What does it take to be a hero? Cosmically bestowed strength? High-tech gadgets? A sharp costume? For one local man, it was simply the desire to make his community a better place.
His name was Bryan Haluska. For years, he popped up around community and charity events, but you may know him from his bright green jumpsuit. He called himself “Cambria GreenMan.”
The 30-year-old Patton resident, who dedicated himself to children’s charities and tried to spread positive lessons about simple, everyday ways to do good, passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 23. The cause is inconclusive.
The death of this local superhero shocked and saddened all whose lives were made brighter by his deeds.
“He was a good boy,” said Bryan’s father, Ken. “He was a caring boy from a young age. He thought about others sometimes more than he thought about himself.”
Between money he raised for the Pittsburgh Multiple Sclerosis Walk and the Monroeville Mall Zombie Crawl, Bryan focused his superpower – which he said was “the ability to lift the human spirit” – on helping children in need.
He worked with The Healing Patch, which provides mentoring services for grieving children and their families and the Kids Come First Benefit, which supported the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. He also made regular visits – as his alter-ego – to the children’s ward of Altoona Regional Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“You should see the kids light up when he showed up,” said Joe Konior, president of the Cambria GreenMan Fan Club.
Ken Haluska said his son was, in many ways, a big kid at heart.
“He didn’t have much, but what he had he gave it to the kids” he said. “He’d buy coloring books and take them to the hospitals for the kids.”
Bryan’s fiancee, 30-year-old Ashley Escott, said Bryan simply enjoyed making a child’s day with a photo or a high-five.
“Once he realized that GreenMan had a positive effect on kids, he started to donate toys to basket auctions,” she wrote via email. “He loved the reaction that he got from children.”
The couple, who’d been together for three years, hadn’t set a date for their wedding, but joked that it would be Star Wars or Legend of Zelda-themed.
“He was my big, funny dork,” she wrote. “He has loved super heroes since he was a little boy. The spandex suit was kind of a whim.”
She was the seamstress behind most of his iconic bright-green spandex outfit, including, of course, a pair of green and white-trimmed briefs worn over his green jumpsuit. The idea sprang from a softball team rivalry – and Bryan’s eagerness to drum up new fans.
The suit, which Bryan bought through eBay, would define him for years to come.
“I am flabbergasted by how many people knew him as GreenMan. I didn’t realize all that he did,” Ken said. “Every night, I’d read his Facebook, and I’m finding out how many people he did touch.”
Bill Bendis is a service coordinator for Alleghenies United Cerebral Palsy. He works with adults with disabilities.
He said Bryan used his GreenMan fame and fan base as a way to divert attention toward worthy causes. If he was making a public appearance at a charity event, he urged his Facebook friends to attend and lend their support.
“My children look up to Bryan and that’s what makes his passing so difficult,” he wrote via email.
Bendis said his 5-year-old son, Liam, loved wearing Batman’s cowl and posing for photo ops alongside fellow superheroes, like Cambria GreenMan. After catching up with GreenMan at this year’s Sci-Fi Valley Con Part II in Altoona, Bryan told Liam to “keep an eye on Hastings” until he returned.
He said his 8-year-old daughter, Lilly, was one of GreenMan’s true Facebook fans.
“He would always give her positive comments on how to be a great person and he would always compliment her on her artwork.
“In my opinion, Bryan tried to teach kids to do the right thing and to keep positive in life and what’s ahead for you,” he wrote. “He always appeared to be happy and showed concern for anyone that was not happy.”
When Bendis underwent elbow surgery, he said Bryan contacted him through Facebook, lending a sympathetic ear and relating the story of hand surgery he endured when he was young.
“I never got to hang out with him, but I feel like I lost a brother,” he wrote. “He made that kind of impact on people.
“He was everyone’s best friend.”
Mark Miller Jr., 18, of Northern Cambria, confided in Bryan about his ongoing battle with kidney disease. Miller said he was bullied and harassed by classmates at Northern Cambria High School for his affliction.
“I felt I could talk to him because he told me if I ever needed anything he would be there,” Miller wrote via email.
“I am so down because he passed away. He was a true hero to me and I will miss him dearly,” he wrote.
Ken said his son had a way to put people at ease, just through a simple conversation.
“He had a way of communicating. The little things he’d say to make you feel better,” he said. “Mainly, he would just listen.”
Bryan’s half sister, Lexie Rusnak, said her brother was the one that family members could lean on in times of grief.
“I keep waiting for him to come in through the door,” she wrote via email. “It was up to Bryan to come in and hug everyone in turn. His face would be red, his lower lip pouting, eyes glassy as he held back tears. I’ve never been fond of hugs, but I always let him do it.
“And now, knowing that he won’t walk in and ever hug me again, I am lost.”
The heroic GreenMan wasn’t without allies. The league of costumed crusaders fighting the “good” fight alongside GreenMan were also stunned by his sudden passing. Pittsburgh Steel-Man said the last time he spoke with Bryan, he was planning to bring a few characters to the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital to “cheer up a friend.”
“GreenMan was always planning something to make people happy,” Steel-Man wrote via email. “He loved putting on his green suit to put a smile on someone’s face. He is missed.”
The mask was a crucial element to the message of Cambria GreenMan, asserted his family and friends. In posts and videos on the Cambria GreenMan Facebook page, Bryan said that doing good isn’t about expecting something in return.
“He wanted everything he did to be anonymous,” Ken said. “It wasn’t Bryan Haluska doing this. It was GreenMan. He did all this stuff not want-ing recognition.
“Every day, I get prouder and prouder of him and what he did,” he choked out amid tears.
This week, the Haluska family is taking Bryan’s ashes to Myrtle Beach, S.C. Ken said one of his son’s favorite places was seaside.
Part of the GreenMan mystique was his purpose, his calling. Was he a “green” eco-friendly fighter? What did he believe in? What did he fight for? In an interview Bryan released to fans, he said he stands for doing good and the right thing.
“I’m like one of those inkblot tests,” he said. “Whatever you see when you look at me and take away from it – that’s what I stand for.
“You don’t need a cape or tights or any of that other fancy jazz to be a hero,” he wrote on the Cambria GreenMan Facebook page. “All it takes is to do something nice for somebody else for no other reason than to just help. ... Look, all I’m saying is be good to each other out there.
“And, ’til next time, stay green.”
Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/ JustinDennis.