The news nobody wanted to hear came in mid-December.
After multiple brain surgeries and various cancer treatments, doctors informed 44-year-old Brandon Stewart he only had a short time left to live.
Stewart’s wife, Shauni, asked her husband if there was something special that he would like to do in his remaining time.
“I think I’d like a ride in the BYU football equipment truck,” Stewart said.
Thanks to a collaborative effort, Stewart’s unique wish was granted Saturday afternoon.
With longtime BYU equipment truck driver Hal Morrell behind the wheel, Stewart and his family were treated to a ride in the big blue semitruck sporting the “Y” logo, pulling the 45-foot trailer, around their neighborhood and Latter-day Saint ward in Clinton, where Stewart recently served as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Along the route, friends and neighbors dressed in Cougar blue lined the streets holding “We love Brandon” signs and waving BYU flags.
“It was spectacular,” said Fred Nelson, Stewart’s father-in-law. “There were people all over the place. It just could not have been any nicer.”
BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake and team mascot Cosmo the Cougar surprised the everyone by appearing unannounced and joining in the small parade. Billy Nixon, the team’s equipment manager, also presented Stewart and his family with a package of BYU gear.
One of the most touching moments came when Stewart hugged Morrell. Tears flowed as he expressed his gratitude.
“It’s awesome,” Stewart said as he choked up. “I really appreciate it.”
Raised in Bluffdale, Stewart served in a Latter-day Saint mission in Recife, Brazil, from 1995-1997. He returned home earn an associate degree in diesel mechanics from Utah Valley University in 2000, followed by a degree in manufacturing engineering at BYU in 2003. For the last 16 years he has worked as a manufacturing engineer with Alliant Techsystems Inc. and Northrop Grumman.
Stewart retired with the rank of major from the Utah National Guard in 2019, having also served a one-year deployment in Iraq from 2004-05.
He met his wife, Shauni Nelson, at BYU and they married in 2005 after he returned from his military service in Iraq. The couple has four children, including daughters Kali, 14, Jessi, 12, Shayli, 9, and son Casey, 6.
Stewart was released as bishop of the Clinton 30th Latter-day Saint Ward last August.
Stewart was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in November 2019. He was treated at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and University of Utah Hospital, enduring three brain surgeries, immunotherapy, targeted therapy and radiation, the family said.
The unusual request for a ride in the BYU equipment truck stemmed from Stewart’s interest in vehicles and his chosen field of study, not to mention being a proud BYU fan. When Stewart mentioned the idea to his wife, the Cougars had just played Costal Carolina and the BYU football equipment truck’s trek across America had been featured in the news.
The truck ride idea was initially dismissed, but kept popping back into Shauni Stewart’s mind, said her father, Fred Nelson.
She sent an email to the BYU Athletics Department, but it was during the holidays and there was not an immediate response.
She reached out to her siblings and asked if anyone had a connection to the BYU equipment truck. A brother mentioned knowing Morrell.
Nelson recognized Morrell’s name and later, his face, when the truck driver was featured with his partner, Fili Taufa, in the Deseret News.
Nelson recalled meeting Morrell more than a year earlier in the Bountiful Utah Temple. Nelson phoned Morrell.
“You remember me, you introduced yourself in the temple?” Nelson said. “You are one of the few people in the world who can answer my question. Is there any way to get him a ride in the truck?”
“He sure can,” Morrell said.
Morrell has been involved in hauling equipment to BYU football games for 10 years now and was more than willing to help the family. He did so with the blessing of Bailey’s Moving and Storage, who owns the truck, and BYU.
“When the situation was described to me, I choked up. My heart just broke for this family,” said Morrell, who sympathized with the Stewart children growing up without their father. “‘Man,’ I thought, ‘I am going to do anything I can to help him out.’”
A special ride was originally planned in Provo on Feb. 6 but with Stewart’s declining health, the event was moved up to Jan. 30 in his hometown. On Saturday morning Morrell picked up the truck in North Salt Lake, drove to Provo to hook up the trailer, then turned north to Clinton.
Hollywood Hal and the BYU Equipment Truck 🛻 are heading to Clinton, Utah to take the Stewart Family on a parade around the Clinton 30th Ward. Bishop Stewart (age 44) has been battling cancer and we want to show him our support. Come on out to support the Stewart family! pic.twitter.com/zH58cKqVVd— Billy Nixon (@byuequipment) January 30, 2021
Shauni Nelson thanked Morrell, BYU and everyone else for their “incredible” support through this difficult time.
“It’s pretty overwhelming,” she said. “We have had so much support this entire year of cancer. We’ve had so many people involved in serving and giving and helping. I just feel a lot of gratitude and appreciation.”
When Sitake heard about Stewart and his request to ride in the BYU equipment truck, he felt it was important to show up.
“We’re like a lot of other teams. You want to do service and help other people. It’s a big reason why I love being a coach,” Sitake said. “Brandon is a year younger than I am. You get emotional thinking about it — him and his family, the service he’s given, the things he’s done as a bishop and his service for us in the military. So I thought it was important that we could be here and I know that it would mean a lot to the community, so I just want to honor him.”