A death-bed promise came true Friday afternoon as the friends and family of Turlock resident and avid skateboarder Brandon Koch gathered to dedicate the city's skate park in his name.
On the one-year anniversary of the 26-year-old Turlock High graduate's death from a rare form of cancer, the campaign to get the Turlock Skate Park renamed the Brandon Koch Memorial Skate park ended successfully with some 75 of his loved ones and fellow skaters watching under a clear blue sky.
Despite Koch not being a public official or major fund-raiser, his aunt Judith Suliman was able to convince the Turlock City Council to approve the park's dedication in his name through emotional appeals and testimonials about the unofficial volunteer work he did supporting all of the skaters, young and old, who frequented the park. Then she had to raise the money needed to pay for the mounted plaque through donations.
It was a yearlong process that Suliman, a retired former Stanislaus County Library worker, underwent because of a conversation she had with her nephew while he was in the hospital after his aggressive form of cancer was deemed terminal.
"I said, 'Hey, Brandon, how about we change the skate park to the Brandon Koch Memorial Skate Park?' He said, 'They're never going to do that.' And I said, 'I'm serious, what do you think?' And he said, 'If you could do it, that'd be really nice.' So driving home from the Stanford hospital that night I thought, 'Oh, what have I done?' "
When Suliman called Turlock Parks, Recreation & Facilities Department Superintendent Erik Schulze, he suggested she buy a bench. But a bench wasn't the promise. So she rallied his friends and family. In August, the city council unanimously approved the renaming of the park. And earlier this year Suliman secured the funding through fund-raisers, donations and in-kind work to complete the boulder-mounted plaque's permanent placement in the park.
Schulze was at the event to watch the dedication.
"It's hard to believe this process started about 11 months ago," he said. "I can't remember a time I was more proud to be part of the skate park."
Suliman sold T-shirts and wristbands to raise funds. She got the T-shirts donated by Turlock's BB Prints It, the granite boulder donated by Merced's Boulders Unlimited and the engraving donated by Turlock's Gateway Memorial. In all, more than $1,000 in goods and services were donated and another $1,000 was raised to pay for the project.
As part of the memorial, Kameron Schumann, the little brother of Koch's girlfriend, erected a metal sign with a plaque about Koch's life. The message is mounted on, appropriately, a skateboard.
Many of Koch's skater friends attended, wearing the T-shirts, with boards in hand. His former roommate George Fagundes, 27, spoke at the ceremony.
"I feel hopeful for the fact that I get to come here and think of my best friend in the best way," he said. "This park is a place where we shared a lot of memories and did a lot of growing up. It's fitting for something like this to commemorate his life."
After the ceremony, one of Koch's friends yelled, "Let's skate." And they did, in the new Brandon Koch Memorial Skate Park.