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Play honors Marine, supports scholarships

By RUSTY DENNEN

When Kelly Cresswell’s drama students step onstage and into the spotlight for four performances this week, they’ll be motivated by more than applause.

 Beginning Wednesday night at Riverbend High School, they’ll pay their respects to Marine Cpl. Brett Lundstrom and raise more money for a scholarship in his name.

  Lundstrom,  a Stafford County resident, was killed by small-arms fire in Fallujah, Iraq, on Jan. 7,  2006, along with two other Marines. He was 22.

 Each fall since his death, the Riverbend Theater Department has produced a play in his memory, with proceeds going to the Cpl. Brett Lundstrom Scholarship for the Performing Arts.

 The common thread in the production and the scholarship is Kelly Cresswell, who heads the Spotsylvania County high school’s theater department. She  taught Lundstrom before he joined the military and is his godmother.

 “He had a great sense of humor, and he went with the punches,”  Cresswell said in a recent interview.  Though his parents were in the midst of a divorce, “He was a happy guy and a hardworking student.”

 Cresswell met Lundstrom when he was 12 years old in 29 Palms, Calif., home of the Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command.

 Lundstrom, she said, “used to baby-sit for my daughters, and his father worked with my ex-husband” who was also in the Marines.

 Lundstrom was in Cresswell’s class when she taught at Woodbridge High School in 1999. When his family moved to Stafford  a few years later, Lundstrom asked Cresswell to be his godmother. He graduated from Brooke Point High School in 2001 and joined the Marines in 2003.

 The two kept in touch. Cresswell had talked to Lundstrom prior to his deployment to Iraq. She was teaching when she found out that her former student had been killed.

 In the months that followed, “We were determined to do a scholarship,” said Cresswell.

The fall show became a fundraiser for that purpose.  To date, students have gotten 16 scholarships in Lundstrom’s name, up to $800 each. They are awarded in May.

A corporate sponsor, Global Commerce Information Inc.,  helps cover production expenses so the scholarships can continue.  Candidates accumulate points by putting in hours for the theater program.

 Cresswell says she’s still in touch with Lundstrom’s father, Ed, a retired Marine Corps major who lives in Michigan, and his mother, Doyla Carol Underbaggage Lundstrom, of  Black Hawk, S.D. Lundstrom and his mother were members of the Oglala Sioux tribe; his father is a member of the Rosebud Sioux.

“They were always interested in what I was doing” with the play and scholarship, “and I contact them this time of year,” Cresswell said.

Lundstom’s family has seen  videos of the shows, but hasn’t been able to make it to a performance.

Students, Cresswell says, develop a connection with Lundstrom,  though they didn’t know him. She tells them his story and shows them a picture of him in his Marine uniform.

 One scholarship recipient, a senior at Christopher Newport University, “kept a picture of him to motivate her. [The money] helped her buy books her first semester,”  she said.

This year’s production is Ken Ludwig’s “Midsummer/Jersey,” an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” set on the Jersey Shore.

 The 30-plus members of the cast and crew do four to six rehearsals weekly for several months to prepare.

 “This is something we take very seriously. It’s not just for us, but for people who have suffered like Brett Lundstrom’s family,”  said cast member and senior Brandon Holland, 17.

Rachel Cabeza, 16, a junior who has a lead role, agreed there is a larger purpose.

 “It’s important that we remember the true meaning of why we do these plays. We do it for Mrs. Cresswell, and she does it for [Brett]” and his family.

 Cresswell said she doesn’t want Lundstrom to be forgotten.

 “I feel like I made a difference in this boy’s life, that  he made a difference in my life, and I wanted to honor him and his family.”

 Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431

rdennen@freelancestar.com

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