Dylan Buckner Foundation extends its footprint

  • Chris Buckner, left, and Justin Breen have teamed up for the BrEpic Leadership Award, presented by the Dylan Buckner Foundation.

    Chris Buckner, left, and Justin Breen have teamed up for the BrEpic Leadership Award, presented by the Dylan Buckner Foundation. Courtesy of Justin Breen

Updated 6/2/2022 1:16 AM

Dylan Buckner's legacy continues to grow.

Many people reached out to Chris and Karen Buckner in the days, weeks and months following the death of their eldest son, Dylan, the Glenbrook North student-athlete who died by suicide on Jan. 7, 2021, his senior year.


Justin Breen, a Glenview resident and graduate of Glenbrook North's Class of 1995, who had never met the Buckners, was among them.

We've written about Breen before, both as founder and CEO of BrEpic Communications, and just recently as the father of a pair of young runners putting up amazing times on the local running circuit.

Breen had very nice things to say about the "fearless" quarterback Dylan Buckner.

"What stands out about it," Chris Buckner said, "was he told me that he would take his sons to the football games and that they liked watching Dylan play, thought that Dylan was such a natural leader. He was just so fun to watch.

"I never really thought about people coming to see Dylan play, you're coming to see the team play. It stood out to me, meant a lot to me."

Chris said Breen also shared he was a "champion for mental health," and that he'd had some experience with that.

Breen's younger brother, Jerry, had died of an opioid overdose at 29, Justin said.

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"I can understand this type of pain in some capacity, I guess," Breen said. "Certainly not to the effect of Dylan's family, but my brother was very high achieving."

Chris Buckner recalled Breen also saying he would "like to do something to remember (Dylan) by."

That is happening now with the BrEpic Leadership Award, provided by the Dylan Buckner Foundation. A $1,000 award will be given to a graduating senior at Glenbrook North.

Chris Buckner said while this year's award is limited to Glenbrook North seniors, in the future it may be open to other graduates.

Applicants must support mental health causes and submit a maximum 300-word answer to the question, "What does leadership mean to you?"

The application deadline is June 10; the recipient will be announced June 17. Visit lnkd.in/gKPzMrCf for application information and to donate to the cause.


Initially, the Buckners couldn't act on Breen's offer because they were just figuring things out on the foundation front themselves.

Working with Glenbrook North and District 225 the Dylan Buckner Foundation has since gained tax-exempt status. Highlighting the Spartan Buddies program, a special needs mentorship program in which Dylan participated, the foundation has since provided $10,000 memorial scholarships to four students.

Using money mainly from the Buckners' own pockets and contributions of close friends, the scholarships go to an "unsung mental health hero," Chris Buckner said, and a student with special needs the foundation would like to help past graduation.

In 2021 the foundation awarded $10,000 each to Jason Isele and Ethan Zernick; Simon Klein and Aaliyah Kelly are this year's recipients.

Down the road, Chris Buckner would like the foundation to be able to support mental health research and treatment, possibly funding therapists and inpatient beds at mental health facilities.

The BrEpic Leadership Award extends the Dylan Buckner Foundation's reach.

"I was very humbled and very thankful to Justin for championing doing it," Chris Buckner said.

"His view on mental illness seems to be very similar to ours, or the foundation's, which is mine, Karen's and (son) Ethan's. We're just trying to de-stigmatize mental illness, trying to normalize conversations where a child or teen would go to a parent or trusted adult and say, 'I'm battling mental health issues' in the same way they'd tell a parent, 'I've got a broken arm.'"

Breen looks forward to this becoming an annual award.

"I know Dylan's family, they want to help people through this, and so do I," he said.

"I'm just very thankful to be a part of this, and hopefully it helps Northbrook and Glenbrook North."

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