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New playground equipment installed in memory of Wester
Brandon Westers family gathered at Fennimore Elementary School in early July to start construction on new playground equipment donated by Brandons parents, Pat and Al Wester. - photo by Contributed photo

The Fennimore School District received a donation of new playground equipment for the Elementary School playground  this summer in memory of former student Brandon Wester, 19, who passed away on Aug. 30, 2012 from Juvenile Huntington’s Disease.

Juvenile Huntington’s

Brandon was taken in as a foster child by Pat and Al Wester of Boscobel, and then later adopted. When the Westers adopted Brandon, they were made aware that his birth father had Huntington’s disease and when Brandon became an adult they would face telling him he had a 50-50 chance of carrying the Huntington’s gene.

“What we did not know was that there was the rare Juvenile Huntington’s Disease and that he would have onset at a very early age and we would watch the child we loved suffer for years,” Pat said.

Brandon was nine years old when he was first diagnosed with Juvenile Huntington’s Disease (JHD).

JHD has some of the same characteristics as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis, as they share some of the same symptoms. JHD is a hereditary brain disorder with devastating effects on both mind and body. Brandon was considered to have JHD because he developed signs and symptoms before he was 20 years old.

Typical symptoms of JHD in children under the age of 10 include: rigidity, clumsiness and frequent falls, behavioral/personality changes, difficulty speaking, stiffness, choking and many others.

Currently, there is no cure or treatment to stop, slow or reverse the progression of JHD.

Playground equipment donation

Pat and Al discussed with both Fennimore Community Schools District Administrator Jamie Nutter and Brandon’s physical therapists from Grant Regional Health Center in Lancaster ideas for a memorial for Brandon. Donating the playground equipment seemed like the best option.

“We wanted to honor Brandon’s memory by keeping his enduring spirit alive and bring awareness to JHD,” said Pat.

After talking to Nutter and Brandon’s therapists, Tami Griswold, Inez Martin, Katie Osterhaus and Cory Weydert, they came up with what playground equipment they wanted to donate.

They wanted to make sure what they donated would be able to be used by all children but would also allow those with special needs to play with their peers and gain coordination skills at the same time.

“The equipment can also be utilized by therapists treating children during the school day,” said Pat.

After Fennimore maintenance staff members Bill Richter and Rick Staskal did the preparation at the Fennimore Elementary School playground, it was time for the final setting up of the playground pieces. Many family and friends of Brandon’s volunteered their time and tools to help construct the equipment.

“I thought the playground equipment was a great idea because even with all the struggles Brandon went through with his disease, he was always persistent about coming to school,” Nutter said.

There is also a sign being placed at the school playground honoring Brandon’s Memorial Equipment, which will help everyone remember how important it is to keep pursuing for a cure for Juvenile Huntington’s.

Student Council lends hand

The parents of Brandon however, were not the only ones determined to find a way to honor him in the school district.

On Jan. 18, the Fennimore Student Council held a fundraiser during a boys basketball game to help raise money toward a bench to be placed outside of the middle/high school and to donate to Grant County Hospice, who came and helped with Brandon.

The student council was able to raise enough money to donate $1,000 dollars to the Grant County Hospice in February and have their bench made in honor of Brandon.

The bench was placed outside Fennimore  Middle/High School on Aug. 12.

Fond Memories

Even a year after Brandon has passed away, everyone has memories of Brandon that they will never soon forget.

However, when Nutter thinks of Brandon he will always remember his persistence in school.

Nutter says his fondest memory of Brandon was on his graduation day. Brandon was having a hard time keeping his cap on during the ceremony, but Brandon was determined to keep it on even though he was told it was OK to take it off.