Andrew Weishar, Late Brother Rice Alum, to be Honored at 'Weish Fest'
"He grabbed my right hand, looked at me, and said 'Danny, I promise I will do a lot more than just watch over you,' " Danny Weishar said.
"I know he's going to affect my life and help me along the way and continue to guide me."
Danny said he believes his sibling's courageous fight with cancer — which claimed his life Oct. 12 at age 21 — led him to create the Andrew Weishar Foundation.
"We needed to create a foundation that could help as many people as possible," said Danny, 20, a Brother Rice grad and University of Illinois junior. "I'd like to think what we're doing with the foundation is what Andrew's telling me to do."
Destroying a body, but not a mind
Colorectal cancer ravaged Andrew's body.
He had been more than 230 pounds, a strong-as-iron defensive lineman at Brother Rice in Mount Greenwood, and for a year, Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.
By his final days, he was down to 130 pounds, throwing up every 30 minutes or so, unable to eat anything but flavored ice chips.
"His chemo would just wipe him out," said Andrew's mother, Jean.
But the oldest of the three Weishar brothers never complained about the constant pain he felt. Until the very end, he believed he would beat the cancer, which forced him to leave Illinois Wesleyan after a year and spend three years living in the front room of his family's Midlothian home.
"He asked for so little and kept battling and made everybody feel as good as possible," said Andrew's father, Don. "That's the genius behind Andrew, he never sought pity. From the moment he was diagnosed until the time he died, he made it easy on us."
He also inspired countless family members, friends, teammates and community members.
When he died, no less then four rubber wristbands were created with messages like "Resolve Andrew Weishar No. 54;" "Faith, Courage, Strength;" "Andrew Our Fighting Hero" and "Weish 4 Ever: A.W. A True Titan."
Classes at Brother Rice were canceled so students could attend his funeral.
At Illinois Wesleyan, teammates carried his No. 54 Titans jersey onto the field before every game, and there was a candlelight ceremony featuring 2,000 students. Plans are in place to create a bench near the school's football stadium with Andrew's name.
"We would always talk about him in our football meetings, saying how grateful we were to be able to play, and we knew he was guiding us the whole time, just with his presence," said Andrew's best friend "from out of the womb," Parker Carroll, who played tight end at Illinois Wesleyan.
"He really helped us become a team and realize what we had and what he couldn't do, and what we had to do for him," said Carroll.
At the Illinois Wesleyan graduation, student body president Ted Delicath dedicated his speech to Andrew, including the sentence: "To my best friend and hero, Andrew Weishar, you were the catalyst behind this speech, and I will strive to live up to your example every day."
"With his death, it only emboldened how amazing he was as a person," Delicath said.
Andrew's youngest brother, Nic, a senior basketball and football star at Marist High School in Mount Greenwood who has verbally committed to play tight end at Notre Dame, said the elder Weishar "was the biggest coach of my career."
As the country's top football programs wooed Nic on recruiting trips, Andrew went along for the ride, keeping his brother, who had 23 scholarship offers, grounded in his cleats.
"I thought I'd have the best game ever, and he'd criticize me," said Nic, 17.
Andrew died a few hours before one of Marist's final regular-season games of the year, and Nic had 13 catches in a 34-24 loss to Benet Academy. What would have been Andrew's 22nd birthday was Oct. 26, when Nic's Marist squad fell 34-28 to Lyons Township in the first round of the Class 8A playoffs. Both Marist and Lyons Township had "No. 55" stickers — Andrew's number at Brother Rice — on their helmets.
Before he died, the last thing Andrew told Nic was to make sure he "brought joy to my family."
"He told me I have to be something special," Nic said. "I know what he meant by that: that I need to give the family something to look forward to."
You are not alone
Don Weishar would like the Andrew Weishar Foundation to be "like the Susan G. Komen Foundation for adolescent cancer."
He's excited for Weish (pronounced "Wish") Fest, which will feature a trio of local bands, mostly because it will help "people who need it."
"When we were in our situation, I can't tell you how much it meant to have a community of people behind you," he said. "That's kind of what I'm looking forward to, helping people feel good about not being in it alone."
Danny was in the room when his brother died. Andrew was hunched over, comfortably, and was "sleeping" for the first time in months.
"We tried to wake him up and we couldn't," Danny said. "He really was at peace. There was no pain."
Danny came up with the idea for Weish Fest soon after, saying he wanted to "lift spirits."
And he said he truly believes his oldest brother will be watching the culmination of his work on Sept. 1.