January 29, 2014

Remembering Brian..by Julie Hoerth

A lot of times, when I'm blogging, I'm just whipping up a post in about twenty minutes. My brain moves faster than I can type, and the words never capture all the details I want to include. They are imperfect, like everything else in this life, and that's ok. This post is especially imperfect, because I could never say everything I wanted on this topic. Never in a million words. Sometimes, emotion is just too big to define.

Last week, January 23rd marked what would have been the 37th birthday of Brian.

Brian is the brother of my friend, Kim. Kim and I met in the first grade, and being her friend was a no-brainer. She was sweet and kind and funny. She had huge glasses that I was jealous of and a Barbie dream house that we played with for hours on end. Her mom filled us up with the best after-school snacks, and her older brother Brian let us follow him around and watch Back to the Future with him when we grew bored of singing and dancing with the Mickey Mouse Club. As we got older, Brian taught us how to play pool. We traded in our Barbies for billiard balls and became 12-year-old pool sharks, Kim and I.

One day, when Brian was fifteen, he and three friends went to Door County for the weekend. While swimming in the bay, an undertow made it too difficult for him to return to shore. 

Over the past 23 years, I have revisited the day Brian went missing over and over in my head, more times than I can count. Kim was at my house that August afternoon. We were swimming in the backyard and my mom came outside to tell us that Kim's parents were on their way over and that we should get out of the pool. That was all my mom said, but Kim and I hustled out of the pool and exchanged a glance with each other, silently acknowledging a mutual feeling - something wasn't right. Looking back, as a parent now myself, I don't know how my mother held it together in that moment. Actually, knowing my mom, she'd say it was all God. 

This is the point where I could try my hardest to explain the sadness and despair and helplessness I felt when Brian went missing. Or the shock and heartache I witnessed in Kim and her parents during the five days it took to recover Brian's body from the bay. Or the finality I felt at Brian's funeral - a feeling I had never before experienced. I was only twelve. But trying to describe those things would never do the feelings justice.

When someone dies, countless people are affected, and so many people suffer each loss at different levels. When Brian died, Kim lost her brother. Doug and Renee lost their son. He was a cousin, a nephew, a grandson, a friend, a teammate, a classmate, a student, a coworker, a neighbor. To someone, he was a kid from church, to another, a caddy at the golf course, and to at least one teenage girl - probably more - he was a first crush. The list goes on and on. To me, he was my best friend's brother.

Kim and I could have made an interesting case study. We were lucky kids with great families. The most we had ever worried about at twelve years old was what boy we should call after school or what to wear to the next middle school dance. But then suddenly, this. Devastating loss. Tragedy. Kim - a twelve-year-old girl who lost her brother and very best friend, and me - her twelve-year-old friend trying to understand it all and essentially, make her feel better about something that you just can't fix.
Our friendship changed. Everything did, as we adjusted to a new normal. But thankfully, it made us closer. I still remember the first time Kim slept over at my house after Brian died. We were on the living room floor, sleeping bags pulled up to our chins, probably talking about boys from school, and Kim suddenly said, "I see Brian everywhere." We cried a little, and talked about Brian for hours.

Thank God that old saying rings true: time truly does heal. I think it numbs certain feelings and memories as well, making the sharp, painful parts softer and more tolerable. It enables you to carry on.

Every year on Brian's birthday I revisit some of the memories of knowing Brian, and feelings from the time surrounding his death come flooding back. I also marvel at how far his family has come since that day, and how much of an influence they have had on others. Kim's family did something amazing with their grief. They channeled it into a scholarship foundation in Brian's name, which started out as a one-student scholarship at our high school, but has grown locally, nationally and globally, granting over 575 scholarships around the world.

In the years since Brian's been gone from this world, his life and death have been talked about by many, near and far. Brian definitely left a legacy, helping all of these young people pursue their dreams, and hopefully contribute to a brighter future for all. It is truly, truly amazing that from the tragedy of Brian's death, so many people have been helped. I know that he would be extremely proud of what his family did in his name.

But to me, most days, Brian isn't a legacy. He's still the older brother of my friend, Kim. Handsome, with a shy smile and a quick wit. Waving at me from behind the lawn mower, as I ran up the sidewalk to the front door of Kim's house. Daring us, on freezing cold days, to roll around in the snow then jump into the steaming hot tub. Watching Stand By Me, then spending hours in the basement playing ping pong and teaching us how to shoot pool. Teasing us to leave him alone, but then inviting us into his room with his friends to listen to Guns N' Roses, Use Your Illusion. (Kim, remember those dance moves he and Austin showed us? I sure do.) 

Brian, you are truly missed by so many, each and every day. I'm so grateful to God for having known you. Because of your death, I learned at a young age that death isn't something to be feared, and I have never shied away from those who are grieving. Because of your life, I learned even more, about hard work, about celebrating the journey and especially about living a life of love and kindness. 

PS - When we meet again, you can bet I'll be teasing you about your Guns N' Roses dance moves.

Remembering you on your birthday and always.

January 23, 2014

Happy 37th Birthday Brian!

