MIDDLEBURY — When Evan Jones, a 2012 Northridge graduate, was killed in a motorcycle accident last September, his friends sought a way to honor his memory. In doing so, they returned to the place Jones began: his childhood elementary school.
A new piece of play equipment was installed on York Elementary School’s playground last Thursday, May 22, as a memorial to Jones. The structure is a wooden Jeep, with a slide at the back, to represent Jones’ love for the vehicle.
“The children were surprised and thrilled,” said Yvonne Buller, principal of York Elementary. “We intend to have a marker (for Jones) and expect there will be a ceremony when the plaque goes up.”
The equipment was donated by a group of Jones’ friends, including Josh Rheinheimer, a freshman at Purdue University who organized the fundraiser. A week after Jones’ accident, he and six other friends were home for the funeral and decided to raise money for a memorial.
“Evan was a really great guy and knew a lot of people in the Middlebury community,” Rheinheimer said. “We thought there should be something there for him when he passed away.”
At one Northridge High School football game, the group raised more than $1,100, almost all the money needed for the Jeep. The memorial is at York Elementary in part because Jones attended the school, and in part because his mother, Candy Jones, is a third-grade teacher there.
“My husband and I have felt the love and prayers of the community of Middlebury,” Candy Jones said. “We were honored that they wanted to do something special for Evan.”
The Jeep is a fitting symbol to pay tribute to Jones’ life, she said. He purchased a Jeep the summer before his accident and would go up to Silver Lake in Michigan with his family and friends from church, all Jeep owners. “We called ourselves the ‘Jeep Squad,’” Candy Jones said. “Evan loved tearing the sand dunes up.”
During his funeral, a procession of Jeeps decorated with American flags ended the service.
In life, Jones was known as a leader with a strong work ethic and an even stronger handshake, Jones’ cousin, Steven, told the Elkhart Truth last fall. Jones was a business management major at Indiana University South Bend. He worked at the family business, Ben’s Soft Pretzels, and his father, Scott, said Jones had hoped to open his own Ben’s franchise.
“We are so thankful to everyone who continues to keep the memory of Evan alive,” Candy Jones said. “It's a beautiful reminder of the life Evan lived and how he loved others while doing it.”