Brightening the darkest room

The Brian Freeman Memorial Foundation honors a Center Grove teenager by spreading kindness

By Jeremy Dunn

Several year ago, Donna Freeman was out running errands with her teenage son, Brian. As many growing boys do, the Center Grove student asked his mother for some money to grab a snack. After being gone for quite some time, Donna grew concerned and began walking the aisles, calling out Brian’s name. Easing her worry, her son ran up to her and informed her to go ahead and keep shopping. He went on to share that he had encountered an elderly woman using a wheelchair that was alone at the store. Brian was hoping that he could sit and talk with the woman, keeping her company for a bit, while his mother finished her shopping. This was Brian Freeman.

Brian was a typical 16-year-old boy that loved mischief, girls and cheeseburgers. However, this young man’s capacity for kindness exceeded far beyond the scope of that day shopping with his mother. He had a gift for knowing when people were feeling outcast or alone and always found ways to comfort them. There are multiple memories of the Center Grove teenager eating lunch with lonely students. In another instance, Brian saved up his money to take an elderly woman from his church on a “date.”  His sister, Kelli Sponsel, recalls a time in which their mother informed them a young woman at the school she was working at did not have a date for prom.

“When my brother found out that she didn’t have a prom date, he asked her if she would if she would like to go with him,” she said. “He shined up the car, treated her to dinner and made her feel like a princess that night. Brian was a great dancer, but the young lady was not. So, not wanting to make her uncomfortable, Brian danced at her pace the entire evening.”

Brian Freeman, a Center Grove resident, was just 16 when he died. He had a gift for knowing when people were feeling outcast or alone and always found ways to comfort them, according to his sister, Kelli. (Photo courtesy of Kelli Sponsel.)

A tragic twist of fate

On July 8, 1999, Brian briefly returned home from church camp to attend the funeral of his pastor’s daughter with his family. The daughter was a part of Brian’s youth group and being a small tight-knit congregation of nearly 200 hundred people, everyone took a day from camp to attend. After a moving service and time with his family, Brian returned to church camp with a calling in his heart. That evening, he knelt at an alter feeling drawn to be more of a leader in his youth group and at Center Grove High School, and in that moment, Brian recommitted his life to Christ. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that this young man was destined to do great things.

The next day, Brian returned home from church camp and needed to pick up his paycheck from a local car dealership that he was working for that summer. There had been some intense thunderstorms throughout the day, leaving it very humid outside. Since his car did not have air conditioning, the teenager asked to take Donna’s red Pontiac Grand Am. He left to run his errand and his parents headed out for dinner with friends.

After hours had passed without being able to reach their son, the Freemans decide to return home. Turning the corner onto their street, the couple was faced with the fear that no parent ever wants to encounter. An Indiana State Trooper was parked in their driveway waiting for them. Brian had been involved in a car accident on Curry Road where he had hit high water left from the heavy rains. He was not speeding and was wearing his seatbelt, but once the car began to hydroplane, Brian no longer had control of the vehicle as it crashed into a tree and the Center Grove teenager was killed instantly.

Challenging a community

The viewing was held at the family’s small church but everyone was moved by how many came to pay their respects. More than 1,500 people came to honor Brian, with hundreds of them being teenagers. People spent more than seven hours in line as the family was showered with stories of their young man’s undeniable impact on others. Due to the expected number at the funeral, the family moved the service to the Community Church of Greenwood. With hundreds of teenagers in attendance once again, Donna Freeman offered a testimony of Brian’s faith and the importance of valuing each moment with Christ. While the moment was an incredibly powerful testament to Brian’s life, the family had no idea of the impact that their son was still about to have on others.

Being a leader

Among the pain of their loss, the Freeman family still sought out a way to honor Brian and his love for others. In 2001, the Brian Freeman Memorial Foundation was established with a motto being “to encourage the spirit of fellowship, kindness and integrity that was Brian Freeman.”  “We knew that we wanted to do something to carry on his legacy of kindness, but it took us a couple of years to get it off the ground,” Sponsel said. From 2001 to 2005, the foundation hosted two events: a run/walk event at Center Grove Middle School and a golf outing.

Over time, the family phased out the run/walk event as they were realizing the golf outing was growing in popularity and was consistently raising money for the foundation. Even more impactful is what the Brian Freeman Memorial Foundation is doing locally and globally with the money they have raised.

“We raise right around $12,000 with each outing. We have been able to bless countless people over the last 17 years,” she said.

These blessings have included building wells for fresh drinking water in Haiti, funding a custom shower for an amputee, providing multiple college scholarships, assisting with mission work in Africa, supporting a ministry for deaf children, helping a family with medical expenses after a firefighter lost his leg, purchasing motorcycles for pastors in India to travel more effectively, and covering funeral costs for a family who could not afford to bury their daughter. “We try to find the ones who may otherwise be overlooked, the way that Brian did. We try to support causes that would otherwise receive no support,” Sponsol said.

Kelli Sponsel, with her daughters, Maddi and Paige at Dye’s Walk Country Club in Greenwood, where the Brian Freeman Memorial Foundation golf tournament will be held on June 28. (Photo by Jeremy Dunn.)

Golfing to make a difference

The Brian Freeman Memorial Foundation golf tournament will be held June 28 at Dye’s Walk Country Club in Greenwood and will mark the organization’s 18th outing. A $100 entry cost will enter golfers into a four-person Florida scramble that includes a golf cart, range balls, a momento ball, soft drinks, lunch and door prizes. Registration will begin at 11:30 a.m. and a shotgun start will tee off at 1 p.m. The event is always accepting more players and sponsorship opportunities to help raise money for the Brian Freeman Memorial Foundation.

A lasting testimony

While Brian Freeman is no longer with us, his legacy continues to leaving a lasting mark on others. “We often say that he affected more live in 16 years than many people do in an entire lifetime,” Sponsel added. It is only fitting that Brian’s headstone reads, “His smile brightened the darkest room, his love touched the hardest heart” followed with an excerpt from Psalm 18:16-24, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters… He recused me because He delighted in me.” Through the work of the Brian Freeman Foundation, the Center Grove teenager is still brightening the darkest of rooms and hearts but now can help take a hold of others and help them out of the deep waters in their own lives.

Interested in participating in or sponsoring the Brian Freeman Memorial Foundation golf outing? Contact David Freeman (freeman.davew@gmail.com) or TJ Sponsel (tjsponsel@mcguiresponsel.com) for more information.

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