Students at Collins-Maxwell High School have been filling a fold-out camping chair with mementos since Monday, Feb. 15, the first day that their junior classmate and friend Chase Mohler was not at school with them.
Chase died in a weekend accident on Feb. 13, when the truck he was driving left the roadway and rolled. Authorities believe road and weather-related conditions played a part in the loss of vehicle control.
Last Wednesday evening, Feb. 17, classmates, friends, community members and family filled the Maxwell Area Community Center on the town’s Main Street to pay their respects to Chase. The room was packed, with many standing around the sides and back of the room for the service. The guest book was signed by more than 600 people.
In Pastor Wilbur Morfitt’s message about the 17-year-old, he mentioned that fold-out chair, and after the service, classmate Tucker Maxwell also talked about his friend’s chair.
This school year, Chase brought the chair to school with him, so that rather than sitting on the floor each day as he visited with friends and enjoyed a cup of coffee or a bottle of Mountain Dew, he could sit more comfortably as he spent that "before the bell" time with his friends. "The chair was next to Miss Allen’s office, and he always had his big cup of coffee or a Mountain Dew, and we all knew it was about time for class when he started tucking his chair into his locker," said Maxwell.
Described by an aunt as a "gentle Ben," Chase was quiet, but often a leader among his friends. "He liked hanging out with his friends," Morfitt said, whether it was in school, the great outdoors or at church. Morfitt said Chase was instrumental in bringing a group of friends with him who were not confirmed, so that they could go through confirmation together at Loring United Methodist Church.
"Chase was always eager to learn," Morfitt said. "The church became very important quite early in his life."
Chase was also active in the Boy Scouts organization, and was an avid outdoorsman. Many in attendance at the funeral service wore camouflage shirts and sweatshirts to honor Chase’s love of the outdoors, and of hunting and fishing.
Chase’s grandfather, Doug Fuller, spoke during the service, sharing many memories of the grandson he spent countless hours with. One of Fuller’s most prized possessions, especially now, he held up, is a piece of construction paper that was left on his car seat at the Loring Church after services one Sunday when his grandson was younger. He had laid it in the driver’s seat. "It says, ‘Adopt me, Love Chase.’" The meaning of it, Fuller said, didn’t have anything to do with his grandson’s home life. He had a wonderful family and home life. He was happy and he was loved. "He just loved being with me at the farm," Fuller said of how much Chase had embraced the "country life."
Fuller has many memories of spending time with his grandson on the farm. He recalls how much Chase loved the big basement shower in the new farmhouse, and how he could probably be heard for miles as he took those showers and sang Austin Powers’ "Yeah Baby Yeah." He loved breakfast at the farm and was often in the kitchen with his grandfather, dreaming of ideas for the two to start their own cooking show. "Fixing breakfast at the farm was a favorite thing," Fuller said.
The great outdoors is what Chase loved most about the farm and country. "Last summer he was on a mission to catch a snapping turtle," his grandfather said. Several times a day, Chase would drive to the farm to check his turtle trap — "the bait was always gone, but no turtle."
Then his grandpa came upon a huge snapping turtle one day along the highway and couldn’t resist. He texted a picture of the turtle to his grandson with this message, "Hey Chase, I sure liked that bait. It was yummy." There was no reply. He didn’t find it that funny, Fuller said, but yet, those who knew Chase best and the great sense of humor he had, knew he probably did.
Maxwell said he’s going to remember how Chase was always cracking jokes, how it was fun to be around him and what a great friend he was. The days at school since Chase’s passing, Maxwell described, "have been so long."
Brad and Karmen Plunkett, whose son Luke was a great friend of Chase, said Chase spent a lot of time at their house. "He was a very kind-hearted and gentle person who was good with (younger) kids," Brad said. Karmen said her son Luke’s favorite memory of Chase was going fishing with him at Paul Viers’ pond. Karmen said she’s going to always remember how much Jack’s frozen cheese pizza her son and Chase could put away.
Chase’s great-aunt, LaRee Cory, mentioned proudly how her nephew was an organ donor. Those at the service were asked that in Chase’s memory they consider becoming organ donors and blood donors. His aunt also mentioned Chase’s eyes. "He had beautiful eyes," she said, wondering if a donor recipient had been able to receive those beautiful, bright eyes.
Morfitt, who became well acquainted with Chase during his years filling in as pastor at Loring Church, shared the Bible verse that Chase chose as his own not long ago when being confirmed. It was John, Chapter 8, vs. 12: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
"Chase was doing his very best to keep following that light," Morfitt said. Along with the Boy Scout motto of "always being prepared," Morfitt said, "So many of us think we have lots of time to be prepared … I am so happy to say that I think (Chase) was prepared and he’d want each of us to be prepared as well."
Chase’s grandfather said that the family Chase left behind are now learning what it is to live with unbearable sorrow. But remembering the youth that was so full of life, it’s important, he said, that all of those his grandson left behind "go on living as he would want us to live."