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Marion Skelton knows precisely where she was at 9:34 the night of Jan. 23, 1977, a Sunday.
The now-retired nurse was in a delivery room at Bellin Hospital as Renee LaViolette gave birth to a boy. Renee and husband Doug’s first child weighed in at 7 pounds, 13 ounces and stretched 20 ½ inches.
“I welcomed him into the world,” Skelton said.
Still living in Green Bay, a gracious Skelton reunited with Doug and Renee at Bellin College in Bellevue. That’s where a kickoff announcement for 25th anniversary activities for the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation happened Thursday.
For all of the warm-and-fuzzy chatter that ensued about the foundation and its tremendous outreach for advancing the education of students and service members in the U.S. as well as overseas, something important was missing. Make that, somebody important.
“One life born here in Green Bay at Bellin Hospital, lost way too young, has had such a tremendous impact on his community,” said George Kerwin, the longtime president and CEO of Bellin Health.
Doug and Renee LaViolette will never forget where they were the afternoon of Aug. 8, 1992, which was a Saturday.
Instead of getting ready to drive from their De Pere home to Lambeau Field to attend the Green Bay Packers’ first preseason game of the summer with friends, the LaViolettes were whisked away by airplane to Door County. Their one and only son died that day, drowning in the bay of Green Bay near Chambers Island.
Brian LaViolette had decided to spend the day there with three friends, turning down a night out with his parents and younger sister, Kim, at the Packers game.
“He made the decision to go swimming,” Doug recalled. “At that time, he said, ‘Dad, why would I want to go watch the Packers lose?’”
Though just an exhibition game, the Packers prevailed that night, 21-13 over the Kansas City Chiefs. It was Green Bay’s only win in four preseason games, but the 1992 season turned the tide for a previously dormant franchise with the debut of quarterback Brett Favre.
“When we flew back from Door County (the night of the 8th), the lights were still lit at Lambeau. That was really hard,” Doug LaViolette said.
One of many endearing clips in a video montage produced a few years ago to bring to life an autobiography Brian had written for a class project shows him wearing a Packers helmet and No. 17 jersey (for quarterback David Whitehurst) as he played outside with his sister.
Brian’s flair for the written word included this insightful entry in his autobiography:
“Tell you what I want out of life — I would like to go into either advertising or sales. I’m sure that I would like both of them. To get those kind of jobs, I would need at least a college degree, which I plan to get. Above everything else, though, I want to be happy. If that means jumping out of a plane when I’m 80 years old, so be it. What’s life without happiness?”
A life cut far short of college, a career, having a family and getting adventurous in retirement has been no less fruitful, however.
Established just a week after his death, the Brian LaViolette Scholarship Foundation has affected hundreds of lives during the past quarter century.
The foundation has awarded more than 725 scholarships worth more than $600,000 to high school seniors going to college, those enlisting in the military and even students who are living in Poland, South Africa and the Czech Republic. Many of those scholarships have been made to honor the memories of others, not just Brian.
“It’s truly inspiring witnessing all of the good Brian’s family puts into the world,” said Emma Jeschke, a Bellin College nursing student from Iowa who received a LaViolette scholarship last year.
Doug, Renee and Kim as well as others involved with the foundation are laying the groundwork for many more years of giving. They are planning a big event Aug. 8 on the 25th anniversary of Brian’s passing, fittingly in the shadow of Lambeau Field.
“We just thought it would be kind of serendipitous to go back to Lambeau, in that area,” Doug said. “We’re just really honored to carry this story forward.”
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