Brad Bella could probably best be described as vibrant.
“Mr. Dynamo” began each morning excited to go to school at University Laboratory School on LSU’s campus. He loved baseball, championed the underdog and, like many fifth-grade boys, was a little mischievous.
The summer of 2001 was exceptionally hot, and Brad was, as usual, active. The combination masked his early symptoms of thirst, exhaustion and moodiness. During his family’s annual vacation to Florida, his symptoms worsened. After a visit to the beach’s clinic, he was diagnosed with a stomach virus. When his father tried to wake him the next morning, Brad was in a coma. He passed away from undiagnosed Type 1 Diabetes before he reached the hospital.
While planning Brad’s funeral, his family wanted to find a way to honor him. Aware that he was happiest at school, the Bellas decided on a scholarship at U-High.
“He loved U-High,” his mother, Grace, shared. “That was his joy. That was his passion.”
An opportunity to contribute to the Brad Bella Memorial Achievement Award was listed in Brad’s obituary, and the funds instantly began pouring in. “We were very fortunate, between family, friends, coworkers, many who knew my husband through all his careers,” Grace said, adding that the minimum requirement to endow the award was met before she and her husband, V.J., met with a school representative.
The scholarship was first conferred the following May. The award, which began at $500, is given each year to a senior who embodies Brad’s characteristics. The student, chosen by faculty, must already be accepted to a university, demonstrate excellent character, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and have played baseball for at least two years at U-High.
More than a decade later, Brad’s friends and family continue to give to the scholarship. Because of their collective generosity, the award is now $1,000.
When a student is awarded the scholarship, he is given a letter from Grace and V.J. “You have been chosen for your love of baseball, and for your academic success,” it reads. “He touched the lives of everyone he met in such a positive way. Remember his good qualities tonight, and smile in his memory. Take this award and use it to your fullest benefit, as Brad would have done.”
Brad’s impact was—and continues to be—felt by many. In addition to the scholarship, Brad’s name lives on through the school’s pond, named for Brad by a classmate’s family, and a classroom dedicated in his honor by an anonymous donor.
“He was a very loving child,” Grace shared. “He was just a light. He was very caring. He expected a lot of his friends, and he expected a lot out of people.”
Grace explained that when she lost Brad, she mourned the milestones he missed. “Having died at age 11, there was so much potential there,” she said. “For me, there’s a joy in knowing his memory will live on through this award. The joy he liked to give people in life, he’s now giving through this scholarship.”
Published in Cornerstone Summer and Fall 2014.