Derek always seemed to have a presence during Mollie's and my choreography sessions. We found ourselves asking "How would this compliment Derek?" Of course, that didn't matter because Derek was almost always the hardest working student at rehearsals. If the movement didn't compliment him, he would practice the steps until they did. Derek was magnetic on stage and it was difficult not to cater the choreography to him. He was an incredible role model to students in the theatre program in that way. During notes at the last dance rehearsal for Shrek, I said this, "Derek is pulling my eye because he is putting so much joy into the movement. I believe him. If the rest of you are having as much fun as Derek, show me."
Mollie and I had a lot of other encounters with Derek. As dance teachers, we are connected to a lot of young people in Pittsburg through our work in the studio or in rehearsals. But Derek went out of his way to become our friends outside of dance. We cheered on the Royals during long rehearsals, discussed stylish haircuts, and ran lines together. These non-dance related encounters are the moments we are grateful for now.
This photo was taken in the studio where Mollie and I choreographed Shrek. It's a tiny space in Mollie's basement. While choreographing, we imagined how well Derek could fill that space, and eventually an auditorium of thousands, with the energy he brought to the stage. It felt fitting to make Derek a permanent presence in our little room so that we are always reminded of how great an influence he was to our work.
— Maggie Stephens (PHS Class of 2007)
— Mollie Stephens (PHS Class of 2010)
Today is National Puppy Day, a day in the past that would mean as much to me as Talk Like a Pirate Day, but this year… I have a puppy and this day means something to me now. Here's our story about our super, special puppy.
A couple of months ago when Kyle and I were home by ourselves, because our teens had better things to do, we started toying with the idea of getting a dog. I had seen something that said, “When you have teenagers it’s important to have a dog so at least someone is excited to see you.” I’ve never been a huge animal lover, but my kids have always wanted a pet. Part of me wanted someone excited to see me and part of me wanted my kids to have a really good reason to stay home or come downstairs every once in a while.
Kyle and I had narrowed it down to a Shih Tzu and were going to surprise the kids. At a New Year’s Eve party my friend Jenny, who owns a kennel, and I started talking about a litter that was just born and would be ready around Valentine’s Day. Her dad, David, was at this party and again at our Super Bowl party. While Jenny and I talked about which dog in the litter would be the best one for us to get, David and I were playing cards. He was cheating and giving me a hard time, always smiling about it, laughing, being his ornery self.
I had decided on a girl puppy and wanted to name her Rozie in honor of my favorite person my grandma Mary Rozella, who was born on Valentine’s Day which is one of the reasons it is my favorite holiday. Monday after Valentine’s Day, Jenny secretly brought me the 8-week-old puppy Rozie and we surprised the kids with her. Makayla mildly freaked out, Logan picked me up and started hugging me, they were both so happy and instantly fell in love with her (Kyle and I did too).
The next day, Makayla’s best friends Derek, Aspen, and Macy came over to meet her. Rozie loved Derek and she kept licking and kissing his face. He was laughing his distinguishable laugh and that charming smile and called her Rosetta Stone. It was so funny. Kyle and I couldn’t stop laughing at those two. These teenagers were exhausted as they prepared for Shrek that week, and this little puppy seemed to really perk them up and made them temporarily forget their nerves.
Less than two weeks later, on a Sunday night, we got information that will forever haunt us. Derek had been killed in a car accident, but Aspen was okay and at the hospital. As I went to the hospital and hugged all of these amazing high schoolers and tried to be the support they desperately needed, I couldn’t cry, not that I couldn’t feel it and not that I didn’t want to as I thought about this loss to his family and friends, I just couldn’t because these kids needed me then. It wasn’t until we got home late that night that I found out that the other victim in this horrific accident was David, another heart-wrenching, devastating blow that brought me to my knees, but all I could do was crawl in bed and hope to wake up and pray it would be Sunday morning again.
The next morning, as I was in the kitchen by myself drinking coffee, I finally broke down and just cried and cried. Rozie started to whimper and begged me to pick her up. She started licking my face, licking my tears. I remembered her licking Derek’s face the same way and it made me smile. Her breath was awful of course and it almost was bad enough to stop her, but I could picture David laughing about it so I didn’t. There have been so many times in the last three weeks that Rozie has made our whole family smile, when we didn’t want to or feel like it.
My point to this long story is that Rozie, who came into our lives at the perfect time, will always be a special puppy. She will always remind me of three amazing people with her name, her kisses, and her bad breath. 😋
Tami, Jennifer, and Melissa - Rozie reminds me everyday of your favorite people. She's always good for stinky kisses, if you ever need them. ❤
— Ashlei Bockover
The second or third day after Derek's death, these caught my attention at morning drop-off at school and I found myself having to pull over and search for a Kleenex. A teacher — or someone — had thoughtfully put out buckets of sidewalk chalk so that students could express themselves. I knew rain was in the forecast, and that chalk drawings wouldn't last forever, so my instinct was to turn the car around and return to school, wait until everyone was inside, and take photos of each message to preserve them. Now seems a good time to finally share them, as Derek's mom, Tami, says she worries that in the weeks to come the public might forget Derek as daily life becomes once again routine. My guess, though, is that every day students and teachers arrive at this school, they still remember Derek — even if the chalk drawings have faded and washed away.
— Andra Bryan Stefanoni
"Drama Mama" and PHS Class of 1988
In the midst of a hectic show week, our thespians took time to honor a fellow thespian, one who shared a lot of joy with us and gave us wonderful memories from State Conference. To everyone in Pittsburg, thank you for sharing your show, and your friend Derek, with us.
— Stella Productions, Thespian Troupe 287, Leavenworth High School
(Honoring Derek with a tuba in reference to his role as the tuba-carrying "Elliott" in "Band Geeks," which the troupe saw at State Conference. By a twist of fate, the show they were producing when they stopped to honor Derek was "Our Town," which was Pittsburg High School's first show of the school year and featured Derek as a cast member.)
Yesterday, hundreds of people who knew and loved Derek gathered at Memorial Auditorium for a celebration of his life. A highlight was this performance, a song by the PHS Multigenerational Choir under the direction of his choir teacher, Susan Laushman. As a member of this choir last fall, Derek had joined in singing this song during the annual concert.
My family did not know Derek but my son, Ethan (7yrs old), was very drawn to his recent performance as Pinocchio. I do wish we had gotten a picture the day we attended the musical. During quiet times, when Ethan is drawing or playing some make believe game, I hear him singing. Always the same song "Story of My Life" the Pinocchio parts. I just wanted to say that it takes a true talent and amazing spirit to reach a random unknown kid in the audience. Derek did that for my son - even though we never met him, his spark lit a torch and touched my son's life.
When looking back through Derek's Twitter account to prepare his obituary and a column for the March 7 Joplin Globe, I came across these last two tweets of his that seem to summarize perfectly the kind of person Derek was. I will always be grateful to have gotten to see him perform, and grateful that he was such a good role model for the underclassmen who got to perform with him.
— Andra Stefanoni, PHS Drama Mama
This page, "Story of My Life: A Tribute to Derek Brumbaugh," will be authored by the many people whose lives were touched in some way big or small by Derek Brumbaugh. It will be maintained by a student and a parent volunteer. Memories, photos, and video clips may be emailed to [email protected] for posting here.