MACOMB TOWNSHIP — When Brandon Kuzminski died this summer following a motorcycle accident, it deeply affected not only his friends and family, but also the people he worked with.
Although the 20-year-old Armada resident had only worked at Home Depot’s Macomb Township location for nine months, his warm, friendly, outgoing personality had made him a welcome addition to the staff. Kuzminski was someone his fellow employees seemed to like and respect.
“When I heard the news about Brandon, it hit me really hard,” said Kerry Jantz, one of Kuzminski’s co-workers and a Home Depot employee for the last seven years. “He was just a really nice kid who had such a bright future in front of him. He connected with everyone, and he was always eager to help anyone who needed it, whether that was customers or other employees. You could tell that his parents raised him very well.”
Jantz and the rest of the Home Depot staff wanted to pay tribute to Kuzminski and decided that the best way to do that would be to create a college scholarship in his honor. Kuzminski, a 2011 Armada High School graduate, had been studying business management at Macomb Community College and was soon planning to transfer to Walsh College.
Because Kuzminski was an enthusiastic sports fan, Home Depot employees opted to host a tailgating event during the Michigan/Michigan State football game on Nov. 2. The fundraiser received widespread support from the local business community, with a plethora of food and beverage donations coming in from eateries such as Passport Pizza, Jimmy John’s, Aspen, Tim Horton’s, Culver’s and Achatz Pies.
Jantz’s original goal was to raise at least $1,200 with the hope that Home Depot would match that amount. He was blown away when they were able to nearly double their target, collecting more than $2,300 throughout the afternoon.
“The turnout was so much bigger than we expected,” Jantz said. “Lots of Brandon’s family and friends showed up, of course, but there were also a lot of teachers from the Armada school district, which is where his mom works. It helped that the fundraiser received a huge response on Facebook.”
Kuzminski’s parents, Tom and Beverly Kuzminski, were touched that their son’s co-workers cared enough that they wanted to help keep his memory alive.
“We were so in awe, so humbled that they would go out of their way to do something like this for Brandon,” said Beverly Kuzminski, who works as a fourth-grade teacher at Krause Elementary School in Armada. “They have done so much for him, even though he worked there for less than a year altogether. I call them his Home Depot family.”
Brandon Kuzminski died on the morning of July 11 while driving to class at MCC’s center campus in Clinton Township. His Yamaha motorcycle struck a Dodge Ram Van head-on at the intersection of 28 Mile and Romeo Plank roads after the van reportedly failed to yield the right-of-way while making a left turn.
Since her son’s passing, Beverly Kuzminski said that her family has been “overwhelmed” by the level of support that they have received. Memorials included well-wishers decorating the giant rock at Armada Village Memorial Park and Home Depot staff painting a wooden cross orange and mounting it near the site of the crash. Since Brandon Kuzminski had Type 1 Diabetes, about 50 friends and family members also walked in his honor at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s annual Walk to Cure Diabetes on Sept. 29. In addition, Jantz said, Home Depot employees plan to hang up Brandon Kuzminski’s orange apron and work gloves at the store as a long-term memorial.
According to Beverly Kuzminski, “Everyone has been so supportive that it feels like every time I turn around, someone else has done another wonderful tribute in Brandon’s memory. This scholarship is another fine example of that. Our son loved to help others, so I think he would be thrilled to know that he is still making a difference in people’s lives.”
Now that the money has been collected for the inaugural scholarship, Jantz is waiting to find out whether Home Depot will match all or some of the Nov. 2 fundraising total. He and his co-workers will then begin working with Armada High School to distribute the money. While Jantz is not sure how many students will receive scholarships, he knows that the funds will benefit underprivileged Armada graduates.
“Our goal is to help kids who want to go to college but don’t necessarily have the financial means to do so,” he explained. “We’re still working out a lot of the details, but we should hopefully have everything figured out soon.”
As a teacher, Beverly Kuzminski is proud to attach her son’s name to something that will contribute to the future education of students in her community. It also serves as the latest silver lining to her family’s loss, which has made the pain of the last four months a little easier to bear.
“I cannot even express how grateful we are for the huge outpouring of love and support that we’ve received,” she said. “People have done so much more to reach out to us than I ever would have imagined. It doesn’t change what happened, but it kind of helps to fill a little bit of the hole in your heart.”