Osage Elementary School community honors Brooke Mulford, 12, who passed away from cancer
By ZANE CLARK and KRISTEN DOWD
The Osage Elementary School student body came together in February 2016 to arrange red and green plastic cups in the school’s front fence, spelling out the message “Osage Loves Brooke.” The project was in support of classmate Brooke Mulford in her fight against neuroblastoma.
On Monday, June 12, after an eight-year battle with cancer, 12-year-old Brooke passed away. And on Friday, June 16, the Osage Elementary community returned to the school’s front fence to share their love once again with their courageous alumnus.
“It was impossible to meet her and not just be affected by her. She just lived every day with strength and courage and faith and love,” Kelly Beck said. “You saw her smile and you just felt it.”
Beck and co-teacher Colleen Canale taught Brooke during her two years at Osage, first in the fourth grade and, by luck, moving up to the fifth grade and teaching Brooke during her final year at the school as well. Canale also served as Brooke’s homebound instructor.
“I think no matter where Brooke has gone, whether it’s a fundraiser somewhere or a function or here at Osage, she just walked into a room and instantly made an impact with her ability to just see life in such a positive way,” Canale said. “Cancer never really kept her down. She always had a smile. She always had a giggle. She really just wanted to be a kid.”
Brooke grew up in Salisbury, Md., before moving to Voorhees in 2014 with her mother Amy to be closer to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer, at the tender age of 4. Despite this challenge, Brooke was known for her charitable endeavors, such as her Brooke’s Toy Closet in which she would donate toys to hospitalized children.
“The toy closet is one of the big fundraisers that we’ve done with her assistance. She created the toy closet down in Maryland and we continued to gather toys here for two years,” Canale said. “Some of the toys went to the Maryland hospital and some of the toys went to the children’s hospital here.”
“I always felt like she was a giant in a little body,” Beck said. “She was just unstoppable.”
This sentiment certainly seemed to be true. Brooke and her spirit were honored in countless ways over her short 12 years, from becoming an official member of the Philadelphia University Women’s Soccer program in September 2014 to earning high-fives from the Philadelphia Phillies to shining onstage at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry for the Christian music-based K-Love Fan Awards. This past winter, the Camden County Freeholder Board declared Feb. 16 as Brooke Mulford Day in recognition of her battle against neuroblastoma.
“She was a ray of sunshine during that meeting, and her smile was infectious,” Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. said. “You would never have known that she had endured so many medical procedures, and led such a hard-fought battle against this devastating disease. That night, she taught us all what it meant to maintain a courageous and positive attitude in the face of great adversity.”
Canale said Brooke was an inspiration at Osage, and when telling their students there’s no limit to what they can achieve, Brooke is often an example.
“She could have held back, but instead you always saw her with a smile and you always saw her jump in to do things. There was never an excuse for anything,” Canale said.
Last year, Osage gave Brooke an inspiration award, and in the young girl’s honor, the award will continue at the elementary school as the Brooke Mulford Inspiration Award, given to students who model themselves after Brooke and go above and beyond to help the school and community.
“Brooke and her mom Amy were always so appreciative for everything that Osage, Voorhees Middle School and our community did for them. But honestly, it’s all of us who are thankful and who benefited from having Brooke and Amy in our life,” Osage Principal Robert Cranmer said at Friday’s event. “They inspired us and they modeled for us courage, compassion and most of all love. They had the most amazing, unconditional love for one another. Even during the pain and suffering, Amy and her daughter Brooke selflessly raised toys and money for other people and kids who were suffering from cancer. Brooke and Amy left an amazing, permanent mark on Osage and our community.”
After Cranmer spoke, students and staff observed a moment of silence, bowing heads and sending as many positive thoughts and prayers and wishes as they could to Brooke and Amy. They then sang songs, including “Never Alone.” And as the Osage community went back inside the building, a new message — this time in red and purple cups — once again proclaimed “Osage Loves Brooke” along the school fence.
“I feel like a big part of her gift was that she just affected you in a way when you met her that you’ll never forget,” Beck said. “From the very first time, she just stayed with you.”
Brooke is survived by her mother Amy Stanton Mulford (Charles Klaus) and father Robert Nelson Mulford, Jr. She is also survived by her maternal aunts and uncles, John Stanton (Johanna Marino), Alisyn Stoffel, David Russell Jr. (Brenda), Jason Dunn (Virgina), Aaron Dunn, Heather Thomas (Jacob), and James Armstrong (Misty). Brooke will be dearly missed by her paternal great-grandmother, Trula Ivans, and loving aunts and uncles Jean Burgee (George), Josh Targtaglione.
Brooke’s family will receive friends on Friday, June 16, 4:30–8 p.m., at the Haddonfield United Methodist Church, 29 Warwick Road, Haddonfield. Funeral services will be held on Saturday, June 17, at 10 a.m., at the Haddonfield United Methodist Church. A celebration of life will be held Friday, June 23, at the Bennett High School Stadium, 300 E. College Ave., Salisbury, Md.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Brooke Mulford Foundation, PO Box 545 Salisbury, MD 21803.