be here today because Mrs. Lopez was very important to me, so we just wanted to pay it forward to Mrs. Lopez," Robert said.

"She was my life. She meant everything to me and my kids. Every time I talk about her, I get emotional. It's a big loss. It's a really huge loss," her husband, Ruben Lopez, said.

The gift will provide the funds for a tree and a bench in her memory and will be a permanent fixture on school grounds.

"It's hard for me but it is great. It's a good feeling also because it shows me what we already knew - that she had a lot of friends. A lot of people loved her," Ruben Lopez said.

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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