I’ll introduce myself first. My name is Marla White (Stanforth) and I’m a 2009 grad from Purdue. I have three adorable little boys and work as a vet tech.
I met John our freshman year at Purdue. I was an Animal Science major and befriended many of the Farmhouse guys. They were literally my brothers, and still consider them to be. John and I were buddies from the start. We had classes together so spent a lot of time studying….which usually led to taking breaks to raid the FH kitchen of lucky charms, chocolate milk, and pranking people. John was also my running buddy. Two or three times a week, John and I met at the traffic light pole on the corner of Stadium and Russell (I think it has a new name now, but its the one right across from Ford Dining hall) Some evenings we would talk while we ran, but mostly, we just ran in silence. He would always pick up the pace, and not to be outdone by him, I would try and keep up. Our runs would always end in the FarmHouse parking lot, out of breath, and suddenly laughing at each other’s attempts to sprint.
I remember when John found out he had cancer. Everyone was quiet. Everyone was kinda pissed and shocked too. FarmHouse is family, and it was a shot to the gut for all the guys. Its been so long, I don’t remember all the details. I just remember one of the other brothers explaining it to everyone. John was one of the most faithful persons I’ve ever known. He rarely missed church, bible study, and was a man of constant prayer. He never strayed from this during his journey. His mom could tell you the story of when they hadn’t heard from him so drove up to campus, anxious and worried that something was wrong or that he was in some kind of trouble. They showed up at the frat house and asked around for John. It was a Sunday, so the first person they asked easily directed them to the church down the road. Sure enough, there he was!
When John started chemo, it was obvious his hair was gonna go. I remember showing up to the house between classes and two of the guys in his pledge class talking about how they were going to shave their heads. We got to talking and I suggested holding an auction, and auctioning off the FH guys to the Sisters of the Harvest Moon (we were the sister sorority to FarmHouse, not a cult, even though the name totally sounds like one!) and raise money for John boy and his medical expenses. Our first little hair auction took place in the FH basement. Everyone was having probably way too much fun, especially us girls who got to actually shave their heads. Ever true to character, John stood silent, strong, with a broom in his hand in the corner. He would smile and laugh occasionally at a joke or when he realized what a goofy shaped head one of his brothers had without hair. He would quietly take his broom and sweep up the hair. The look of love on his face is one I will never forget. Thankfully, I have pictures of that night so I don’t have to. When the evening wrapped up, John went to each brother and gave them a hug. Not a quick little grab of the shoulders, but a real bear hug. A few guys got “I love you’s” and a few guys cried. It was just the start of a long journey.
I can only speak of the John I know….knew. He was my best friend. I confided to him my deepest and darkest secrets. All those runs, in the freezing cold weather, he would listen to me whine about classes, or the latest gossip in my sorority house, even boyfriend trouble. He was always slow to answer, choosing his words wisely. At times, he would reach over and touch my arm to stop me, get that serious John face, look at me very sternly and tell me exactly what he thought I should do. You couldn’t NOT listen in those moments. He was so wise. He was so goofy too. Oh my gosh, we would sit and watch stupid you tube videos in his room or he would show off his new photos of his beltie calves before heading to class. I can still hear his laugh and his blue eyes getting that little glint of mischief! He had beautiful blue eyes! He liked to dance to Cotton Eyed Joe like a fool.I don’t know why I just remembered that!
Junior year things got worse. Then they got better. Then worse. John would be at school for a week, then gone for three. It was so hard. He made the best of it. Wore his “survivor” shirts to class and would sit in front of a row of pretty girls and kinda look back and wink…such a stinker. We never really knew when John would come and go, but man when he showed back up, I swear It was like Christmas every time. The moment you walked in the house you knew if John was back because it was just buzzing with hope. But being at the house when he was gone for treatments sucked. His empty desk and chair, not seeing him in class, running alone. It sounds so selfish to say, but these are the memories I have.
In the meantime, each year the hair auction got bigger. We got it moved to Stewart Center. We got the entire Greek system involved and it was awesome! John couldn’t be there that year though, but his parents and sister were, and they reflect so much of who John is. Kind, strong, generous, sincere and adoring people. Hugging everyone, handing out home made beanies to the boys so their naked heads wouldn’t be cold, and walking around and introducing themselves to students.
