Friends of John Garner didn’t get to say “it’ll be OK” or “things will get better.” They didn’t get to say “I love you” one last time. When Garner, 25, committed suicide, he didn’t drop hints to his friends or ask them for help.
But those same friends still want to help, seven months after John Garner’s death.
“A lot of us didn’t feel like we got a whole lot of closure with the way John left,” says Ken Easthouse, a close friend of Garner’s for more than a decade. “A lot of us felt like we could have done more to help him.”
So they decided to help someone else in his memory: Six friends and one of John Garner’s brothers, Keith, have formed the John Garner Scholarship Fund. The fund is designed to give financial help to students who are strapped for cash but eager to go to attend college.
“After he passed, I didn’t get any closure, and he was like my brother,” says Joe Shelton, 26, a member of the Garner Fund’s committee board. “I figured this would be a good way to not only help me but to help other people at the same time.”
Getting off the ground
The group’s ultimate goal is to become a legitimate, tax-exempt, sustainable charity. And after tripping through paper tape, going over tax codes and researching charity law, the group is ready to host its first benefit: a rock concert.
The gig consists of three hard-rock local bands who will pull out drum sets, bass and lead guitars for a show Friday at the Pool Room. The cover is $5, but every dollar will funnel into the fund and go toward tuition payments for financially qualified students.
The bands — Jolly Roger, Come Ascendency and Dismantle the Virus — will perform for free. Jolly Roger, which has been jamming since 2006, will headline. For Jolly Roger vocalist, Matt Rodvelt, deciding to play for the benefit was an easy call.
“The guys (from the Garner Fund who approached me) were passionate and professional about what they were trying to do in memory of their friend who had passed so suddenly and inexplicably,” Rodvelt says. “All four members of the band … are excited to play for a good cause and again with some good local bands.”
Every corner of society
On the one hand, the hard-rock genre reflects John’s musical tastes: his favorite station was 98.9, he regularly attended Rock Fest, and he enjoyed jamming out to heavy music. But on the other hand, the hard rock also speaks to the idea that no matter their age, clique or economic standing, people from all corners of society can unite to make a difference.
“There is a social stigma that if you listen to hard rock music or you have a bunch of tattoos all over your body, you aren’t capable of doing good for the greater society,” says Easthouse, Garner Fund President. “We completely want to dispel that.”
Easthouse also hopes to tinker with the image of charity benefits by organizing original events, like pool tournaments and rock concerts.
“We are not your bake-sale kind of fundraiser,” says Easthouse. “If we’re going to raise money, we want to have fun doing it.”
John’s younger brother, Keith Garner, 23, is looking forward to the benefit concert, which will take place the day after what would have been John’s 26th birthday.
Keith is Garner Fund’s vice president, and he would like to see the scholarship boost someone into a world otherwise unattainable; John wanted to attend college, but didn’t have the money, and also didn’t qualify for financial aid.
Keith’s ideal candidate is a little rough on the edges, maybe not the best academic performer, but still hungry for an education — the sort of student who doesn’t qualify for academic or athletic scholarships.
“I want the scholarship to give someone more incentive to go (to college),” says Keith. “And I want it to go to someone who actually needs it.”