Leaving a legacy: McKoon family establishes scholarship in son's name

·4 min read

Jul. 22—Chris and Kelly McKoon sit at their kitchen table on a summer evening. It's been 10 months since they lost their only son, Johnathon.

Some days are easier than others.

Kelly asks herself if she should close her son's bedroom door every time she goes upstairs. It was always closed when Johnathon played video games. Keeping it open reminds Kelly he isn't there.

"Sometimes (it's) minute to minute," Chris said. He wears a Taylor ball cap. Stitched on the side is Johnathon's number, 79.

A junior at Taylor High School, Johnathon was killed in a car crash last September. He was 16. Left behind are his parents, three sisters and more friends than his family ever realized.

In the wake of unspeakable loss, the McKoons found support at Taylor — more than they could have ever imagined.

Taylor offered up the high school gym for Johnathon's funeral service. His family took the school up on its offer. It was a good idea.

"There were so many people," Chris said. "No place in town would have held it."

The high school band made sure the McKoons were well fed during their time of grief.

"We definitely didn't run out of food," Kelly said.

The football team donned special stickers on their helmets in memory of Johnathon, who had been a linebacker. The wrestling team took donations at every football game.

Johnathon was a wrestler but joined football to stay in shape for his favorite sport, on the advice of his coach Kyle Murphy.

"He was dedicated to it and coach Murphy," Chris said.

Johnathon's obituary said he looked up to Murphy, who made him "want to be a better person and athlete."

The wrestling team met Chris and Kelly at their son's headstone for what would have been his 17th birthday. They ate cupcakes.

Taylor High School put together an album of all the notes that were taped to Johnathon's locker.

"We learned Taylor isn't a school, it's a community," Chris said.

"It's not even that, it's a family," Kelly added.

Support extended beyond Taylor.

A group of Sheridan High School football players set up a GoFundMe for Johnathon. The McKoons didn't know any of them.

It wasn't long after Johnathon's death that Chris and Kelly thought about a scholarship.

They established a $50,000 endowment at the Community Foundation of Howard County to fund the Johnathon R. McKoon Memorial Scholarship.

"We felt like we needed to do something to give back to the school and kids," Kelly said.

"We wanted to establish a legacy, because his was cut short," Chris added.

The annual scholarship is awarded to one wrestler and one football player. There are no set requirements, no essays, no reports.

"The family just wanted it to go to the student who could best use the money," said Taylor athletic director Jake Leicht. "The essence of Taylor is trying to help others."

The first two recipients were Joseph Daigle and Domonick Durham. Both knew Johnathon.

"We're definitely hoping as it grows we can add more to it," Kelly said.

The outpouring of support from the Taylor community hasn't slowed down.

The Class of 2022 donated a memorial bench in honor of Johnathon as their senior class gift. It didn't take much conversation, according to Kelly Hillman, senior class sponsor and teacher at Taylor.

"That was immediately what they wanted to do, something for Johnathon," she said. "They went off and running with it."

Hillman said senior Jordin Sandefur took the lead on the project.

The bench is outside the high school, next to a tree some other students planted in memory of Johnathon. Inscribed on the bench is the Taylor Titans logo with angel wings and Johnathon's number in the middle.

"They wanted to make a space where his family could go to remember him," Hillman said.

In the months that have passed, the McKoons have learned more about their son — everyone has a story.

Kelly recalled a candlelight vigil where people told stories about Johnathon. She smiles, remembering some were colorful.

Leicht said Johnathon was a straightforward guy, "stubbornly honest," but known to give 100%.

There's the story of how Johnathon said hi to one of the school's janitors every day.

"We only knew him as a grumpy teenager who didn't want to get up," his father said.

Brooke, his younger sister who also goes to Taylor, said she was struck by how many friends he had. It's something that stands out to her parents, too.

"Once he was gone, I realized how many people talked to him on a daily basis," Brooke said.

Donations to the Johnathon R. McKoon Memorial Scholarship can be made by contacting the Community Foundation of Howard County.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.