AN OPEN LETTER TO A LOCAL TEEN                                               WHO DROWNED 25 YEARS AGO

BY PAUL SRUBAS

Here’s an open letter to Brian LaViolette, a guy who has been dead for 25 years.

I’m not sure how else to reach him, so I’m giving this a try. If you’re not him, go turn to the sports section or something, and give me and Brian a moment, would you?

Dear Brian,

You don’t know me, I don’t believe. We’ve never met face-to-face, and, with all due respect, I hope we don’t for a good many years. I don’t think the Press-Gazette delivers to where you are now, but we’re online now, too, so who knows? Maybe you’ll see this.

Anyway I feel like somebody ought to tell you some of what has been going on in your name over the last 25 years since you’ve been gone.

Yep, can you believe it? It’s 25 years ago this week that you drowned off Chambers Island. In fact, today would be the 25th anniversary of the very day they recovered your body. You were 15, which means you’d be 40 today. Crazy, eh?

As you can imagine, your death crushed your ma and dad and kid sister. In fact, I was talking to your dad, Doug, just this week about you, and he’s a pretty strong guy, but even 25 years later, he still had to keep apologizing for stopping mid-sentence and blinking way too much. 

“We think about our son every single day,” Doug told me.

But wounds heal in different ways for different people. For Doug and your mom, Renee, it motivated them to start the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation shortly after you died. It’s meant to keep your memory alive, but you’d be amazed at what a big deal it’s become.

I got to thinking about that this week. Your foundation had a full-page ad last Tuesday in the Green Bay Press-Gazette listing people who got scholarships with your name on it. There were 781 of them.

But the way I figure it, your influence on people's lives has been exponentially greater than that.

Help me do the math here. That’s 781 people who got scholarships ranging from $500 to $10,000, That's 781 people whose lives were changed by catching a financial break and getting an education that’s allowed them to go into the workforce prepared to do better for themselves, their families and the world. And that’s roughly 781 parents or sets of parents who caught a break in sending their kid to college. So how many are we up to?

Your foundation has become sort of an umbrella foundation for 55 other scholarships, set up by other grieving parents in the names of their dead kids, all over the world. Now how many are we up to?

Your dad said to me, “This has gotten to be so much bigger than Brian.” I almost thought saying that would make him a little sad, but it was the opposite. He was proud. Of you.

Then there are all the hundreds of donors, pouring money into your scholarship fund and these 55 others. You have to count that as an impact, too, because giving money to a cause has a way of changing the donors' lives.

About 300 of those folks showed up at a big shindig held for you this week.

It was held in the Legends Club at Lambeau Field, up on the fourth level. Oh, wait. You were a big Green Bay Packers fan, I understand, but you don’t know anything about the big stadium renovation, do you? Well, anyway they have this big conference space up there, and they held a nice dinner, and an auction where people could bid big money for signed footballs and stuff, to raise money for scholarships.

A bunch of past-year scholarship winners were introduced. The guy whose boat was used to help find your body in the bay was there. The lady who was the on-duty nurse at Bellin Hospital the day you were born was even there. It felt like a scene out of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Your kid sister Kim organized the event. She’s executive director of your foundation now, keeping track of tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of other people’s money, applications, putting on events and everything, can you believe it? She was only 12 when you died, but she's quite the young lady now. She's getting married in three weeks, you know.

The guest speaker for the party was a veteran named Sal Giunta. He’s a Medal of Honor recipient from Iowa, the first living recipient since the Vietnam War. He did some incredibly heroic stuff a few years ago in a war that you wouldn't have heard about yet. Now he’s got a scholarship going, under that Brian LaViolette umbrella I was telling you about, but his is named after two buddies that died in battle.

All Giunta could talk about was how he was in awe of the idea that your scholarships, his scholarship, all the scholarships being given away under the Brian LaViolette Foundation umbrella, go to not just smart students but students who have shown a spirit of volunteerism, a sense of community, a desire to help others.

I thought maybe he'd strike a John Wayne pose and say something like, "There I was, cannons to the right of me, cannons to the left of me..." His speech wasn't like that in the least.

“I am in awe of the men and women in this room,” said the guy who got a Medal of Honor from the president of the United States and then GAVE IT AWAY to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat team that he had been a part of. Did I mention he also has a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster?

That means not only is your foundation helping people go to college, but they’re coming out prepared to make a difference in the world. That’s really the exponential thing I was talking about, Brian. All these people not only going to school on your dime, but they’re also coming out to make changes that impact other people’s lives for the better. How many are we up to now?

Pretty cool, isn’t it? But then, there’s another way to look at all this.

A buddy of yours from your old Allouez neighborhood spoke at the party, too. A guy named Scott Andler. 

He agreed that your foundation had become something big and wonderful, but then he said something I think a whole lot of people in the room were thinking. He said, “To be honest, I wish my friend was here today and this foundation never happened.”

