Chatfield student raises cancer funds in memory of former publisher Brad Bradberry

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By AJ Vicens

She says she misses the barbecue in his backyard, and the way she always saw him working in the garden.

She decided she would raise money in his honor to try to prevent other people from going through the same thing.

Terra Lesser, 17, and her family knew former Evergreen Newspapers publisher Brad Bradberry for years, and when he died of cancer in December, she wanted to remember him with acts that would benefit others.

"It makes me feel like I'm actually making a difference," Lesser said. "I"m hoping someday people won't have to go through it."

Lesser decided to take part in this year's Relay for Life, a fund-raising event for the American Cancer Society. During the event, individuals or teams of people pledge to walk around a track for 12 hours or more. Lesser raised more than $100 in honor of Bradberry, and it meant a lot to his widow, Dianne.

"I'm touched that she would think of him," Diane Bradberry said. "Any time that people remember Brad, it is a good thing, because he was so public about his cancer, and if it can raise money and awareness, then I'm happy she thought of him."

Brad Bradberry died at age 62 after a valiant, year-long battle with signet cell cancer of the colon. The Littleton resident, a native of Georgia, served as publisher for the publications of Evergreen Newspapers in Jefferson and Clear Creek counties, and his final year of personal columns chronicled his battle with the disease, deeply touching readers and co-workers.

Diane Bradberry had no idea Lesser planned to raise funds in Brad’s name when the teen got started.

"She's a sweet girl," Diane added, noting that Lesser and her two younger sisters often baby-sit her grandson. "They're a real sweet family.

"There she is, busy in high school, busy with lots of activities, and I'm sure there are lots of ways she could have spent her weekend. I was just touched that she would attach Brad's name to what she was doing.”

In fact, Lesser worked from 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m. on May 17, the same day she started walking the track at Brooks Field in Golden — from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. the next morning.

Lesser was one of 264 Chatfield High School students that spent their Saturday night walking laps at Brooks Field at the Colorado School of Mines. The group raised more than $25,000, according to Rhonda Gunkel, a Chatfield High Spanish teacher who coordinated the students' efforts.

Gunkel said that she has no personal connection to cancer, but a group of students approached her last year and explained that it was a worthwhile endeavor. Since then, she's had many students tell her their personal cancer stories.

"There have been tons of kids who have been sharing their stories with me," Gunkel said. "Whatever is personal to them is personal to me."

Anna Gleave, 17, was participating in her fourth Relay for Life event. Gleave, a Chatfield senior, said she had friends from Arizona that originally got her interested, "and then I dragged 10 of my friends along, and we kind of fell in love with it."

"Cancer has affected so many people," Gleave said. "It's just something we could do to help."

Gunkel said more than 20 teams at Chatfield competed to raise the most money. They started fund-raising in January but, as with most high school students, procrastination was a factor, Gunkel said. The students ended up raising the bulk of the money at the beginning of May.

Lesser hopes her fund-raising will mean fewer people have to deal with cancer. She said that the Bradberry family seemed a bit sad when they found out she was raising money in Brad's honor, but they were glad she hadn't forgotten about her favorite barbecue buddy.

"Sometimes I think people are afraid to talk about Brad because it will make us sad," Diane said. "It makes us happy that he can be a catalyst for some good to come. If using his memory helps raise some money, then that's all good."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com.