by Susan Mikula Campbell
Fishing was one of Shawn Stoneham's favorite things before leukemia took his life at age 10 five years ago.
Samantha Stoneham is hoping local residents will join her next weekend at a fishing derby in memory of her brother at Oppenheim Park in Wheatfield to raise funds for Carly's Club, a group dedicated to supporting kids and cancer research in Western New York.
Samantha, a Sanborn resident and junior at Niagara-Wheatfield High School, is just 17.
She remembers the joy Carly's Club provided for Shawn - everything from the group's Halloween parties for sick kids to opportunities to meet members of the Sabres and the Bills and attend a monster truck event.
"When young kids are sick, it's hard for them to go out and do things," she said.
And Carly's Club, which is managed by the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, also supports cancer research, something Samantha is especially interested in.
The Shawn Stoneham Memorial Fishing Derby will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, June 19, at the Oppenheim pond, located on the left near the entrance to the park off Niagara Falls Boulevard. Bring your own fishing pole or borrow one at the site. The rain-or-shine event for all ages will include raffles, prizes, a basket auction, a casting competition for youngsters ages 11 and under and refreshments. Grand prize will be a fishing trip for two on the lower Niagara River.
Tickets are $5 pre-sale (available at the N-W High School counseling center or at Vinson Racing Supply in Sanborn. Tickets on the day of the event will be $7.
Family members, including Samantha's mom, Patty Vinson, her father, Michael Stoneham, other relatives and her boyfriend, Ragnar Rutenberg, have been helping organize the fishing derby.
"It's coming together nicely. I'm very proud of her," said Patty Vinson, noting that Samantha came to her with the fishing derby idea last fall.
There already is a scholarship at Niagara County Community College in Shawn's name, but in this anniversary year, Samantha wanted to do something more in memory of the little brother who brought so much laughter and fun to her life. He was born missing a part of his intestines, came back from that, and was diagnosed with leukemia when he was about 6, she said. "He always fought through it."
In addition to fishing, Shawn enjoyed being in Boy Scouts, four-wheeling and monkeys, especially after meeting local primate expert Carmen Presti. Samantha smiles as she talks about a favorite memory of building a wet slide on the side of a hill. "He was so light, he flew right off the tarp and kept going on the grass," she said.
She proudly relates that she was a "perfect match" when Shawn needed a bone marrow transplant and that doctors said "we could have been twins."
Samantha took on the fishing derby despite a more than full schedule at high school. She takes nine classes, including college-level courses, and doesn't have a lunch period or study hall, plus Regents exams start next week, and she has a part-time job as a hostess at a local restaurant on the weekends. Her goal is to someday work at the labs at Roswell.
High School counselor Sean O'Brien said he sees a lot of students who want to do community service projects. Many need the projects to build their resumes.
"She's doing it for all the right reasons - just to celebrate her brother and for a good cause," he said.