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Hall of Fame honor a fitting tribute for Rodney Branum

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Clara Samuels, career associate at the UK Stuckert Career Center, proudly displays the 13 Target Dogs that Rodney Branum gave her before his death. Clara Samuels, career associate at the UK Stuckert Career Center, proudly displays the 13 Target Dogs that Rodney Branum gave her before his death.
Rodney Branum's wife and daughter will accept his Hall of Fame plaque Thursday. Rodney Branum's wife and daughter will accept his Hall of Fame plaque Thursday.

Just over a month ago I had the chance to tell you about Kentucky fan Rodney Branum and his courageous battle against cancer and how he still managed thanks to Big Blue Nation Cares to attend the Southeastern Conference Tournament and see his beloved Wildcats beat Texas A&M in the title game.

Branum, 49, passed away in early April but his legacy will remain for a long, long time.

On Thursday the James W. Stuckert Career Center at UK is inducting Branum into its Hall of Fame for all of the work he did to help UK students prepare for their careers.  The ceremony is being held at the James W. Stuckert Career Center Library from 1-3 p.m. 

"He is our first inductee.  Unfortunately he lost his battle to cancer several weeks ago, which makes this ceremony  all the more special," said Clara Samuels, career associate at the UK Stuckert Career Center.

Branum's wife, Karen, and 16-year-old daughter, Kelsey, will accept his Hall of Fame plaque.

Branum knew he was going to receive this award but my guess is that he would have downplayed it if you asked him. That's just the way he was and why he was such an inspiration to so many people.

"When I started in February, 2010, I met Rodney here at the Center and I told him I loved the Target Dogs that he was giving to students who interviewed with him.  He immediately presented me with one of the Target Dogs," Samuels said. "I now have a collection of 13 very different Target Dogs proudly displayed in my office.  Every time he came to the center he would proudly present me with a different Target Dog.  

"Several times on his visits he would forget, but before the day was over I would see him come walking through the back door with a Target Dog.  He touched every one of my dogs, and he said it brought him joy to give them to me because I appreciated them so.  The 13th dog I received was sent by Rodney with a co-worker that was visiting the center because he was not able to bring it himself. This was shortly before he died.

"We struck up a wonder friendship because of those dogs.  He was a wonderful man inside and out. I will miss him terribly. He lit up a room with his smile."

He certainly did. I got to spend an hour with him and his family the morning of the SEC Tournament championship game. He made you laugh and you came away knowing three things -- he loved his family, loved his Cats and loved his job. He also talked about how much he enjoyed helping students at UK.

Branum, a Somerset native, didn't fit the profile I had for someone who would participate in the Big Blue Madness campout. Yet he was part of a group of 25 that did just that every year.

He had missed only two home UK basketball games in 28 years — and he did that only because he went to watch the UK football team play in bowl games. He had also been to every SEC football stadium except two.

Azetta Beatty, a senior career associate at the Stuckert Career Center, said there was no one quite like Branum.

"Rodney was a very special person, recruiter, friend and professional. He was one of a kind. I will miss his genuine heart, honesty and caring personality. His untimely death was a great loss for us all," Beatty said. "He was a man of action. Rodney was a great example of great work ethic, passion for UK and love for family. 

"I sought him for advice when I was creating an annual reading program for a local elementary program. He championed the program to the Target headquarters and secured financial support for five years since 2011. Not only did  he recruit Target team members to volunteer at the school the week of the Read to Me events, he also donated gifts for the student prize bags. Rodney is very deserving of this (Hall of Fame) honor."

This UK fan made a difference in many ways and this Hall of Fame honor is a fitting tribute for him and his family.

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