The summer between Junior and senior year I had an internship in Indy which meant Riley visits to see John boy. I say this in the sweetest way possible, but John was a momma’s boy! Mama Carol loved her boy and man, did he adore his mom! Carol is the best and John has SO much of her running in his veins! Whenever I would go visit, she would give us privacy or sometimes hang out, but the way he adored his mama was such a sweet testament of their relationship, one I hope to have with my three sons. He was a jokester and would give her a hard time, he would flirt with the nurses with his sheepish little grin, and always listening and sincerely caring about every one he met. I loved those visits because I was selfish and got to take care of John and bring him snacks and rub his feet and learn about his latest treatment….and I realize now that John taught me so much about how to be a servant. He taught me how to do so graciously and modestly and humbly.
Senior year I will never forget getting the call. It was Big/Little sis night at Delta Gamma and everyone was happy and excited and my phone rang and it was John. They found a bone marrow match. I couldn’t have been more excited. So began the tough road of getting him healthy enough to receive it. Unfortunately, that day never came. It took too long to find a match, but even after that realization had sunk in that he would never be healthy enough to receive the life saving marrow, John had a mission. He spread awareness everywhere he went for people to become part of the registry. Just because something may not work out for him, just because he was stuck in a hospital bed, didn’t mean he wouldn’t keep fighting for others. I remember him speaking about how important it was, and his voice was cracking, and he just kept saying “these kids, these little kids at Riley…” he didn’t need to say anymore, but we knew what he meant.
When the final week of John’s life had come, he knew. I remember Carol describing it saying she had never known anyone who attended their own wake. It may sound morbid, but John wanted a chance to say goodbye, and so did we. By we, I mean tons of us who filled the halls of Riley, and the lobby and they had to organize us into visitation groups to be able to see him. The sheer outpouring love for John was so evident that evening. It was a Tuesday. Nurses and doctors at Riley were so kind. Pizza’s and subway mysteriously appeared…a college kids dream..free food! We all waited patiently, some visited patients who were able to accept guests. I don’t talk much about that night. I remember every detail, and I won’t go into it because this is already so much about ME and it will never be enough about John. John and I had a conversation, awkward as it may be with five other guys in the room plus his mom and a nurse or two. He couldn’t talk, he had too many tubes, but Carol spoke for him. It was my last conversation with John. I came again with a smaller group of closer friends again on Thursday. Our wait was long, so we wrote letters, or studied, or just stared waiting. He was so much worse. His oxygen levels falling, but true to John, he still wanted to be surrounded by his friends and family. He didn’t want to be pampered or pitied, he just wanted to have those he loved around him to comfort him. I think it brought more comfort to us than he.
He died on a Friday. His viewing and funeral were the following week. It was overwhelming the people who came to celebrate the life of John.
PUDM that spring after John’s death was pretty amazing. Sarah Matney (now Becker) a sorority sister of mine and chairmember of PUDM somehow organized it to be in John’s name that year. I made a slide show of pictures of him that they showed, and all the FarmHouse guys showed up and it felt easier this time. We were able to laugh and smile more and not cry quite as much. We did another hair auction there and also Romines ran a table to get dancers signed up to be bone marrow registrants. John’s work wasn’t done! This past summer, a sorority sister who was a few years younger than me was matched to someone and literally saved a child’s life. She contacted me saying if she would have never known me and about John’s story she would have never even known what the bone marrow registry was. If that’s only one life John has saved, and I know its not and won’t be, then I would say John would be pretty happy with that!
I apologize that this has come of more of my memories of him and about my short years with John, but I haven’t just sat and written about it in a long time, so a lot of this all came to me as I was already typing. He is on my mind and in my heart always. I truly loved him and miss him so often. I run the Purdue half marathon every year, and around mile 10 is our old “meeting spot” for our runs and I swear I can hear John teasing saying “We gonna do this today, or are ya gonna keep tying your shoes?” or his usual one word “ready?”
When I saw Carol’s post about being afraid people have forgotten about John. Now that I am a mother, I understand this fear. I want to show her and John that his legacy lives on. John so badly wanted to graduate from Purdue, and because of his illness he was so behind on classes, but he was able to get an associates degree. He wanted that so badly Sent from my iPhone remembered at his favorite place in the world.
Thank you for doing this and for all the hard work you do. I know its tough being a student and being a part of these HUGE committees and balancing everything in your life! It is greatly appreciated and I commend you for everything you do!