MCC campus honors a ‘full of smiles’ student with a special bench

Friends and family of MCC-Blue River student John Marrs III gathered on campus May 2 to unveil a memorial bench for him. (Photos by Kathleen Henrikson and Richard Monroe)

When Metropolitan Community College-Blue River student John Marrs III died unexpectedly on Dec. 1, 2016, “a lot of people were really devastated, including myself,” remembers his friend Tianalexa Turner.

“He was just the nicest kid,” says Turner, who got to know John working on a student TV show at William Chrisman High School in Independence. He graduated in 2016.

John Marrs III with his mom, Carla

“When he was gone, it just felt like a light in our school had gone out.”

Shortly after the 18-year-old’s death, his Blue River friends — including some staff and faculty — joined family members for a morning vigil in the campus cafeteria, one of John’s favorite places. But Turner wanted him to be commemorated in a more permanent way.

She and other students, along with his mom, Carla, decided a bench on campus would be an appropriate memorial. Turner got help with the project from Elizabeth Jacobs and A.J. Slater in Blue River’s Campus Life & Leadership office and Dean of Student Development Jon Burke.

“A lot of the faculty that had John were really helpful,” Turner says. “There were just certain people who adored him.”

She launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for the bench that would honor John’s legacy and life. The effort attracted $700 in donations.

Last May, the bench was unveiled before John’s friends and family. It’s on the north side of the Arts & Sciences building, another of his favorite places on campus. Turner presented his mom with a bouquet of flowers.

The plaque on the bench reads: “In Memory of John R. Marrs III, April 7, 1998-December 1, 2016. A smart, loving, kind young man, gone too soon, loved by all!”

Her son wanted to be a news broadcaster, “the next Phil Witt,” or to work in Branson, Carla Marrs says. That was a trip the two of them took every summer. “He helped me with the elderly for many years. He was a mama’s boy, always happy, he loved pizza and was a greeter at church.

“My life will never be the same.”

John was also an up-and-coming student leader, Jacobs says. She would see him around campus a lot.

“He was a friendly and social guy, full of smiles for everyone he met,” says Jacobs, a student services technician. John also spent time in the Campus Life office planning a karaoke event for students.

Turner says John’s mom visits the bench regularly “to sit with her son — to be with him, in a sense.”

She’s glad the “small, loving community” at Blue River was able to do something like this to remember their friend.

Carla Marrs is grateful to everyone who worked on the bench project.

“It touched me and my family more than you will ever know. You all are truly a blessing!”

John’s mother, Carla Marrs, is at center. Tianalexa Turner, who spearheaded the bench project, is beside her.