It was really something. You should've been there. Well, anyway, I hope this letter finds its way to you somehow. And keep up the good work.

Sincerely,

Paul Srubas,                                                                                                                                  USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinPublished 11:10 a.m. CT Aug. 10, 2017

Sal Giunta, special guest speaker on August 8th

Salvatore "Sal“ Augustine Giunta was born on January 21, 1985 in Clinton, Iowa. The oldest of three children of Steven—a medical equipment technician and Rosemary—a pre-school teacher, Giunta grew up in Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha, Iowa. At age 18, while working in a Subway sandwich shop, he decided to enlist and he joined the Army in November 2003. He attended Infantry One Station Unit Training and the Basic Airborne Course at Fort Benning, Georgia, before being assigned to the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy, on May 24, 2004. Promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant in 2009, Giunta completed two combat tours to Afghanistan totaling 27 months of deployment.

On October 25, 2007, while conducting a patrol as team leader, Giunta and his team were navigating through the treacherous terrain of Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley when they were ambushed by a well-armed and well-coordinated insurgent force. While under heavy enemy fire, Giunta immediately sprinted towards cover and engaged the enemy. Seeing that his squad leader had fallen and believing that he had been injured, Giunta exposed himself to withering enemy fire and raced towards his squad leader, helped him to cover and administered medical aid. While administering first aid, enemy fire struck Giunta’s body armor and his secondary weapon. Without regard to the ongoing fire, Giunta engaged the enemy before prepping and throwing grenades, using the explosions for cover in order to conceal his position. Attempting to reach additional wounded fellow soldiers who were separated from the squad, Giunta and his team encountered a barrage of enemy fire that forced them to the ground. The team continued forward and upon reaching the wounded soldiers, Giunta realized that another soldier was still separated from the element. Giunta then advanced forward on his own initiative. As he crested the top of a hill, he observed two insurgents carrying away an American soldier. He immediately engaged the enemy, killing one and wounding the other. Upon reaching the wounded soldier, he began to provide medical aid, as his squad caught up and provided security.

For his extraordinary gallantry, unrivaled courage and selfless leadership in action on October 25, 2007, Giunta was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in a White House ceremony on November 16, 2010. Staff Sgt. Giunta was the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan, the first living service member to be awarded the Medal of Honor since the Vietnam War and the eighth service member to receive the nation’s highest military decoration for valor in Iraq and Afghanistan. His other military decorations include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal w/oak leaf cluster, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, two Army Good Conduct Medals and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal to name a few.

He retired from the Army in June 2011 and is the author of Living with Honor (2012). He currently resides in Colorado with his wife Jennifer Giunta and two children.

More details on our 25th anniversary event

Lambeau Field, August 1992

Lambeau Field, August 1992

August 8th marks the 25th anniversary of when Brian's life was lost in a swimming accident. That same day, we were supposed to be at Lambeau Field, as a family, to attend the Green Bay Packers first preseason game. Plans changed and that brings us to today...heading back to Lambeau Field to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation. 

On the evening of August 8th...

  • Hear from scholarship recipients and others who have been involved with Brian's Foundation since the beginning and ultimately have made the world a better place.
  • Bid on unique and fun items during our live and silent auction.
  • Enjoy a performance by former Miss Wisconsin and Brian LaViolette scholarship recipient Kimberly Sawyer Larsen.
  • Be inspired by special guest speaker, Medal of Honor Recipient, Sal Giunta. 
  • Witness the surprise presentation of the Brian LaViolette Spirit Award to four community leaders who are committed to improving their community and Brian's Foundation.

The schedule for the event is...

4:30-5:25       Meet a true American hero, Medal of Honor Recipient, Sal Giunta during an exclusive book signing for those attending this event.  The reception will be open to our guests during that time. 

5:30-6:25        Reception and Silent Auction 

6:30                Dinner is served

7:15                Evening Program

You can find more details and see our sponsors here.

If you would like to be involved in this milestone anniversary, please contact me at 828-242-3790 or kim.laviolette@gmail.com or Doug LaViolette at 920-655-4098.

A Promise Made, A Promise Kept

A 25 Year Journey…

For the past 25 years the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation has been changing lives through scholarships awarded to high school seniors. It began with a single scholarship in Brian’s name, with the promise of great things being accomplished in his memory.

With the formation of the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation that single scholarship grew to over 50 annual scholarships in Wisconsin, 14 other states and three foreign countries. In addition to bearing Brian’s name, the scholarships were expanded to remember the lives of so many other individuals who served our communities and country.

To date 781 scholarships have been awarded to students with the same vision of doing great things for their community.

After 25 years, Brian’s Foundation is celebrating their accomplishments and the countless lives touched by Brian’s inspirational words, “The Journey is the Reward.”

On August 8, 2017 witness how a single promise made, and kept, continues to inspire others. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

5:30pm

Lambeau Field Legends Club Room