The idea started on Friday, December 11, 2009 at the Greenhill’s Jam Session- Christmas Edition. John Hutchins ‘80 has been arranging these jam sessions for local musicians to gather and play for several years. The night of the 11th was to be a simple dedication to three friends, Stephan Preston ‘79, Jackie Eckerle ‘82, and Karen Morrison ’82. These three young friends, along with eight others from surrounding areas, lost their lives at THE WHO concert on December 3, 1979. The initial idea to honor these three young lives was a simple one, but in the months to come bigger dreams took flight.
Steve Bentz ’80 spoke to John Hutchins in the days after the show and shared his idea of a memorial at Finneytown High School. From that point, Steve and John moved to exchanging many thoughts and ideas as to the design and location for a memorial to be placed at Finneytown High School.
Along with Sandra and Walt Medlock, as well as Toni Hutchins, the group shared ideas for the memorial’s design. John had a business trip to New York and visited Central Park’s Strawberry Fields Memorial honoring the late John Lennon only adding to the flow of ideas and inspiration. When John returned to Ohio, the wheels were turning and plans were underway.
The group decided the memorial would be a large slab of concrete to be placed in front of the Performing Arts Center at the high school. John offered the idea of having a picture of a guitar on the slab to symbolize the love of music and the arts that Stephan, Karen, and Jackie shared. John then offered adding the inscription “My Generation” not knowing its significance until later when some classmates made note that it was that song that served as the mantra of The Class of 1982. The memorial took on a whole new meaning and the group was eager to get it in finished and in place.
Months would pass with e-mails and texts flowing back and forth until it was time to present the memorial to the Finneytown School Board. Shawn Maus, Communications Director for Finneytown Schools, welcomed the idea with open arms and proved to be a catalyst in helping the group to move forward with their quest. John and Steve met with Finneytown School Board members to further discuss the memorial idea and a possible location.
At that point Fred Wittenbaum ’83 joined the group and brought the spark needed to take this dream and plan to another level of enthusiasm. That slab of concrete became the design of a beautiful and lasting bench complete with a guitar logo and the inscriptions “My Generation”, “Dedicated to Our Friends and Classmates”, and most importantly, highlighted the names of the three friends this dream was to honor “Stephan Preston ‘79, Jackie Eckerle ‘82, and Karen Morrison ’82”.
With the memorial bench design complete, the group turned their attention towards plans to build a living memorial in the form of a scholarship. The “P.E.M. Memorial Scholarship”, honoring Stephan Preston, Jackie Eckerle and Karen Morrison, was the vision. These three students were passionate about music and the arts and the group thought it fitting to develop a scholarship that would be awarded to three Finneytown graduates each year that also demonstrate that same passion for music and art. The hope of the group was to allow the dreams of their friends to be fulfilled through the passions of students in the future. The group’s hopes and wishes quickly began to come true.
On August 21, 2010, the group dedicated the memorial bench in honor of three friends and launched the scholarship fund to make dreams come true for future Finneytown students. Approximately 100 people attended the dedication that night and others shared in the event through local media coverage. It was inspiring for the group to see others taking interest in their dream. Some asked questions as to why the group chose to have the dedication and why they waited so long. The simple answer was, “It was time.” It was time to honor their friends and classmates, to not allow tragedy to be the final chapter in their lives, and to open doors and offer opportunity to other young student’s with the inception of a scholarship in Stephan, Jackie and Karen’s honor. What a wonderful evening of memorializing friends that summer night was.