In a life spent largely in the service of others, Becky Brothers has worn a lot of hats in the Putnam County community.
So when Brothers began literally wearing a hat to cover a head laid bare by chemotheraphy a couple of years ago, it was a shocking and heartbreaking sight for many. Cancer touches everyone at some point but when it touches the really good ones, the sting is a bit sharper.
With the South Putnam guidance counselor facing a grim prognosis in her fight against ovarian cancer, she was presented with a Distinguished Hoosier Award on Saturday, Nov. 19.
Issued by Gov. Mitch Daniels, the award is granted to Hoosiers who have uniquely brought admiration and respect to the state through their character and accomplishments.
Awards are nothing new to Brothers, though. Locally, her past awards have included the Bessie Rector Award, Mental Health America Person of the Year, North Putnam Alumni of the Year and most recently the 2010 Greater Greencastle Chamber of Commerce Person of the Year.
What's most compelling, though, isn't a list of plaques on a wall. More important are the lives and hearts Brothers has touched along the way.
As part of the campaign to nominate her for the award, a number of community members wrote letters to Gov. Daniels about Brothers and her worthiness for the honor.
In reading these letters, one begins to get an idea of exactly what an impact her life has had on others.
"Putting her accomplishments on paper somehow dims her light, as she is one who moves through the world as a caretaker and problem solver without seeking special acknowledgment," Lee and Susan Stewart wrote to Daniels. "She sees the hundreds of gaps in life and fills them with her spirit and goodwill, particularly focusing on our youth and their families."
The 1974 North Putnam High School graduate has given 30 years of service to South Putnam High School -- first as a teacher and coach, and the last 18 as a guidance counselor. The former students she has touched struggle to find exactly the words they want to describe Brothers' influence on them.
"Because of her guidance and inspiration, I too chose to become an educator," Nathan Aker wrote. "I currently teach at South Putnam and have continued to witness her devotion daily. I know that if her doctors would allow her, she would be back at school immediately, continuing that positive impact."
For another former student and current colleague, Brothers' influence began at in kindergarten. Brothers was the Eagle volleyball coach in the 1980s when she allowed Jill Newton to be the water girl that season. Newton later had Brothers as both a teacher and a coach. She eventually followed in Brothers' footsteps at the helm of the Eagle volleyball program.
"Whether it has been providing clothes, prom dresses or just a ride home, she has always made herself available to students in need," Newton, a Reelsville Elementary teacher, wrote. "I can only hope that I inspire students as much as she has inspired me."
Even students who didn't follow Brothers' career path remember her evenhanded ways in the classroom.
"Becky was probably the only teacher that I have ever seen that never had a 'teacher's pet,'" Indiana State Trooper and South Putnam graduate Cory Robinson wrote. "Students gravitated toward her from all walks of life and she treated each of them the same. The troubled, the athlete, the class clown, the cheerleader, the nerd all were not only treated equally by her, but they all seemed to want to be around her."
Even without playing favorites, Brothers has gone the extra mile for the students who've needed more assistance. In organizing food drives, clothing drives and even buying prom dresses for young ladies who could not afford to do so, her kindness has extended beyond the walls of the school.
A counselor is also in a unique position to help students with special learning and behavioral needs. The father of one such student wrote touching words to Daniels in his appeal.
"(My son) has always needed someone looking out for him and to be in his corner. Since his seventh-grade year, that person has been Becky Brothers, and I am so glad and blessed that she is," the father wrote. "Anytime he came home with a problem, all I had to do was to call her and most of the time it was taken care of before the day was over."
As an occupational therapist with Old National Trail Special Services, Shelly Starbuck has frequently worked with Brothers regarding similar situations. She testified it was a consistent effort.
"Becky has always put kids first," Starbuck wrote. "Even when she became sick with cancer, she still worked when she didn't feel well because she cared about 'her kids.' The kids knew they could always count on her as a support system, sounding board, guidance counselor and friend."
South Putnam Principal Kieth Puckett shared his thoughts with Daniels on what has made Brothers such an asset to the school.
"In the years I have worked with her, she has not only willingly accepted every task that I have ever seen put before her, but she has excelled at them," Puckett said. "Whether it has been as the head of our guidance department, as a high school teacher or as an athletic coach, she has consistently demonstrated the leadership, knowledge, work ethic and flexibility needed to set a great example for not only her faculty members and students, but also for her colleagues in neighboring school districts."
From his position at a neighboring school district, North Putnam Principal Alan Zerkel also took notice.
"I personally witnessed Becky, hardly able to stand from the bleachers at a basketball game after a difficult day of chemo, invite a parent to her office in response to his question about signing his son up for an upcoming SAT exam," Zerkel said.
Brothers carried this spirit of giving to others to the entire community, not simply her students. Outside of school, she has done work for the P.I.E. Coalition, Putnam County Youth Development Commission, Area 30 Medical Career Advisory Board, Putnam County Senior Citizens' Prom, Putnam County Teen Court and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, among others.
Her full calendar modeled for students what it means to care for others.
"She is always willing to go out of her way for others needing assistance," South Putnam Junior High School student Katie Hewitt wrote in a 2010 essay. "Ms. Brothers' career choice is to be a guidance counselor at South Putnam High School, but she goes beyond that to help all students. Even having a tough year last year physically, she hasn't skipped a beat."
Hewitt's essay and her subject were impressive enough to win the Putnam County Community Foundation's 2010 National Philanthropy Week Essay Contest.
"She is selfless in her actions and does not look for attention," Hewitt wrote of Brothers. "She wants to see us grow and become successful. I only dream, one day, to be like Ms. Brothers. I idolize and appreciate her philanthropic work.
Hewitt's word choice of "idolize" is one with which Brothers wouldn't be comfortable. The unassuming giver believes she simply does what is right, like anyone else would.
"The things I do -- those are things everyone does," Brothers said after winning the Chamber's Citizen of the Year in January. "When I listened to the list of people who had won this before, I thought, 'I don't even begin to qualify.'"
This is one of the few points on which Brothers and her countless admirers would disagree.
Zerkel probably put it best in his letter to the governor.
"There are many people in our lives who do positive things that we remember for a short period of time. There are fewer still that do positive things and remain in our memories in reflection from time to time. There are the rare individuals whose deeds, caring, love and just mere presence at some point in our lives, stay with us forever. Miss Brothers, as she is known in hearts everywhere, is truly one of those rare individuals."