Students, colleagues remember J.T.
The contribution John Thornton made to the Basehor-Linwood School District was never more evident than on Saturday morning at First Baptist Church in Basehor.
Thornton, a teacher in the school district for 27 years, died last week at his home in Edwardsville. He taught history, government and contemporary issues.
He died young, at the age of 54.
Family members buried Thornton Saturday morning in Lyons, Kan. But, because Thornton was revered by so many in the community, faculty members at Basehor-Linwood High School organized a local memorial service in his honor.
An exact figure of how many attended the service was not available, but most observers placed the number between 400 and 500 people.
Heavy hearted students, teachers and friends paid their respects to the man known simply as J.T. at the church Saturday during a tribute that lasted approximately two hours.
Scott Neil, a colleague and close friend of Thornton's, attended his interment in Lyons, but a statement penned by Neil was read to the crowd.
"At this moment, I know it is hard to think about the good times that we shared with this great man, but out of respect to him and in remembrance of him, we need to reflect upon all the good things he instilled in each and every one of us," Neil said in his statement. "Knowing J.T., he would not want us to dwell upon his passing but rather the lessons that all of us have learned from him over the years.
"I think that maybe J.T. has taught us all his best lesson this week. Life is a very fragile thing, and it should be embraced and never be taken for granted."
Neil worked with Thornton for the last eight years. In that time, the two became fast friends, sharing interests in gardening, fishing and mushroom hunting.
"He became my mentor not only as a teacher but in many other aspects of life," his statement read. "He was a true teacher in and out of the classroom, which is evident by the lives he personally touched."
Noah Simpson, also a teacher at the high school, knew Thornton as a student and fellow educator. Simpson, like Neil, like so many others, said he will always remember the times he spent with Thornton.
"Over the past five years I have moved from being a student to being a friend, and in the last year we became buddies," Simpson said. "I have never met a person that cared so much about students, colleagues and friends.
"As a 23-year-old, it is sometimes hard to say the words I love you, but I have no problem saying them to J.T. I love you, J.T. You were my teacher and mentor, you were my friend and my buddy and I am going to miss everything about you."
News of Thornton's passing spread quickly last week. From coast to coast, alumni of Basehor-Linwood High School were shocked when they learned of Thornton's death.
Here, in Basehor, news of his passing wasn't any easier to understand.
Counselors were immediately brought to the high school Wednesday and they stayed available to grieving students and faculty members throughout the week. A candlelight vigil took place Wednesday evening in the parking space Thornton had used for years.
Flags in front of the high school were flown at half-mast.
Thornton's impact on the people around him could also be felt Saturday at the church when many students who spoke to the crowd said they would pursue careers in education because of him.
However, it may have been the words of Neil that that echoed what most in attendance feel about Thornton.
"To my friend J.T., I love you and will never forget you. You have forever touched my life and made me a better person."
Thornton's obituary is below.
Johnnie Craig Thornton
Johnnie Craig Thornton, 54, of Edwardsville, died April 21, 2004, at his home. He had been a teacher at Basehor-Linwood High School for 27 years.
Services were Saturday at Sillin Funeral Home, Lyons, Kan., with burial in Lyons Municipal Cemetery. Visitation was before the services at the funeral home.
Mr. Thornton was born Jan. 1, 1950, in Lyons, Kan., the son of Johnnie and Betgty Clites Thornton. He was a graduate of Chase, Kan., High School and of Emporia State University. He was a member of the Masonic Blue Lodge, Kansas City, Kan., and the Association of Basehor-Linwood Educators.
He was preceded in death by his mother, Betty Thornton.
Survivors include his father and stepmother, Johnnie and Evely Thornton, Chase, Kan.; two brothers, Steve Thornton, Russell, Kan., and Darren Thornton, Denver City, Texas; a sister, Sheryl Bass, Chase, Kan.; two stepbrothers, Dennis White and Joe Mellott, both of Kansas City, Kan.; a stepsister, Sharon McKee, Rochester, Minn.; eight nieces and nephews and nine stepnieces and stepnephews.
The family suggests memorials to the Basehor-Linwood Educational Foundation in care of Sillin Funeral Home, 214 West Ave. South, Lyons KS 67554.