Photos provided by Chad Stark and Ostlie Family
“Our family certainly qualifies as “the broken” right now. Eleven weeks ago, our husband, father and former Bison tight end Phil Ostlie died unexpectedly as we were moving on to a new adventure in Colorado. The 13 men in this photo walked with our broken family on November 4th when they helped me move into this unexpected next chapter, back in Fargo. While the community will remember them as part of the most successful era in NDSU football history, my family will hold them in a much higher regard—as those who rose to the call of lifting our family out of the pit of despair Thank you for demonstrating the real meaning of Bison family.” – Brenda Ostlie and family
Current and former NDSU football players lend a helping hand when tragedy struck a fellow Bison’s family.
Former Bison football player Phil Ostlie was shopping for a grill and a big screen TV, the two essentials for any new home when he last spoke to his wife Brenda. The two were finally empty-nesters, ready to close on a house early in the following week to move closer to their children in Colorado.
Brenda was away on business and on her way back to Denver. When Brenda got to the airport, Phil never arrived to pick her up. He passed away on August 26th due to complications from a heart attack.
The family was devastated. The plans to move to Colorado were ultimately scrapped. Their Fargo home had already been sold. All of their worldly possessions from 30 years of marriage were in a semi-truck on its way to Denver. That truck was summarily turned around and unloaded into storage on the morning of the funeral.
Things were looking very bleak, even overwhelming.
That’s when the Bison family stepped in.
First to the plate was the Bison Football Players Association. The BFPA is a nonprofit organization run by former NDSU players, that includes only former NDSU players. They have a fund set aside for a “brother in need.”
Phil was a member of the BFPA and had contributed to the group in the past. It, of course, made sense to Brenda that they would contribute the amount that they have set aside for each “incident,” which the organization did. They started by picking up the tab for a short-term rental home so the Ostlie family didn’t have to be in a hotel.
When their maximum gift was not spent, the BFPA offered to cover as many of the funeral costs as possible. For legal purposes, the Association needed an invoice to put against the donation they were making.
“It was humbling to accept the gift. But it made sense. Phil was a part of the organization. I just never thought I’d be on the receiving end,” said Brenda.
When it was clear that there were going to be expenses above and beyond that gift to the funeral, things started to happen that blew Brenda and her family away.
Phil Ostlie’s teammates wrote personal checks to cover the rest of the costs for the Ostlie family.
“I just had no words. I couldn’t believe their selflessness. That gesture was a big step forward on my road to healing. It was such a bright contrast to my unimaginable sorrow; an incredible blessing from the Bison family,” Brenda said.
A lot of these efforts were spearheaded by Phil’s teammate, Bison legend and local businessman Chad Stark, who played with Phil for three seasons.
In talking about Phil, you could see Chad’s eyes light up a little.
“Phil was an icon in Moorhead,” he said. “Such a natural athlete. Was a star in football, was a star in hockey, which is crazy. He made the hockey team because his friends were saying, he said ‘I’m gonna play.’ The only skates that were available were figure skates. So he made the hockey team on figure skates. That’s the kind of athlete he was.”
The Starks and the Ostlies went to church together, tailgated together, fished and golf together. Chad always considered Phil a part of the Bison family and remembers him as a member of the BFPA.
“We always say the Bison circle around the weakest Bison to help protect. That’s the analogy you’d use for the Ostlie family,” Chad said, as he explained what went into providing support for the family.
After the funeral and the events surrounding it were over, Phil and Brenda’s daughters urged Brenda to stay in Fargo around her support group. She obliged. This, of course, meant that three double garages’ worth of stuff was going to have to get put back into a house of some kind.
Chad Stark reached out to NDSU’s Director of Football Operations Hank Jacobs to see if the family could get a little assistance. Relatives were no longer in town, and while Brenda and her friends were capable of moving, it would have been a long and arduous process.
“These 13 strong young men showed up to help, the day after a game no less. I remember Phil’s post-game day ritual. It typically involved a very necessary couch and a television remote zeroed in on NFL. These 13 guys gave up their Sunday, their rest day, and had three enormous storage units loaded and unloaded at my new house in less than three hours,” Brenda explained.
“These guys had no idea who I was or who Phil was. I doubt they’d ever even heard his name before. The only reason they showed up is because he wore the same green and gold jersey. It was one thing when the BFPA stepped in—that’s what they do. It was another thing when Phil’s teammates stepped in; it’s understandable—they experienced a lot together. But when you think about these guys standing in the gap for somebody they’ve never met, they win more than football games. They win my heart.”
“The Bison circle around the weakest Bison to help protect.” – Chad Stark
Zach Willis, Josh Babicz, Bryan Nohava, Jackson Hankey, Zach Kubas, Joe Schreiber, Jake Kubas, Lane Tucker, Ben Hecht Austin Avery, Matt Biegler, Josh Howieson and Jalen Sundell all pitched in.
“Stuff like this probably doesn’t happen every weekend, but as far as one of our kids volunteering, it happens at least once a week where no one picks up on it. Our kids go out in the community, and they give back. A lot of them just do it because Chase Morlock’s senior year, he stood up and said, ‘if you do anything, just make sure you give back to the community,’” explained Coach Jacobs. Bison Pride is a term that gets thrown around a lot. It’s on flags, t-shirts and tailgating rigs. It was the subject of my first column in this very magazine.
Bison Pride is ultimately what Chad Stark felt after all of this was over, and he sums everything up quite nicely:
“The bulk of the work was done by the 13 incredible individuals from the team. It certainly brought Brenda to tears. It’s not about wins and losses with these guys; the culture is all about family and how you can help one another. They were so appreciative of what they’d done, and me, too,” said Stark. “As a former player that’s what you want to see, and as a parent, too. I’m a parent now just as much as a former player, and I want to see kids coming in the program that are becoming young men. That’s still what we’re doing there; the culture of discipline and dedication along with the selflessness that the program has built is incredible. It’s a credit to the coaches, and it’s a credit to the administration getting the right people in making that possible.”