ASHLAND – Live life by your own rules. Make people laugh. Never give up. Work hard, play hard. Speak your mind. Include everyone. Give respect, and earn respect. Always look for the positive.

This is what it means to “Live Like Bre,” a phrase coined by a neighbor and friend of Breanne McKean shortly after Bre’s unexpected death at the age of 17. The phrase has also become one of the criteria for the new Bre McKean Memorial Scholarship, held at Ashland County Community Foundation.

McKean passed away Sept. 29 after collapsing on the field at Mapleton High School’s homecoming football game. She was a senior, celebrating her spot on the homecoming court. She was happy and vibrant. And then she was gone.

The sudden loss shook the Mapleton community and rippled throughout Ashland County and beyond. Friends bought t-shirts and yard signs—a few even got tattoos— in memory of Bre. Acquaintances changed their Facebook Profile pictures and used the hashtags #MapletonStrong and #LiveLikeBre. Even strangers and athletic rivals wore Mapleton’s school colors.

By the McKean family’s count, more than two dozen schools did something to remember Bre and show support for her grieving family and community. Upwards of 1,200 people attended Bre’s celebration of life service at Ashland University’s Niss Athletic Center.

“We knew she was special to us, but we didn’t know how she was perceived in the schools and in the community,” said Bre’s father, Tim McKean. “But we have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of posts on Facebook and Instagram and heard so many stories that we didn’t know.”

Several fundraisers sprung up as businesses and individuals began collecting money for what would become the Bre McKean Memorial Scholarship Fund at Ashland County Community Foundation.

“As soon as we added this fund to our online donation portal, gifts started pouring in from a diverse group of donors throughout Ashland County,” said Jim Cutright, president/CEO of ACCF. “We are honored to accept these donations and manage this fund in memory of Bre.”

The fundraising goal to start an endowed scholarship was $15,000. To date, the fund totals more than $60,000. Donations came from more than 200 individuals and groups and ranged from $10 to $5,000.

“It’s been overwhelming, but we’re just so proud of Bre for who she was,” Bre’s mother, Michelle, said.

Bre was the teammate who made everyone laugh. She was the classmate who got the class discussion rolling and went out of her way to include the new kid. She had definite opinions, and she wasn’t afraid to verbalize them.

She had nicknames for all the adults around the school and she sometimes scoffed at the rules, but her behavior wasn’t perceived as rude, and her jokes weren’t made at the expense of others. She just lived life in her own way, and she didn’t take herself too seriously.

Still, she excelled in school as a member of the National Honor Society and was a driven three-season athlete, surprising doctors by returning to the volleyball court just six months after tearing her ACL.

The new scholarship has great meaning for the McKean family.

“We want her to be remembered, and this will help someone,” Michelle, said. “Bre always tried to include and to help people, so this is a way for her to continue to do that.”

Starting in Spring 2024, the annual scholarship will be awarded to a female student athlete graduating from Mapleton High School who embodies the phrase “Live Like Bre.” Students may apply for the scholarship through Ashland County Community Foundation’s online scholarship application at www.ashlandforgood.org/scholarships. Applications are accepted January 1 through March 15.

The award amount will be $2,100 for each of the first five years—a nod to Bre’s athletic uniform number, which was 21. After that, per ACCF’s distribution policy, the award will be 4 percent of the fund total. This policy ensures the permanently endowed scholarship will continue in perpetuity, carrying on McKean’s legacy for years to come.

The McKeans extend their gratitude to the entire community for the outpouring of practical, emotional and financial support.

“It’s just been overwhelming. Everybody has been so kind and gracious,” Michelle said. “I don’t even know the words to say to thank everyone, but I just want them to know we truly, truly appreciate everything.”

Donations in any amount may be made to any ACCF fund at any time. Visit www.ashlandforgood.org to contribute to the Bre McKean Memorial Scholarship Fund online, or mail a check made out to Ashland County Community Foundation with McKean Scholarship in the memo line to 300 College Ave., Ashland, OH 44805.

About Ashland County Community Foundation: Ashland County Community Foundation advances philanthropy and improves the quality of life in Ashland County by connecting people who care with causes that matter. ACCF has awarded over $27 million in scholarships, grants and distributions.

The Life section is supported by Brethren Care Village in Ashland.