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Aidan Mach, Eli Hartman, and Milo Kessler at sleepaway camp

Fraternity Brothers Fundraise for a Childhood Friend

College students honored their friend of 10 years by hosting a fraternity fundraising event for osteosarcoma research so others don’t have to go through the pain of losing a close friend.

Aidan Mach, Eli Hartman, and Milo Kessler met at sleepaway camp when they were 8 and 9 years old (pictured above, L-R: Aidan, Eli, and Milo). Soon, the fast friends were “living 10 for two,” as they called it.

“It basically meant living the 10 months outside of camp just waiting to go back to camp for two months,” Eli says. “In our bunk, we had a really tight-knit group. And Milo, he was definitely the glue.”

There were only a handful of kids who stayed all seven weeks at the sleepaway camp each summer, and so naturally the ones who did grew close.

“Living together at camp, you do everything together,” Aidan says. “It’s basically sleepovers every night and every meal and activity together. So it’s hard not to become brothers in a sense.”

The boys maintained their friendship even after they went home, keeping in touch via Facetime and visiting one another whenever they had the chance.

“There was nothing we enjoyed more in the world than just doing nothing together,” Aidan says. “We could do nothing together for hours on end.”

Then in November 2020, during their senior year of high school, Milo texted the others to let them know he had osteosarcoma.

“Even the way he told us was just so Milo,” Eli says. “He didn’t want to add to anyone’s problems [with COVID-19 going on at the time]. The way he put it was really sensitive to the state of the world and he was just like, ‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.’”

A Short 16 Months

At first, Milo’s prognosis was good. And although he was in treatment the second half of his senior year, he managed to graduate high school on time and cross the stage to get his diploma with the rest of his class.

When it came time to begin college, Milo stayed home and attended online classes at Northeastern University to be close to his family and his medical care. Aidan and Eli both went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ending up in the same fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT).

In March 2022, Aidan and Eli had plans to go away with some fraternity brothers for spring break, but they decided to stop to see Milo first, having learned Milo had been admitted to the ICU. Unfortunately, they were too late.

“My parents picked me up from the airport and gave me the news [that Milo had died],” Eli says. That night, he headed over to Aidan’s house.

“I couldn’t really talk to my parents. I had to talk to someone who knew Milo in the same way that I did. We couldn’t really not be together.” — Eli Hartman

“I couldn’t really talk to my parents,” Eli says. “I had to talk to someone who knew Milo in the same way that I did. We couldn’t really not be together.”

‘Such a Loss’

Instead of letting loose on spring break, Aidan and Eli leaned on one another over the next week, reminiscing about Milo and all the good times they had together over the years.

“He was just so worldly and cultured, and he was very well-read. There really wasn’t a topic that he couldn’t talk to you about,” Eli says. “And that is why I think his loss is so difficult — because there’s just not that many people who are like that nowadays.

“He had such a yearning to learn about the world and different experiences, whether it be through movies or books. He had such a unique lens that I wish I could see the world through. And it was definitely just an experience to have been his friend.”

Aidan is quick to agree.

“He was one of a kind,” Aidan says. “He was so, so smart. He was usually the smartest guy in the room. And he knew it, but he never made you feel that way. It is just such a loss.”

Back to School

As hard as that week was, returning to school offered little reprieve from their grief.

“It was kind of weird going back. Everyone was super sorry, but then everyone sort of just went on. And why wouldn’t they? Obviously they hadn’t experienced the loss we had,” Eli says. “It was really weird to be back in an environment where you sort of had to grieve privately. It was tough.”

Aidan says the grief would hit him out of the blue.

“It would kind of just hit us at random times,” he says. “This one time, we’re in the middle of a party at probably 11 or 12 at night and I think it must’ve hit us at the exact same time, because I looked at Eli and he looked at me and we were both like, ‘Oh, God.’ And we just went to the front of the house and bawled together. There was just no stopping it.”

Fundraising with Their Fraternity

In fall 2022, when it came time for ZBT to select a nonprofit organization to support for the school year, Aidan and Eli suggested they raise money for osteosarcoma research. The pair consulted Milo’s parents and asked which cancer research organization they would prefer their fraternity donate to. Milo’s parents recommended the Osteosarcoma Institute.

That spring, the organization held its annual fraternity fundraising event called ZBTahiti. The tropical-themed party had a $10 cover charge and was a huge success, with more than 400 attendees supporting the fundraiser for cancer. After all was said and done, ZBT gifted $34,000 in party profits to the OSI.

“We don’t want anyone to have to go through what Milo went through, what his family has gone through, and what people like us have gone through,” Aidan says. “A child having cancer, a child dying of cancer, it has such a ripple effect. It should never happen.”

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