A new fixture was installed over the weekend at the front entrance to the St. James Middle School on Tiger Drive. It has a happy significance . . .
A new fixture was installed over the weekend at the front entrance to the St. James Middle School on Tiger Drive. Students, faculty and community members will now pass a bright orange bench on their way inside, bearing the words “You should be here with me,” below a trail of puzzle pieces. The bench stands in loving tribute to Jonathan Shay, who went missing and was confirmed deceased last year. The bench was the project of several students who felt the need to do something for their community in memory of Jonathan. Alexis Birkner, a current middle school student who attended with Johnathan, was the one who came up with the idea.
“I remember last year when Johnathan went missing,” Birkner said. “My mom and I went down to Meramec Springs…and we looked around to see if we could find anything. I just had a lot of hope.” Birkner said she was sitting in the counselors office the day her mother called and said they’d found Johnathan’s remains.
“It broke my heart when I found out,” she said.
Afterwards, Birkner and her mother sat down and decided they needed to do something to keep Johnathan’s memory alive. Two other students, Abbie Walton and Megan Wyatt, now high school students, helped with the project, raising funds and enlisting the help of the community. The team of three brainstormed ideas and while working with the school’s previous autism specialist, started the process of acquiring Johnathan’s bench.
The three of them took the time to decide on an appropriate design for the installation, settling on a shade of orange to include Johnathan’s favorite color, and puzzle pieces to represent autism. They were given permission by the school to enlist the help of the community during school hours and bring in help from local professionals. The concrete, just recently poured for the foundation, was entirely donated while the bench was installed by volunteers. The bench itself was crafted by Wolfert Tool & Machine in St. James. The installation, more art than simple outdoor furniture, stands as a combined effort by the school and community to make sure Johnathan’s smile is not forgotten.
“Here in St. James, everyone is family, no matter if you’re a superstar or well-known…everyone is equal,” said Birkner about the project. “I’d do it for a stranger, I’d do it for my best friend. I’d do it for anyone because his memory needs to live on, and we don’t want people to forget about him. We want to have a reminder every time someone walks in the school, so he keeps living on even though he’s not here with us.”
St. James Middle School Principal Kaaren Lepper said, “Jonathan was a very special young man; he didn’t know a stranger. He had a very kind soul. He knew lots of facts about different things you wouldn’t necessarily know yourself.” Johnathan was always kindly speaking to other students and sharing these facts with a smile, according to Principal Lepper.
“He is someone we miss,” she said. “What we don’t want the bench to be is something that makes people sad. We want it to be a joyous thing to celebrate Johnathan.”
“It’s a celebration of life,” added Birkner.
The bright orange bench can be seen, along with the image of two figures holding hands, outside Principal Lepper’s office in the front entrance of the middle school, serving as a reminder to anyone who walks by of Johnathan and his lasting legacy at the school.