Community rallies in memory of Steve Brand, who died of cancer
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT Cobi Rusch (left) and Kai Hilbourne slip and slide while playing soccer at the muddy field behind Chapman Elementary School. The Chapman community is trying to raise $250,000 for a turf field in honor of Steve Brand, a beloved teacher, parent and soccer player who died in December.

In the last year of Steve Brand's life - as he spent weeks in the hospital undergoing chemotherapy and other treatment for his cancer - his family was not alone.

The tight-knit community of Northwest Portland's Chapman Elementary School, where Steve and his wife, Myndi, had taught for years, rallied around his wife and two young daughters as if they were family.

They left flowers, wine, groceries, meals, gift cards, offers to baby-sit. They left hot meals for months and months.

'I call them my elves,' Myndi Brand said this week as her daughters Ruby, 8, and Charlotte, 5, played piano in the background.

'I'd come home and there would be gifts left on my doorstep - poems, notes. When you're touched by that grace and support and beauty, I can't even be too despairing.'

Steve Brand, a longtime teacher, soccer coach, doting father and husband, lost his battle to an aggressive form of lymphoma last Christmas Eve. He was 45, and would have celebrated his 46th birthday this week.

As community members have struggled to make sense of the loss, they're rallying again - with a campaign to build a turf field at the school in Steve's honor. Today, they're kicking off their effort to raise $250,000 for the field by this summer, since the project must be completed while students aren't in school.

Organizers say the need for a new field is huge. The current field at the back of the school - where people gather to watch the swifts take off every year - is an unusable mud pit for most of the winter and spring. Students often have indoor recess rather than play outside, parents say, because the covered play area is only large enough for one class and the tennis court is only big enough for two classes. Their spring soccer games are held across town at Jackson Middle School.

The new turf field would last 10 to 15 years and be built with Nike Grind, the signature recycled shoe rubber material that the company uses for various sports surfaces.

Currently, the Hillside Soccer Club pays $8,000 per year to maintain the grass field, and efforts to level and re-seed it in past years haven't seen much improvement.

On Thursday, the campaign will kick off with a 'mud bowl' event - a kid soccer game at the muddy Chapman field at 2:30 p.m. The Hillside Soccer Club and Brand's friends and family will make their pitch to Chapman's current and former community, including alumni, for donations.

They'll also look for grants from foundations and local businesses and sports groups, since the field will be open for public use.


Tribune Photo: Christopher Onstott • Students most often have indoor recess rather than play outside, because the field behind Chapman School in Northwest Portland is too muddy to use in the winter and spring.

Passion for school and sport

Those who knew Steve Brand say his biggest loves - besides his family - were teaching and soccer.

He taught at Chapman for 12 years, and met Myndi, a special education teacher, in the school cafeteria, 'over fruit cocktail,' she likes to say. They would have been married 10 years in July.

Brand played soccer while growing up in California, then at Pacific University in Forest Grove. He coached for the Bernie Fagan Soccer League in Portland and coached at Chapman. He would have coached his oldest daughter this year.

Myndi, 44, admits she was shocked when his cancer took a turn for the worse in November. He was first diagnosed with lymphoma four years ago, but doctors hit it with chemotherapy and it disappeared for a while.

Last July, they attended a family reunion in Oklahoma, where Steve was happy and and healthy, Myndi recalls. When they returned, his oncologists - the same doctors who treated Lance Armstrong - found that the cancer had returned, worse than before.

The next day, he began a series of high-dose chemotherapy sessions, 'a lot of horrible treatments that sucked the life and vigor out of him,' Myndi says.

In October, Brand had a stem cell transplant, 'which was supposed to be the cure-all,' Myndi says.

He underwent high doses of radiation afterward in hopes of reducing the size of the tumor so he could start seeking out other treatment options. They were looking forward to his return to teaching in January. He stayed in the hospital for four weeks, but in November they received the shocking news: The transplant did not work.

A month later, Brand died.

Myndi and her daughters, who attend Chapman, are in therapy and getting by on the good graces of the community.

'He was such a fighter, such a strong person,' she says.

Honoring Steve with a turf field for the community to play on would be a more perfect legacy, she thinks. 'If it was someone else who deserved it,' Myndi says, 'he would make it happen.'

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