A moment of silence will envelop Columbus East High School this morning as East students and staff remember one of their own who died for his country.
A message about the death of Army Sgt. Jonathon Hunter, a 2011 East graduate, will be read to students this morning, followed by the moment of silence, East Principal Mark Newell said.
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“It is an opportunity for students to recognize one of their peers who gave his all for his country,” Newell said.
Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said it was startling to be reminded so soon after a visit from The Moving Wall, a tribute to the fallen from Vietnam, of the number of people who have given their lives serving their country. He pledged to do what the city can to help console the family and to always remember the contributions that Hunter made in his service to his country.
Describing Thursday as a tough day at the local high school, Newell said staff members who taught Hunter remember him as a kind, responsible young man who loved to joke around and always had a smile to share with his classmates and teachers.
Newell said Hunter had a positive attitude and was so well liked that his classmates voted him the best dressed senior in 2011, the principal said.
“He was such a great kid with a big smile and an even bigger heart,” said teacher Tracy Lykins, who taught Hunter in Japanese class for three years.
Newell said Hunter’s primary extracurricular focus was football, playing all four years as an Olympian for Coach Bob Gaddis.
The coach described Hunter as a nice young man and an unselfish player.
Hunter, who wore number 22, was willing to switch positions in order to help the team, moving through East football ranks as a running back, but later switching to defensive end his senior year in a move that helped the team, Gaddis said.
The East football team Facebook page was filled with condolences to the team and Hunter’s family.
“It’s pretty tough when you lose someone that young,” Gaddis said.
Gaddis said he spoke with Hunter’s father, Mark Hunter, on Thursday morning after Mark Hunter posted about how much the East football program had meant to his son.
Hunter’s loss was also expressed outside the Columbus community.
The Whiteland football program made a statement extending its deepest sympathies to the East community, saying, “We proudly stand behind you in this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jonathan’s family, friends, and the entire community as you mourn your fallen hero! We also pass along our most sincere gratitude to all those soldiers and family members of our U.S. military for their amazing sacrifices! We are forever grateful!”
Mark Hunter responded with thanks, saying serving in the military was what his son wanted to do.
“(He) wanted wanted to fight for his country. East football made him the man he grew to be. #22,” his father wrote.
Jonathon Hunter had reached out to Gaddis when he was in boot camp, telling his former coach that he thought the Army was the right decision for him.
“He was happy to serve his country,” Gaddis said. “Unfortunately, he lost his life.”
Columbus East football teammate and good friend Zane Yeager, 24, said Hunter established himself as an extremely caring person the moment they met for summer football training in 2007.
Now attending graduate school at Indiana University, Yeager said he had just transferred into the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., so he had no established connections with any of his classmates.
“Jon was the first person to come to me to develop a friendship,” Yeager said. “He was very accepting of who I was as a person, and that stayed with me for quite a while.”
As their friendship grew, Yeager came to appreciate Hunter for having an exceptional sense of humor and “a very contagious smile,” he said.
The last time Yeager had communicated with Jonathon Hunter was through social media a little over a year ago, Yeager said. After his longtime friend expressed interest in high endurance training, Yeager offered to both train Hunter and run alongside him in his first marathon.
“I lost that opportunity through his selflessness to serving his country forever, and my heart aches,” Yeager wrote on his Facebook page.
During his high school and college years, Jonathon Hunter worked for several local employers — the Bartholomew County Public Library and Renner Motors.
Hunter worked in the adult circulation department of the library for four and a half years, from August 2009 to January 2014, said Jason Hatton, Bartholomew County Public Library director Jason Hatton.
“Jonathon was always smiling,” Hatten said. “He was always happy.”
While balancing a job, academic and athletics, Hatten said of Hunter: “He just got it done. He knew what needed to be done, and he did it. He just did it.”
Hatten described Hunter as a “wonderful, wonderful employee and person” who never needed to be told what to do.
“He was really just a lovely human being,” Hatton said.
The young adult had a connection at the Renner auto dealership, where father Mark Hunter is member of the sales department.
“He had a great attitude and was a hard worker, just like his father,” said Lisa Renner, owner of Renner Motors. “Dad is always going to make sure his son is doing well on the job.”
Jonathon worked in the dealership’s detail department for nearly a year starting in May 2011.
Lisa Renner said she and another staff member close to the family purchased groceries Thursday morning for Mark Hunter.
“It’s a very difficult time,” Renner said. “We’re all praying for Mark and his entire family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all. We’re here to support him in any way necessary.”
Renner said a Hunter family reunion had been planned ahead of time for this weekend.
“Mark will be surrounded by his family and people that love him,” Renner said.
Republic reporters Mark Webber and Shelby Mullis contributed to this report.