Fargo - Former Moorhead High School hockey standout and current Nashville Predators center Matt Cullen remembers the phone call from his dad.

His dad said he should probably sit down, and he said the word the world dreads in regards to his youngest brother, Mark. A person he’d shared bunk beds with until high school.


“We were as close as you get,” Matt said about his brother. “Any time you hear that word, it reaches in you and it shakes you. It shakes the foundation of everything you know.”

It left Cullen staring blankly, trying to figure out how to tell his wife what his dad told him.

Mark was diagnosed with melanoma in 2003. He beat the disease, but it left an effect on everyone around him.

“It was that thing in your life that takes you and shakes you and says, ‘You know what? Playing in the NHL is one thing, but there’s more to life,’” Matt said.

It led to Matt and his wife, Bridget, starting the Cullen Children’s Foundation, which will host its 10th and final Cully’s Kids Celebrity Weekend on Friday and Saturday in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

“I feel like my kids are graduating from high school or something,” Matt said. “My wife and I have been sitting and looking through some old pictures, looking at some old memories, and looking up some of the kids that we’ve known. It feels like a family.”

The pictures Matt and Bridget looked through include some kids that have grown up and others that did not get the chance to. A favorite picture of Matt’s is one in which he’s drinking Kool-Aid out of the Stanley Cup with one of the Cully’s Kids who did not get the chance to grow up.

“I think back to some of the kids we’ve gotten to know and now they’re getting older and getting healthy,” Matt said. “Obviously, there’s some that we really miss. We’ve looked at pictures of some kids from earlier years that have passed, and it brings a tear to your eye, and it reminds yourself what it’s all about.”

The initial goal in the first year was $50,000 in 2005. Cully’s Kids Celebrity Weekend nearly quadrupled that, raising $177,222 the first year.

Then, they knew they had something special.

“All it was was an idea, and if no one gets behind it, that’s all it was going to be,” Matt said. “We had no expectations going into it. We just wanted to do something to help.”

By the second year, it was $268,000, and the third year, it was more than $305,000, and more than $356,000 the year after that. It just kept going.

“You get caught up with being competitive and making it be as successful as you can, but if you can help one kid then it’s all worthwhile,” Matt said. “For a lot of us, we started when we didn’t have kids. All of a sudden we have three little boys and I’ve seen kids at the hospital with cancer their age. I tell you what, I could hardly handle it.

“I think when you get that perspective as a parent looking at these kids that are fighting for their lives and you think about your own kids. It really changes the way that you see it.”

Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal and Minnesota Wild left winger Zach Parise are among those who will be attending Cully’s Kids Celebrity Weekend.

Other guests include actor Erik Stolhanske, University of North Dakota men’s hockey head coach Dave Hakstol and Wild goalie Josh Harding.

There will be a celebrity golf tournament Friday at Oxbow Country Club on Friday and a kids’ picnic Saturday at Newman Outdoor Field. Saturday will also have a social and silent auction at Usher’s House in Moorhead, with items including autographed jerseys from Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Parise, and autographed hockey sticks from Wayne Gretzky and Teemu Selanne.

Cullen said the celebrity weekend would no longer happen, but the picnic may continue. Either way, he and Bridget are planning on sticking around.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Matt said. “Bridget and I are going to live in Moorhead and raise our kids in Moorhead. We’re going to be involved. We’re just not going to do the weekend anymore. We’re going to relax and sit down and decide where we want to go and what we want to do with everything.”

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