State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

'Mack's Teepee' a Fitting Tribute to Former Classmate

by on May 28, 2013 6:55 AM

At a very young age, John Cobes and Adalee Wasikonis learned a painful life lesson when their friend suddenly passed away.

They miss their buddy, Mack Brady. They miss Mack's boundless energy and the fun they all shared. And they wanted to do something to help keep Mack's spirit alive.

Mack died on New Year's Eve, from a bacterial infection. 

He was just eight-years-old. 

Cobes and Wasikonis have spent the past few months channeling their energy into a project that will reflect Mack's fun-loving, playful side.

Wasikonis, 12, said she knew right away she had to do something to pay tribute to her friend who was always ready for the next adventure. She and Mack were three years apart and at different schools, but the Park Forest Middle Schooler says Mack was a great friend, never just a "little kid."

"I thought more of him as just funny, he had good ideas. He was cool to hang around," Adalee said. Her mother, Morgan Wasikonis, says Mack was known around the school as a "good kid." He even won several citizenship awards.

"He was just a really sweet kid who was a friend to a lot of people," she said. "Mack was all about having fun."

Mack was in Terri Del Real's third grade class with his best friend John. When the class studied Native Americans, the two boys brought their lesson home and built a teepee in the backyard with Adalee.

It was a memorable moment -- it was Mack at his fun loving best. Adalee came up with the idea for a fundraiser to build a "teepee" jungle gym at Park Forest Elementary in Mack's honor.

The project quickly took off. It started with the children, who emptied their piggy banks, dropping whatever change they had into classroom collection jars.

One student ran a lemonade stand with the proceeds going toward the fund. Donations came from friends at after-school YMCA programs, school bus drivers and older siblings. A school-wide fundraiser, dubbed "Adventure Night" is planned for June 7. Adventure Night will include carnival games, a soccer goalie contest, dunking booth, raffle, a treasure hunt and more. Organizers promise it will be fun for the whole family.

Mack's parents think the project is a terrific tribute to their beloved son. Elizabeth Brady and her husband, Christian Brady – Dean of the Penn State Schreyer Honors College – are amazed by the students' efforts and how its empowered them. 

"I think it's wonderful. It's something tangible they can do," Brady said. "It kind of happened organically. It's been driven by the kids and I think that's why they're so empowered to participate and feel like they have ownership of it."

Wasikonis said there are even plans in for a pancake breakfast fundraiser in the fall. "It's just getting started," she said. It hasn't been easy for Adalee, who says she especially missed Mack on his birthday and would have spent a lot of time with him this summer.

John said he knows Mack would think the entire project is awesome. No, make that epic!

"It makes me feel good that people are sending in money even though they might have nothing to do with our school or our school district," John said. "I think [Mack] would have liked to be a part of it." 

So far, Mack's Teepee fundraiser has amassed more than $3,000. The Parent Teacher Organization at Park Forest Elementary has pledged money from its Box Tops for Schools collection. That could put the fund at close to $5,000. Teachers believe is will cost at least $10,000 to purchase and set-up the new teepee-inspired playground equipment.

DelReal said the project has helped the children deal with the painful loss of their classmate. It's been difficult for them to grasp what happened.

Working on fundraising is making them feel better. Many children have enthusiastically embraced the project, writing letters to local business owners and volunteering to help out at Adventure Night. 

John recalled Mack as a boy who simply loved life. John could always find his best friend outside, ready to play.

"He was someone you could just hang out with, who would actually like, play with you and not just just sit there," John said. 

One by one, students in DelReal's class offered their own memories of Mack. The kids, each eight or nine years old, recall a boy with an infectious smile who always had a kind word and was unstoppable on the soccer field. 

They agreed he would have liked Adventure Night a lot, and think he would have been working just as hard as anyone else to raise money.

Elizabeth Brady said she and her family, including Mack's older sister, will be in attendance at Adventure Night, even helping out at the cotton candy booth. 

"Mack ... he just enjoyed life," she said. "He enjoyed everybody, everyone in our family loved him and got such a kick out of him. He just had that kind of lovable spirit.

"We love talking about him," Brady said.

"Mack was a very special person. He didn't take anything too seriously and he was always very funny. He loved to be involved, and I think he would absolutely love it. "He would say, 'This is totally awesome.'"

If you want to make a donation to help build Mack's Teepee, please make out your check to the Park Forest Elementary School PTO and write "Mack's Teepee Fund" on the memo line.

Send your check to:

Park Forest Elementary
c/o Terri Del Real
2181 School Drive
State College PA 16803

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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