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Remembering Bonfire: Frampton known for his humor, hugs, smiles

Remembering Bonfire: Frampton known for his humor, hugs, smiles

From the Twenty years later: Remembering Bonfire series
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Judi Hedstrom and Richard Frampton taught their sons the importance of service to others. The legacy of Jeremy Frampton is rooted in service as well.

Jeremy was one of 12 Aggies who died in the collapse of the Aggie Bonfire on Nov. 18, 1999. He was 22. Far from College Station, in Turlock, California, young people who are battling addiction gather for healing at the Prodigal Sons and Daughters youth center. Many of those moments of recovery are spent in a room dedicated to Jeremy.

Jeremy loved Texas A&M sports and was an avid outdoorsman, but his interests were far reaching, earning him the nickname of “Renaissance Son” by Hedstrom. Frequently, he would be spotted enjoying an afternoon with a fishing pole in one hand, line bobbing in the water, and a book in the other. Cooking fascinated him. And as a music and opera lover, Jeremy took voice lessons during his senior year of high school so he could learn to sing songs from Phantom of the Opera to his mother, she said.

At the time of the collapse, Jeremy was a fifth-year senior majoring in psychology. He had an internship lined up in the months ahead, working with incarcerated youth.

“Jeremy was really known for three things.” Hedstrom said, “His sense of humor. He gave amazing hugs; he just would give this big bear hug. And his smile. He just had a smile that could light up a room.”

In the weeks and months that followed the Bonfire tragedy, there was an outpouring of support that came to the Framptons in their darkest hours.

“I think when something tragic like that happens, especially losing a child, you just kind of go into a bit of a denial in the beginning,” Hedstrom said. “I think it’s God’s way of protecting us from the full impact of it. But the thing that stands out the most is just the amazing way in which we were supported by the university, by the alumni, by the people in our community.”

A&M flew several hundred students to Jeremy’s memorial service in California, Hedstrom said. The hundreds of letters and notes from strangers made the largest impact on the grieving mother. Looking at the compassionate words of people she had never met ultimately inspired her to be a voice of understanding for those who have gone through the tragedy of losing a child.

Months after Jeremy’s death, Hedstrom and Richard Frampton ended their 26-year marriage. Hedstrom moved to Africa, where she worked through her healing process while helping others, fulfilling a dream she and Jeremy had. She worked in a school in Nairobi, Kenya, where she helped develop a counseling program. “I felt Jeremy there with me,” Hedstrom said.

Back in California, a friend of her youngest son, Zac, died of a heart attack. She reached out to the boy’s father, Dan Hedstrom, through a letter to offer her condolences. A relationship blossomed out of the correspondence, and the two were married. Dan moved to Africa, and they began helping families who experienced the loss of a child. 

Now settled in Arizona, they continue to volunteer with charities and continue their counseling work, aiding grieving parents.

“[Jeremy] just had a real giving heart as well, and so I think my being able to serve and help other people is just another way I helped carry on Jeremy’s legacy.” Hedstrom said.

Around the same time as Jeremy’s death, some friends of the Frampton family began a Christian nonprofit, Prodigal Sons and Daughters, in Turlock. The first gatherings were in the organizers’ house, but it was quickly clear that more space was needed.

The Frampton family realized supporting this charity was the best utilization of funds that had been gathered in Jeremy’s memory.

The first iteration of Jeremy’s House was a small building that held a pool table and served as a safe space for the youth of the program. When the charity moved to a building downtown, a meeting room was named in Jeremy’s honor. Now, in an even larger building, the room that houses art and music therapy programs bears the name of the Renaissance Son: Jeremy’s House of Art.

“Jeremy was creative,” Hedstrom said. “He loved creating, so that’s perfect.”

After graduating from seminary, Zac served as executive director of Prodigal Sons and Daughters for three years. Hedstrom took over from 2012 to 2015. Richard Frampton, who practices law in Turlock, was instrumental in helping the charity gain its nonprofit status.

Richard said he has continued to celebrate Jeremy’s legacy by supporting the university that his son loved. He said he’s even convinced a few youngsters in California to give A&M a try for their education.

“It’s a big family back there,” he said of A&M.

Tradition is what makes Aggies stand out, Richard said. Though it ended in tragedy, he believes Bonfire still ranks at the top of the list of Aggie traditions.

“Bonfire was a tradition, and that’s one of the things about Texas A&M that is so special,” Richard said. “They are so bound to those traditions, and Bonfire was a great tradition. It’s so sad that they can’t do it now.”

Another of Jeremy’s creative outlets was poetry. On his portal in the Bonfire Memorial on the A&M campus, a sample of his work is inscribed, titled The Purpose of Life.

“Take whatever there is and make the most,” the poem reads. “And if there is nothing make your own / And while you are loving to live a reason will become / And a purpose will appear making all the more reason to go on.”

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