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Friends find way to honor memory.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Now that they've accepted the idea that she is gone, some of Brooke Wilberger's closest friends have decided on a way to best remember her: by helping to provide a college education for an Oregon high school student - and maybe more than one - who represents her ideals and community-service spirit.

"It's to honor Brooke," said Meg Gray, a junior at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, one of Wilberger's closest friends while growing up in Veneta, who has been helping set up the scholarship fund. "She contributed so much to our community during high school."

Wilberger, a 2003 Elmira High School graduate and Brigham Young University student, vanished from a Corvallis parking lot on May 24, 2004, while cleaning lamp posts at the apartment complex that her sister and brother-in-law managed near Oregon State University.

Joel Patrick Courtney, 39, has been charged with her kidnapping, rape and murder. He has been jailed since the fall of 2004 in Albuquerque, N.M., and is awaiting trial on separate charges of raping a University of New Mexico foreign-exchange student. He is not expected to face the Oregon charges until the New Mexico case is resolved. That case is not expected to go to trial any sooner than this spring.

The Brooke Wilberger Scholarship Fund idea came from Jessica Marks, another one of Wilberger's close friends who attended Elmira High School with her and who is a junior at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. It will be administered by the Oregon Community Foundation. If the fund reaches $50,000, the minimum for a permanently endowed fund, it would then generate $2,250 annually to begin sending a student to college, the OCF's Sara Brandt said. The fund would hopefully grow from there and possibly provide scholarships for more than one student annually, she said.

If contributions total less than $50,000, the money would probably go into a pooled fund that the OCF has with the Oregon Student Assistance Commission, but would still provide scholarships, Brandt said.

Marks' intention for the fund is that it will award a scholarship annually to a student who performs community service with the same zeal that Wilberger did during her high school days.

A straight-A student at Elmira High School, Wilberger was involved in leadership and student government, said Gray, who grew up in Noti.

Wilberger also helped raise money to buy Christmas presents for needy children through the Adopt-A-Family program, helped raise $15,000 for the Children's Miracle Network through Elmira High's "Mr. Falcon Pageant," was an advocate for the STARS (Students Today Aren't Ready for Sex) program, and was the captain of the soccer team, Gray said.

She also volunteered in the third-grade classroom of her mother, Cammy Wilberger, at Eugene's Fairfield Elementary School, said Gray, who played soccer with Brooke Wilberger and Marks from middle school through high school.

"She did a lot," Gray said. "She made a big impact."

Cammy Wilberger said the scholarship fund idea is "wonderful. This is something positive," she said.

Something to replace the "negative, the ugly, the criminal part," said Cammy Wilberger, who had hoped for some closure when Courtney was charged in August. "It could be a long time," she said of Courtney's extradition to Oregon. "That's the frustrating thing."

There have been no new developments in the case, Corvallis police Capt. Ron Noble said. "It's totally in their hands," he said of the Bernalillo (N.M.) County District Attorney's Office. And prosecutors have suggested that Courtney might be linked to deaths in other states, according to a recent Associated Press story. Wilberger's remains have not been found. "We don't have any place to look right now," Noble said.

Cammy Wilberger said the family is planning a public memorial service for Brooke to be held in Eugene this spring, most likely in June, so that friends at various colleges around the nation will be able to attend.


Send donations to: OCF/Brooke Wilberger Scholarship Fund, Siuslaw Bank, 88312 Territorial Road, Veneta, OR 97487. For more information, contact Sara Brandt or David Westcott at the Oregon Community Foundation at 431-7099.
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Title Annotation:Crime; Brooke Wilberger's spirit of service will be memorialized in a scholarship
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 25, 2006
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