Family, friends, teachers remember J.J.
Pallavi Agarwal | Highlands TodayAVON PARK - J.J. Superman. The boy who lived and loved basketball but never forgot it was just a game. The charmer with the "mercy" smile. The guy who was your friend even if he didn't know your name. The devout Christian. The mentor and campus hero. The school choir's deep singing voice. The beloved big brother. The mamma's boy.
Published: October 3, 2012
Published: October 3, 2012
Amid lots of tears and some smiles, family members and friends of Jokschan "J.J." Branchedor tried to come to grips with the sudden death of the 17-year-old, who drowned in a rip current at New Smyrna Beach Sept. 21 while on a school field trip.
At a Celebration of Life service, the Avon Park Seventh-day Adventist Church sanctuary was packed with mourners Tuesday, many from Walker Memorial Academy, which J.J. attended.
Classmates, teachers and friends sang in his memory. They remembered stories about him as their voices cracked, and promised – as his basketball and Bible coach Pastor Orlando Hernandez put it - "We don't say goodbye to J.J. We say, 'See you later.'"
Cherrie Fox remembered the first time she encountered him.
She was new, teaching his eighth-grade class, and trying her best to manage a bunch of "jumping grasshopper" boys, who seemed to have "chugged up energy drinks."
"I can still picture him, sitting in the last seat, back row," she smiled, as those gathered chuckled a bit. "He had his feet up...the big old smile. The writing utensil had gone to higher places."
His advice to her: "Miss Fox, don't take us so seriously. Miss Fox, you need to have some fun with us."
J.J. lived life to the fullest, attested another of his teachers, Judy Johnson.
Johnson may have been the one teaching him but "one of the most endearing people" she's ever known taught her a few things about humility, being a team player and - smiling.
"If you look up 'joyful' in the dictionary, you'll see his picture there," Johnson said solemnly, pausing several times as tears overtook her.
J.J. was No. 21 on the school Eagles' basketball team. He was also the class pastor, a junior deacon and the big brother who cleaned the house, ironed the uniforms, did the laundry and made sure his beloved mother, who worked long hours, was doing good and had enough to eat.
"J.J. loved his mother with all his heart," said Johnson, as his mother, Lauraine Branchedor, cried inconsolably throughout the eulogy.
Since his death, Johnson has asked other students to write notes in his memory that will go into a garden tower.
As she reads the notes, Johnson has come to a revelation of sorts.
"I've come to realize the impact J.J. had," she said. "Thank you for living your life as a true Christian."
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