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Long road to honor Turlock skater

POSTED March 15, 2013 8:39 p.m.

I would like to tell you about another extraordinary young man who came out of Turlock about the same time as Colin Kaepernick.  His name is Brandon Koch and he was an avid skateboarder, loving son, brother, friend and nephew and all around good guy. He was always there for anyone who needed him. Two articles have appeared in the Turlock Journal. The first is dated April 28, 2012, and the second August 15, 2012.

In May 2011, Brandon was diagnosed with adrenocortical carcinoma (cancer of the adrenal gland). This cancer is very rare and extremely aggressive. He had his first surgery (removal of adrenal gland and kidney among other procedures) at Stanford University the same month and subsequent chemotherapy at the Emanuel Cancer Center in Turlock.

It was at this time that he asked for Katie Schumann's hand in marriage from her father. He said they would marry as soon as he got the all clear from the oncologist. He wouldn't marry her before because he didn't want her to be a widow, just in case. Soul mates.  

By November, the cancer had spread to the outside of many of his organs: stomach, liver, intestines and so forth. He went back to Stanford and they did all they could do to stop the spread, to no avail. 

He suffered greatly as his body was consumed by the cancer, but he never showed self-pity. He saw children with cancer and he wanted us to know he lived for 26 years and they were just starting out. Twenty-six years, isn't a lot either. He joked with friends and family who constantly came in droves to visit him there since he couldn't be moved. Katie spent every single day and night there, rarely leaving his side. He even teased the nurses and they all fell in love with him! I wish you could have known him.

It was on one of my visits, after the oncologist said there was nothing more they could do, that I sat at his side and thought 'there's no way his life will be in vain. No way I will allow him to be forgotten.'  I asked him if he would like the Turlock Skate Park renamed the BRANDON KOCH MEMORIAL SKATE PARK. He gave me a sideways glance and chuckled. I told him I was serious and he said, "If you can do it Auntie, it would be really nice. I'd like that."  I replied, "I promise you, I will do it." On the drive home from Stanford, I had time to think about how I was going to accomplish this promise. I drew blanks on where to start and whom to talk to. 

He passed away April 12, 2012. I was there by his side and as much as it hurts, I'm glad I was. I was happy he was out of such excruciating pain and so sorry for the rest of the world that we no longer have his light. He was awesome. 

I decided to call Turlock Parks and Recreation to see where I needed to start. It turns out, that was the first place to begin the process. Eric Schultz told me they have never had this request and why don't I get a memorial bench. He stated another young man, Jon Phillips, has a memorial bench in that park. I told him Jon Phillips was one of Brandon's friends who had died in a car accident a few years before. I also said Brandon was a leader among his peers and I promised him the whole park. First off, we needed signatures to see who was behind us. 2,000 signatures later, we were put on the Parks and Recreation agenda. As I stated, no one knew the procedure for this because it has never been done. We were all flying blind. 

Parks and Recreation decided it was a good idea and then we had to go to the City of Turlock for approval. After two meetings there with many of Brandon's friends showing up to tell the council who Brandon was and why it was such a good idea, we got approval! That was in August 2012.

Since then we have had fundraisers like t-shirts and silicone bracelets for sale, since we were going to have to pay for the sign. It has certainly felt like moving a mountain.

April 12, 2013 is the first anniversary of our loss. We will have a beautiful sign in place, with much thanks to the Turlock Journal for spreading the word, Gateway Memorial Art in Turlock, for working with us, Boulders Unlimited for all they have done to get us a beautiful boulder from Yosemite area, B n B Prints for the memorial t-shirts. Thank you to Helix Electric out of San Diego for their donation. We aren't out of the financial woods yet, but we're trying.

I would like to invite all those who knew him, knew of him or just want to see how loved he truly was to please attend the Memorial Park dedication ceremony at 1p.m. April 12 at the soon to be previous Turlock Skate Park on Starr Avenue in Turlock.

— Judith Suliman

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