37 years ago, this guy was born. And we are sure glad he was. 

A quote from the autobiography Brian wrote for an 8th grade assignment..     
"One thing I don't remember is my first birthday party.  But through the magic of photography, I found out many things.  I saw I had a Mickey Mouse cake, loved the frosting and had nineteen guests."

And here is the photo to prove it. 

Brian brought a lot of joy into the lives of people who knew him.  And he still does, thanks to the Foundation that bears his name.   Brian's birthday is still bitter-sweet for us, but mostly sweet (No pun intended). 

Most of us take time to reflect on the past year during our birthday time. On January 23rd, we take special time to reflect on Brian's life.  

As a family, Brian continues to bring us joy not only from our memories, but through all of you. He has "introduced" us to so many since he passed away. Through his foundation and the spirit he left behind, we know all of you.  

Now, that is pretty sweet.

January 8, 2014

Doug and Kim LaViolette featured on CW 14's Robert Hornacek show!

Robert Hornacek of CW 14 in Green Bay, Wisconsin approached Brian's Foundation to be featured on his Sunday morning show.

During the half hour interview program, Robert was very kind and we were able to reflect on Brian, as well as the growth of his Scholarship Foundation that honors 70% other people in addition to Brian. If you missed the original air date, you can view it in its entirety online here!

We do hope you take the time to check it out and share with others!

Special Opportunity in 2014

We have some very special news for 2014-a Sharing an American Story" European Cruise and Tour!

As you know, we established the General George S. Patton Scholarship of Honor in Plzen, Czech Republic. It is awarded during the Liberation Festival which every May celebrates the liberation of Plzen by General Patton and US Third Army in 1945.

And thanks to Foundation board member Bob Nueske and WLUK-Fox 11 News we brought you the documentary "Sharing an American Story" about Plzen's 2013 Liberation Festival, its citizens and Brian's Foundation. 

"Sharing an American Story" which premiered at our special event on 11.12.13, has inspired a very special idea-  the "Sharing an American Story" Cruise and Tour for Brian's Foundation members and World War II veterans, their families and friends to the 2014 Plzen Liberation Festival so that all can have the chance to experience the joyful reality of "Sharing an American Story". 

Join a wonderful community and heroic World War II veterans as guests of honor at the Plzen Liberation Festival. Be there when the General George S. Patton Scholarship of Honor is awarded. Plzen and its citizens will really appreciate our coming and make us feel so welcome. You will make new friends, get a unique insight into their way of life and truly understand how and why their American liberation in World War II is so important to them. 

On the way to Plzen, we have a wonderful six-day Danube river cruise visiting some of Europe's finest cities. Starting from Hungary's capital Budapest on April 27,we cruise via Slovakia's capital Bratislava to Austria's capital Vienna, through the World Heritage Wachau to medieval Regensburg in Germany. Then we disembark and drive via Hitler's Third Reich Nuremberg cross-country in the footsteps of Patton's Third Army over the Czech border to Plzen. After all the excitement of the 2014 Plzen Liberation Festival, we finally arrive in the beautiful historic Czech capital Prague, where we hope to have a Farewell Grand Reception with the US Ambassador on on May 7.

Our Danube cruise ship will be the upscale Austrian 'Amadeus Royal'. Go to www.amadeuscruises.com  and view the 'Amadeus Royal' in the "Fleet" section. The major US tour operator Gate 1 has chartered it, and you can see a good explanatory video on YouTube, called "The Gate 1 River Cruise Experience". This gives you a real feel for our cruise and features many of the places we will visit like Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, Melk, the Wachau, Regensburg and Nuremberg. Most of the video features the cruise ship 'Amadeus Symphony'. But our 'Amadeus Royal' is exactly the same, just two years younger! 

Patrick Hinchy
We are fortunate to have Patrick Hinchy as our Tour Director. Multilingual Patrick has a master's degree from Oxford University and is one of the most experienced and expert guides of World War II veterans tours in Europe. He met Doug LaViolette and Bob Nueske at a previous Pilsen Liberation Festival and as a result became very interested in Brian's Foundation, admired what it had achieved and wanted to support it. 

As an expert Tour Director, Patrick offered to create, plan and organize this "Sharing an American Story" Cruise and Tour and to make a generous personal private donation to Brian's Foundation.

For more details and full itinerary, booking and payment details of the Brian LaViolette Foundation 'Sharing an American Story" Danube Cruise and Tour to Plzen Liberation Festival and Prague April 27-May8, 2014, go to MilSpec Tours  www.gomilspec.com. MilSpec Tours is a reputable, long established specialist veterans tour operator. Its CEO Butch Sincock is a decorated Vietnam veteran and Executive Director of the 25th Infantry Division Association. 

If you want to join our "Sharing an American Story" Cruise and Tour, please don't delay booking. Patrick cannot take more than 40 people but needs a minimum of 20 for it to take place. The earlier you book, the greater your choice of cabins on our cruise ship, the 'Amadeus Royal'. Finally, if you book during January, you will receive a $700 discount.  

Click here for Cruise Brochure and how you can join Milspec Tours on the once-in-a-lifetime trip!