By Allison Weaver
NEWTON—With the thoughtfulness of family and friends, a Newton man’s impact on others will live on through a $5,500 memorial donation to the All Together Now Slate Creek inclusive playground.
22-year-old Bruce Andrew Behymer, known to friends and family as Andrew, passed away in late May of 2023. Andrew had cerebral palsy but was never in poor spirits, according to his father, Bruce Behymer.
“He was always smiling and loving life; you couldn’t have a bad day around him,” Behymer said.
When Andrew passed, Bruce and Laurie, his mother, wanted people’s money to go towards something everlasting rather than flowers.
“It was a no-brainer when we figured out about the playground and what it’ll do for other kids with disabilities. He would’ve loved [a park], and even as he got older, he would’ve loved watching the kids play. That was his jive,” Behymer said. “We were so excited to be able to contribute and be a part of this.”
The Beyhmers asked for checks and donations in Andrew’s name to the park. Then, Bruce’s close friend and fraternity brother, Jason Mullin, decided to take it to the next level.
“He was going to make a donation, and then he said, ‘You know what? Let’s just make this a big deal,’” Beyhmer said.
“I realized it would be more impactful if we all lumped up one big donation to be from all the [fraternity] men and their families,” Mullin said. “I put it on social media, on the Sigma Tau Gamma page.”
Jason and his wife, Julie, decided to incentivize the donations by offering to match donations up to a certain point.
“In one hour, our matching promise had been fulfilled. I kept getting more and more,” Mullin said.
“Jason used Julie’s Venmo to collect donations, and she called him an hour in and said, ‘My phone’s blowing up. I can barely use it!,” Behymer said with a laugh.
Behymer and Mullin met through the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity at Emporia State in 1988. They have remained close, and the fraternity’s brotherhood runs deeply, even with new pledges.
“We had 42 families respond with donations. They represented alumni from the ’80s, ’90s, ’00, teens, and ’20s […] five different decades of alumni from all over the nation,” Mullin said. “Many of them had never met Bruce or I.”
After the initial wave of donations, Mullin devised a strategy to keep them rolling in.
“I dangled a carrot in front of ’em. I said, ‘We’re really close to a goal number, and if we hit that, there will be a big surprise,’ and that created a whole new wave of donations and excitement,” Mullin said. “People were enthusiastic about donating. It wasn’t like they were dragging their feet to donate. People were reaching out to me, wanting to know the totals, and were eager to give for Andrew.”
Mullin met with Joanna Bjerum, the treasurer of the Slate Creek Parent Teacher Organization and a member of the subcommittee dedicated to the All Together Now playground. By working with her, he arranged for a memorial plaque to be engraved with Andrew’s name, as well as a few lines from the family, if they hit the donation goal.
“We were all just like gobsmacked by how people showed up. It’s a testament to Bruce and Laurie, and how their community celebrates them,” Bjerum said.
“She gave me a number and we got there. Now he’ll forever be honored in the park,” Mullin said.
With all the donations handed in, Mullin and several of his and Bruce’s closest fraternity brothers made the trip to present the Behymers with the check. They arrived on Father’s Day, a day they knew would be difficult for Bruce.
“He and two other fraternity brothers showed up at my house on Father’s Day. Jason has a big ol’ bag with him, and it’s like Christmas,” Behymer said. “We opened the check, and [Jason] said, ‘We have something else.’ He pulled out a framed piece of paper, saying they made Andrew an honorary member of our fraternity. The national fraternity agreed to this.”
“We all believe [Andrew] was Sigma Tau Gamma material, but it just wasn’t the right situation for him to attend a traditional university,” Mullin said.
The fraternity brothers also presented the family with a pledge paddle, a tradition linked to the initiation of a member into the fraternity.
“Each pledge has to make a paddle, and they collect the signatures of all the members. There’s a position called the ‘Pledge Pop’ that helps you through the process of joining,” Mullin said. “Well, a bunch of us guys were fighting about who got to be the Pledge Pop, but we knew there was only one candidate, and that was Bruce. And he signed it, ‘DAD!’ with an exclamation point, on the Pledge Pop line.”
“All of this is the most beautiful way to honor him,” Bruce said. “Then we sat out there and drank beer and told stories, which was great. It was exactly what I needed.”
Now, Bruce will be able to have Andrew’s paddle signed when he meets with fraternity brothers in the future. There will be a perfect opportunity when the park opens, as Mullin reports many of the brothers have plans to travel out and celebrate with the Behymers.
“We’re anxious for it to open and be available to all kids,” he said.
“We’re about halfway with the fundraising for the park. We’re gonna keep going. Our goal is to be done by the end of the 2023-2024 school year,” Bjerum said.
The Behymers recently presented Andrew’s check to the All Together Now fund, meaning that the fund is a step closer to its ultimate goal of $300,000.
“It just felt like a real heart swell moment. There’s something beautiful out of this tragedy, and you have this incredibly compassionate outpouring of love and support and everything that’s good in the world,” Bjerum said.
Another large memorial donation was gifted to the park in memory of Brian Alfero, the late husband of Slate Creek Principal Tenae Alfero. Alfero passed away in April of 2023 and wanted to help the dream of an inclusive park to come true.
“The legacy of this thing is just gorgeous. It’s imbued with the energy of both these incredible people,” Bjerum said.
“In Andrew’s memorial obituary, there was a line that read, ‘Andrew brought out the best in humanity,’ and this is a practical example of that. Our fraternity brothers made that happen. It proved to be true. He brought out the best of humanity. These were people that I don’t have close contact with, that Bruce doesn’t really know. A story like this brings out the best in people,” Mullin said.
The Beyhmer family is taking solace in the benefits the park will bring to the community’s children.
“I can’t think of any other that’s as close to my heart as this park. It’s such a great way to honor Andrew and to serve the community for years to come,” Beyhmer said. “Andrew’s life, of course, had meaning, but knowing he has meaning in his death was a bit of a healing thing for us.”
To donate to All Together Now, visit the Central Kansas Community Foundation website, click the Donate Now tab, and go to the Newton Affiliate page.