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Morgan Cope was a student at Washington State University. On November 22, 2015, on the way to the airport for Thanksgiving Break, she lost her life in an accident with a distracted driver. Her family has turned their heartbreak into helping others with the Morgan Cope AVID Memorial Scholarship. (Credit: Kirsten Howard)

The Spirit of Sisu: Local family turns loss of daughter into scholarship fund

Kirsten Howard beamed with pride when talking about her daughter, Morgan Cope.

"Morgan entered the world ten weeks premature weighing only 2 pounds 9 ounces. From that time we gave her the name 'Sisu,' which stuck with her through life."

The word has a special meaning.

"'Sisu' is a Finnish word that’s best described as someone with perseverance. Tenacity, courage, little bit of stubbornness," Howard explained.

Morgan was beloved by everyone who knew her.

"She was just gregarious and outgoing and loving and nurturing," said her mom. "She was really close with her brother - they’re almost 5 years apart. But they just adored each other."

Howard herself felt blessed to be Morgan's mom and they were also best friends. She was thriving at college, Washington State University, on a music scholarship and had built an amazing camaraderie of friends.

"Everybody loved her and she was the first person that wanted to dive in and help and support her sorority [Pi Beta Phi]," said Howard. "They really counted on her to be a team player."

On November 22, 2015, Morgan was on the road, heading to the airport to catch a flight to visit her mom for Thanksgiving break. Adament about not having her phone out while driving, Morgan kept it in her glove box.

"I [would] know when she got to the halfway point, which would have been Ellensburg," said her mom. "She would have given me a call and let me know [she is okay], and on her way."

Time ticked by and Howard still hadn't heard from her daughter.

"When that hour hit and she didn’t call and then another hour hit, didn’t call, of course [a] mother’s intuition – something’s wrong."

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Howard started making phone calls. Then, the worst possible news.

"It was ultimately shared with us from the Washington State Patrol that she had been involved in a head on collision, not of her doing. It was later confirmed that it was a distracted driver that had hit her and she had died at the scene."

For Morgan's loving family, the past four years have been incredibly difficult.

"The grief journey is excruciating," said Howard. "It has real highs and real lows and moments of laughter and moments of just unbearable grief."

But Morgan's family has chosen to turn their heartbreak into helping others.

"The way that my son and I have chosen to walk that grief journey is to set up a scholarship in her name [and] honor her memory," said Howard. "[We want] to help other students with financial need go to college, and that gives us some hope and it gives us some joy."

It's called The Morgan Cope AVID Legacy Scholarship.

"AVID stands for Advanced Via Individual Determination, offered in high schools across the nation," she said. "At White River High School [in Buckley, WA] where my daughter attended, I feel like they really equipped her and prepared her to be her best self."

So far, they have been able to make a different in the lives of many young people.

"We just gave out the fourth scholarship in May," said Howard. "And these men and women, the best way I can describe them, is resilient."

Part of the process of applying is writing an essay on how the "Sisu spirit" prepared them for life after high school. Giving other young people a helping hand has meant the world to Morgan's mom.

"It’s incredible. It truly is. Staying in contact with the recipients and watching them grow and mature and thrive - it's truly a blessing to us to know we are able to help them on that journey."

Howard is also working on strengthening distracted driving laws so other families don't have to go through the same thing.

"I think Morgan is smiling and happy knowing that we are helping other kids fulfill their college dreams."

The Morgan Cope Legacy Scholarship Fundraiser will be held on Saturday, October 12, 2019 at Pioneer Park Pavilion in downtown Puyallup. There will be music from Pink Floyd Tribute Band The Floydian Pulse and a silent auction. Doors open at 7:00 pm and concert begins at 8:30 pm. Tickets are $35 and include admission and a catered dinner. For more information visit