By Kara Beard
Editor’s note: Due to space considerations, only the first part of Kara Beard’s tribute to FC graduate Joel Van Bree ran in the Oct. 5, 2012 issue of The Bagpiper. Here is the story in its entirety.
At approximately 12:15 a.m. on July 16, Trish Schuerman, mother of Joel Van Bree, got a knock on the door. As she opened it two men in uniform introduced themselves as the Indiana State Police and proceeded to tell her, as she took a seat, that her son was involved in a car wreck off Whiskey Run Road; he did not make it.
Joel was born last into a family of three kids, and even at a young age he was known for his risk taking personality that led to frequent injuries.
“He was like the daredevil of the family, so he always pushed limits. He always had something that was broken, needed stitches, or had a concussion; he just did the craziest stuff,” said Schuerman.
Along with the risk taking side of Joel, he also, at a young age, started to show interest in sports.
“He tried sports, but he wasn’t really coordinated. It took him awhile to grow into his body because he was really long and lanky, so he was really clumsy and not good. The most sports he played in junior high were volleyball and maybe one year of basketball,” said Joel’s older sister, Erika Van Bree.
As Joel got older his love for sports was not the only thing that he enjoyed. Many days Joel was seen hanging around the house and participating in family bonding time.
“Him and Matthew were always ‘the boys,’ so they kind of did everything together, even though they were total opposites. It was like a love/hate relationship; either they were going at each other or they were glued together. Considering they were only 18 months apart they were pretty close,” said Schuerman.
Along with being close to his older brother, Matthew, Joel shared a bond with each of his family members.
“His dad and I got a divorce when Joel was three, but we were both hands-on parents and loved doing things with our kids. Like when I got married to my second husband around eight years ago, I didn’t want to go on a honeymoon because my kids couldn’t go with us so we went to Cedar Point and that was our honeymoon; we just did everything as a family,” said Schuerman.
Although vacations were frequent, sitting down at the dinner table every night together and enjoying each other’s company happened daily. Schuerman said family was extremely important to them and that is why they put so much emphasis on spending time together.
As Joel got older, a few things were seen changing in him as he progressed into his teen years.
“His confidence level changed definitely because he was really shy and he stuttered in elementary school, and also he had ADHD and on medication for it up until fifth grade. Then he kind of just grew out of it and became more confident and thought he was indestructible. Other than just the confidence, he became more outgoing, happy, and started working out all the time,” said Schuerman.
After entering high school, Joel became more involved with athletics and prospered in making friends and getting out of his shell.
“There was just something about him that people were drawn to, and on weekends when he was just hanging around the house we would ask him, ‘Joel, where are your friends?’ and he would just shrug and say, ‘Oh, they are busy,’ or, ‘I don’t really have many friends.’ Then at his visitation we were kind of surprised because we were like, ‘Okay, Joel, you have 40 times more friends than you said’,” said Schuerman.
With Joel being the youngest child, Schuerman said she had the most difficulty disciplining him because he would always push her limits but somehow slipped out of punishment by turning on the charm.
“One day Joel was in trouble, so I was going to unload the dishwasher and he was like, ‘No, it’s okay I’ll do it,’ and Joel maybe unloaded the dishwasher three times in the three years we lived here, so I said, ‘No it’s okay bud, I got it’ and he goes, ‘No really mom’s getting ready to be home and I want her to see me do it’,” said Erika.
Once Joel was in high school the family started seeing more of his personality besides the funny side.
“He didn’t like anyone’s feelings to be hurt. If someone was upset and he couldn’t fix it then he would try to get your mind off of it. He just didn’t like tension or negative situations at all, so if he could fix it with a joke or by saying he was sorry, however was best; if he could fix the situation he would. He didn’t want anyone to have a bad day. He never had a bad day, so he didn’t think anyone else should,” said Erika.
On the night of his wreck, Schuerman said she had been checking the tracker on Van Bree’s phone when he had not arrived home yet.
“He had left his friend’s house and it wasn’t ’til after we found out that he hadn’t reached his other friend’s house that I started tracking his phone. I thought he had just pulled off to the side of the road because it was right by his grandparents’ property. But, he wasn’t answering his phone, so Erika left to go find him. Afterwards, I kept looking at the tracker to see if it was moving, and it was. So I called Erika to tell her that he was heading home and she said, ‘ Well that’s rude of him. The least he can do is answer his phone and let everyone know he’s alright.’ It wasn’t but maybe 15 minutes later that the police showed up and told me what happened. I told them that it couldn’t be him because I had been tracking his phone and he was heading home. Then they said, ‘Ma’am we have his phone…we just took it because it kept going off.’ I was just shocked,” said Schuerman.
It has been a little more than two months since Joel was killed on Whiskey Run Road and his family still feels the pain of him being gone; however, they will always remember their son and brother.
“I have lots of little memories of things he said because Joel wasn’t always notorious for thinking before he talked, but it’s just the little memories of him like if he was having a bad day he would crawl into bed with me and talk about his girl problems while watching Harry Potter or breaking up him and Matthew’s brotherly fights,” said Erika.
Schuerman said the one thing she wants people to remember about Joel was his happiness and zest for life.
“Joel was always happy, and that’s what I will never forget. Right now we are all just trying to get through each day by just grabbing hold of anything we can to try and help us through each moment, and maybe someday things will finally get back to some kind of normal, but now it’s just not that time,” said Schuerman.