Two Mama Bears and a Scholarship: Transforming Loss into Hope and Healing

When your child has special needs, especially when they look “normal” on the outside, life is different. There are fun times, happy times, but sooner or later the realities of your child’s struggles come bubbling to the surface. There is often silence when others speak about their children’s accomplishments. Not because you are jealous. Because you know your child’s accomplishments are different. Less socially accepted. Less understood. It can be lonely.

Yet there we were, sitting in the dark auditorium for Senior Night, as my son’s name was called to accept his award: the David A. Conrad scholarship for $500. As he walked back to his seat, the auditorium filled with applause. The look on his face…

<insert Mama Bear heart clench here>

I had a chance to sit down recently with Karen Conrad, who created this scholarship in her son David’s memory. I wanted to know about the young man whose legacy had given my son a such a boost of optimism and confidence. We were just two Mama Bears, fierce advocates for our boys all their lives, having breakfast and bonding over eggs, coffee, and shared stories. It’s important to share David’s story today, as it’s the anniversary of his passing, and his scholarship fund opens for donations.

David Conrad: Quintessential White Sox Fan for Mayor

David Alan Conrad loved the White Sox, politics, and history. In fact, his favorite colors were black and white for his beloved White Sox — when he was in eighth grade, he was lucky enough to see the Sox win the World Series. He loved politics so much that he used to ask his mom’s friends – “If I run for mayor of Downers Grove someday, would you vote for me?” Of course they all said yes. 😊

David was on the high school swim team and once swam so hard, for so long, he had an asthma attack. He gave it his all, in the pool and in life. He always saw the best in everyone. And even with the challenges he faced, he always said, “I’m fine.” He never wanted to worry anyone, let anyone down.

This is one of my favorite photos of David and his mom, dancing at a family wedding.

Like my son, David attended Downers Grove South (DGS) High School and was fortunate enough to be in the special education program with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The program made a huge difference in both our sons’ lives. Both our boys went on to College of DuPage with their “blue cards,” a continuation of their IEP from high school. But sometimes, all the love, support, and blue cards in the world are not enough. David passed away at the tender age of 21 in 2013.  

About the David A. Conrad Scholarship

Karen and her family started the scholarship to honor David’s memory in 2014 with their own money, after she read that starting a scholarship fund can be healing.

“David once wrote a letter to the Women’s Club, on his own initiative, for a scholarship, and he won. He was so proud! The look on his face when he won…” Karen trailed off, pressing the locket around her neck to her heart. Inside is her favorite photo of her son. She wears it always, keeping David close to her heart.

The David A. Conrad scholarship is awarded to student(s) at DGS in the special education department. Someday, Karen would like to extend it to Downers Grove North High School if she can raise enough money this year. While Karen leaves it with the faculty to determine the criteria and winners, she has said that it is typically awarded to someone like David: hard working, kind-hearted, and open to people from every walk of life.

I recognize that times are hard, and I don’t typically promote fundraisers. But this cause is near and dear to my heart, as are Karen and David. If you would like to donate to this special cause, here is the link to the scholarship Go Fund Me page.  

David in Three Words: Sweet. Innocent. Loveable.

Karen says if he were alive today, David would tell students who receive this scholarship: “Believe in yourself! Do your best! Be optimistic. Move through your challenges! Even if no one else believes you can do it, know that you can. Don’t worry if you make mistakes. You got this!”

I know David is an angel now, watching over his mother and his family. I imagine his spirit is with my son, invisible wings now on his journey as he transfers to University of Iowa this year to study writing. Karen said she thinks David brought her and I together. I know he did.

Thank you, David. 😊

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