Birthday Presence

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Loud and rambunctious, 13 boys scrambled around the Feucht house the way kindergartners at a party tend to do.

"Downstairs!" one screamed after another, wielding swords and preparing for battle in the basement.

As birthday boy Jarret Feucht ran toward the door, the brand-new 6-year-old spotted one guest sitting alone at the kitchen table, crying. Jarret stopped midsprint as the others flew past, walked to his buddy and slung his arm around his shoulders.

"It's all right," he told him, acknowledging that sometimes being away from Mom and Dad can be tough. "We're going to have fun. You can hang out with me the whole time."

His friend stopped crying, looked up and headed down the steps toward the mayhem.

"I thought, Oh Well, that was pretty unselfish for a 6-year-old,'" recalled Eric Feucht, 44. "I was very proud as a father. You just can't teach that." Even at such a young age, Jennifer Feucht said, her son often exhibited empathy and wisdom so beyond his years that she sensed he might be too special.

"I always had that feeling that he wouldn't be with us for long," said Mrs. Feucht, 34 "kind of like he was on loan from God."

Last month, Jarret would have turned 7.

Instead of throwing a party, though, his family gathered with about 650 others at Oak Creek Elementary School in Lewis Center to break ground on an outdoor learning center dedicated in the boy's memory.

Jarret died Sept. 30, the day after the family minivan Ñ stopped amid heavy traffic on the way to the Gathering of Mustangs and Legends Air Show at Rickenbacker Airport Ñ was hit by a pickup truck. The crash caused a pileup, shutting down the eastbound lanes of I-270 for more than two hours.

Everyone else survived.

During the ceremony, each of Jarret's first-grade classmates stood to say something about him.

One recalled how the boy made others laugh at snack time by pretending that his goldfish crackers were riding a slide into his mouth.

Another remembered how he called the foot book the fart book.

A third described him as his "best, best, best friend."

Jarret had his goofy side but was also a budding arts aficionado (showing partiality to drums and drawing), a budding gardener (planting his first tomato garden at age 4) and a budding athlete (favoring football, T-ball and soccer). He enjoyed eating pizza and crab legs, pulled out both his front teeth himself, and wanted to be a soldier like his grandfather.

A devoted big brother to sister Ashley, now 5, Jarret begged his parents for another little brother or sister, although they told him their family was complete.

In death, Jarret helped extend life for three others: His heart his strongest organ, doctors said answered the prayers of parents in Wisconsin whose 2-year-old son needed a new one; a kidney saved a father of three in California; and his liver helped a grandmother of eight in Indiana.

"Jarret is definitely a hero," said Heather Blausey, spokeswoman for Lifeline of Ohio, a nonprofit organization that promotes and coordinates organ and tissue donation. "I think the recipients call him their angel."

Symbolizing the organ donations are three oak trees that Jarret's father planted on the grounds of the outdoor classroom.

The Feuchts say they have found solace in working with the school and community on the project.

"We kind of made a conscious decision to live the best life we can," Mrs. Feucht said.

First to be built on the classroom land will be a pavilion, with room to accommodate 60 students. Eventually, a flower garden, butterfly garden and vegetable garden will be added.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., a sponsor of the Legends air show, donated $5,000 to the effort.

The Feuchts contributed about $2,000 from the $11,000 donated to a Huntington Bank fund in Jarret's name. (Other fund money, which will continue being raised through an annual golf tournament, will go to arts-related causes; the family, for example, recently bought a $3,200 drum set for Oak Creek Elementary.)

"Jarret was filled with more love and compassion than anyone I ever met in my life," Mr. Feucht told the crowd at the school. "He saw the good in all of us."

When his wife stood, she talked about the project and, specifically, the butterfly garden, explaining how butterflies symbolize rebirth.

"When I see a butterfly," she said, "it reminds me of the beautiful person Jarret was and that he is close by."

Given her slender waistline, few could have known that she was three months pregnant.