"B.J." was a popular sophomore at Manchester when an auto accident altered his life. Now eight years later, Panther grad Darla (Miller) Smith has graciously shared some of B.J.'s experiences, memories and dreams, on her son's behalf.
Background -- The accident:
In November of l998, BJ was involved in a single-car accident. He and his friend, Tim Vincent, were traveling together when they lost control and hit a tree. Both boys sustained serious injuries; however BJ's has left him unable to answer these questions. His injury involved a severe brain trauma, so after a one-month stay in the hospital ICU, and another six-month stay at a rehab in Erie, he came home to live with us.
Community support, and memorial scholarship:
Following the accident, a committee of "Friends of BJ" was formed to help raise funds for his care and homecoming needs. The "Be-Bop for BJ" was held at Manchester High School, with local celebrities and merchants contributing their time and wares for the cause. During the initial hospital month, people brought in food and drink to the hospital and to our kids at home. "Butterflies for BJ" was held at Nolley School, and the high school had a "Give BJ a heart" fundraiser. Local churches assisted, with Lakeview United Methodist hosting a concert for BJ, and the Messiah Lutheran Church matching all the funds raised. I still can picture Mrs. Boyd coming into the hospital with a wagon full of drinks from the staff at Nolley.
There were so many kids and friends at the hospital awaiting news on BJ; and the cards and letters were just too much for us to thank and tell everyone what they meant to us. At this time, his father and I decided we needed to repay the community for the thoughtfulness. What came to mind was for us to start a high school scholarship in BJ's name to benefit a senior continuing his education in some kind of medical field. We didn't require any top grade-point average, but did require a good attendance record. To date we've helped kids to go into medical school, into X-ray technology; and we hope someday to see this award go to a future firefighter or EMT person, as we are still in contact with them to help meet BJ's needs.
Name / Age / Class:
Benjamin James Smith, better known as BJ, is 24-years-old. Although unable to complete the required classes, BJ was allowed to participate in the 2001 graduation of his class at Manchester.
Describe BJ, growing up:
BJ, also known as "shorty," "shrimp" and "pee-wee" to his friends, was short in stature. In fact, he was under treatment for three years leading up to his accident and now stands 6-feet tall. Although shy in grade school, he was known for talking non-stop by the time he reached high school. He loved sports, music and TV.
BJ really had two groups of friends. His closest was George Vinay, Steve Janssen, Mike Marich and Chuck Thornton. These were some of the brightest boys in the school and we always hoped they would rub off on BJ. The other group were his friends from playing sports, and they include Brad Miller, Mike Bohley, Louis Yankovich and Tim Vincent. BJ really could fit in with anyone, but these were his closest friends.
Middle School memories:
His favorite memories from school years would be the "Jump the River" contest he qualified for twice but never won. Quite an accomplishment for a shrimp. In middle school BJ had speaking parts in the plays. He really enjoyed doing them and that's when he became close to Mike.
High School memories:
Though he was only in high school a year-and-a-half, BJ would've had lots to tell. As a freshman he practiced football with the varsity boys. He didn't particularly want to butt heads with the big guys, but had no choice since his ride home was with his older brother, Dusty. After only a week of this, BJ found himself being treated as one of the guys. They would look out for him to the point where once an older, rather large player asked if he could "take care of" a boy in BJ's class who he thought had been harassing him. BJ thanked him, but thought it better left to handle himself. However I'm sure he felt a bit more secure at school. At the end of the football season school assembly, he was awarded the Toughest Guy as a joke to his teammates who'd recorded the most successful season in Manchester history (state runners-up). BJ absolutely loved his experience with them. His freshman year he got to dance with his dream girl, Jonise Barry, who happened to be a senior at the '97 homecoming dance. He also enjoyed being in the "Fiddler on the Roof" play as a freshman.
Any jobs BJ held during school:
Although he never had a paying job, he did work as a volunteer at Barberton Citizens Hospital and did some summer work on a farm owned by Mr. France's brother.
Travel / Vacation highlights:
His favorite travels were to Cape Hatterus with another of his dear friends, Megan Rose. BJ also loved the family ski trips. He was a daring skier.
Hobbies and activities BJ enjoyed:
BJ loved music and was taking guitar lessons at the time of his accident. He and Mike Marich would get together to play or to go golfing. He also enjoyed his church youth group.
Favorite teachers at Manchester:
I don't recall BJ ever complaining about any teacher, but there are several special ones I think he would single out, including:
- Mrs. Boyd, who instilled his love for music and was the first to put him in front of an audience.
- Miss Simmons / Mrs. Montgomery; he thought she was so pretty and she brought him out of his shell.
- Mrs. Janssen, who had a special way to communicate with him.
- Mrs. Sees, who took him under her wing.
- Mr. Frain, who gave him a chance to do things that other teachers probably would've been afraid to give him.
- Mr. Ross, who taught him self-control . . . or, at least, tried to.
- Mr. Harper, who was just a kind teacher and great man.
- And last, but not least, Mr. Shaw. He was talking to BJ about the next baseball season and encouraging him to work on his pitching. Unfortunately, two months later BJ would have his accident and Mr. Shaw would suffer a fatal heart-attack later the next year.
Favorite (and least-favorite) subjects:
BJ liked Spanish and history. He was never great at English, so I would guess that to be his least favorite.
Thoughts about attending Manchester schools, in general:
BJ had an opportunity to attend Green, and even thought about it. He looked at it as an adventure and was never afraid to try anything once. However he could never bring himself to give up the friends he had at Manchester.
Sports played at Manchester:
BJ played football, wrestling, and baseball. He was small for football, but was pretty tough. He had a problem with a tumor on his leg that slowed him down considerably. The tumor, though benign, was a result of the therapy he was undergoing to be able to grow. As a youngster he was very fast, and we saw that the tumor was giving him problems, but he chose not to have it removed. As a baseball player, BJ had a good arm. He wanted to develop his arm into a "Johnny Heimbaugh." Wrestling he didn't like too much, and had decided to quit with Tim the night of the accident.
Other high school clubs or activities:
He always enjoyed the Manchester singers, and won the Drama Award in junior high and the Minuteman Award in high school.
In high school BJ liked all kinds of music, the latest being Metallica. He also enjoyed Christian rock and thought about becoming a Christian rock musician.
TV / Movie favorites:
BJ really enjoyed movies more than TV. He liked E.T. and mostly sci-fi.
He didn't like boys who bully . . . or the girls who liked them. That was his saying. He never complained about anyone personally bullying him, and had lots of friends. Actually, I don't believe BJ had any enemies. Either you liked him, or you didn't know him.
Some of BJ's dreams for the future have included.
BJ would have made an excellent father. Today he loves holding his nephews; he has always enjoyed little kids. He also had talked about becoming a history teacher, and had an interest in meteorology (he was fascinated by the weather). We had talked about Malone College or one that was comparable. Right now he enjoys television, and laughs at the things only BJ would have found funny . . . so we know our guy is still here. He still needs lots of prayer. His condition is good, all things considered; though being virtually a quadriplegic has led to other illnesses. BJ has had fractures that we cannot figure out how they occur, from the lack of use of his bones. He has had pneumonias as of late, due to his inability to inhale a decent breath, and his systems break down for no reason. When he's feeling good, he's happy and animated. You don't see BJ around as much because any kind of illness is a major threat. We, however, continue to thank the Manchester community and are inspired by them.
-- Darla (Miller) Smith / BJ's mom
BJ's family would love to hear from you! Feel free to send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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