By: Cynthia Dawn Ericson
It was Friday and a soccer game day at the West Chester Christian School and Stephen was running to score a goal when lightning came from the heavens. Stephen was surrounded by the lightning and God’s love and we were blessed to have him with us for five days before God called him home. Stephen entered Heaven on September 19, 1984 at 6:03pm. Stephen was just 16 years old.
Later that same night, my Mother, in the midst of her unspeakable grief, started to write a letter to Stephen. She wrote and wrote and poured her heart out to her beautiful son. It is the most loving and beautiful letter. She shared it with each one of us and we were speechless – I was just 21 years old. It is only with the passing of time and maturity that I have been able to more fully appreciate the beauty and power of her message. For her to be able to articulate her heart and thoughts in the moment of unimaginable loss is hard to comprehend. There is only One who can provide the words and strength to a Mother’s broken heart and it is God. Because “with God ALL things are possible.”
Mother’s letter was passed to family, friends and colleagues. A local company “Leaman Advertising” learned about Stephen’s accident and Mothers letter and asked if they could print it. Since that time Mother’s letter titled “LATER ON” has been around the world. For the first 15 years after Stephen passed, every month, Mother and Daddy received phone calls and letters from people letting them know they had read “LATER ON” and shared how it had transformed their life. The stories were all about renewed relationships with God and family. How people found hope, comfort and strength – to move forward in life while living with loss.
Stephen was and is a beautiful ray of sunshine, energy, joy, love and FAITH. To demonstrate his character I want to share the story of Stephen’s last pair of shoes. Mother took Stephen to Exton Mall to buy shoes for the school year. As they were leaving the mall a young girl was entering with her Father, and the young girl was extremely disfigured and had several, severe physical challenges. When Stephen and mother reached the outside of the mall Stephen turned to my mother and said “Mom, did you see how beautiful her smile was…I hope people notice her beautiful smile!” This is Stephen.
Stephen’s goal, after high school, was to continue his education with a college degree. Laura and Joseph Ericson, Jr. decided to create The Stephen Chandler Ericson Scholarship to be given, annually, to a high school senior to help with their freshman year of college or trade school. The first scholarship of $250.00 was awarded in May of 1985. From its inception, until 2010, the scholarship was only known and supported by family and close friends.
2018 marks the 39th scholarship in Stephen’s Honor and Memory over the last 34 years (in five of those years 2 scholarships were given each year). The theme of Stephen’s Scholarship is that “one life makes a difference.” Each year when we meet with the scholarship recipient we share our three-fold mission, which is, WITH GOD:
- Turning Tragedy into Triumph
- The Importance of Education
- Paying it Forward
Some of the best moments of my life have been sharing the testimonials with my Mother and Father. Lee Johnson was the first in 1985 and he has since created his own scholarship and foundation. He shared that his life was transformed because of the scholarship and inspired to live a life of “giving back”. He lives that life today.
In 2010 my husband, Gary Beideman, and I started to realize that when we pass on Stephen’s scholarship would end – we wondered how we could keep things going. As we started to research foundations we thought this may be a goal that was well beyond our reach. We associated the concept of a “foundation” reserved only for those with great financial means. We then turned to The Chester County Community Foundation and shared Stephen’s story and what my parents had created and sustained all these years. We met with Karen Simmons and Beth Briglia and learned about the BLESSING of the Chester County Community Foundation. We thought we were knowledgeable about our area but through the Community Foundation we learned about ordinary people doing the extraordinary as they reached those without a voice. We learned, that Stephen, Mother and my Father could continue to change lives – long after we pass on. We began Stephen’s Foundation with $1,000.00 in December of 2010. As of 2018 the endowment has exceeded $47,000.00.
In 2018 we reached out to our community for sponsorships, as a way of adding more dollars to what the endowment would yield. We are so grateful to each donor for their generosity. It is because of you the 2018 Scholarship is $6,000.00. Brenna Eadie, from Henderson High School, is our recipient and will be attending Drexel University.
We are humbled and inspired each week by the people and organizations that have reached out and contributed to Stephen’s Foundation. The testimonials are wonderful and remind us, so clearly, that one life, makes a difference.