Parkway e-News Story

Heroes Among Us

As Josh Eckhoff finished telling West High students about his recovery from massive head injuries sustained in Iraq, the entire auditorium erupted in shouts of “Josh, Josh, Josh.”  

The occasion was a homecoming pep rally. Josh, 30, had walked haltingly to the stage with the aid of his cane, his head scars visible where he had lost 75 percent of his right brain hemisphere.

The students had played a big part in Josh’s recovery, raising more than $10,000 for the wounded vet. Josh, you see, is one of their own, a 2003 South High graduate who had developed a love of adventure and writing from teachers Liz Morrison and Mike Hopkins, respectively.

“The students wanted to donate to a local hero,” says Brian Kessler, West High activites director. “They decided to raise funds for Josh through the Joshua Chamberlain Society because the society helps local heroes and adopts a person for life, not just temporarily.” 

West High students have a penchant for helping others. Besides Josh, they recently raised more than $30,000 to help their beloved custodian, Ollie Caruthers, deal with his wife’s recent onset of blindness and his own cancer.

West High junior Emily Wind spearheaded the fund raising campaign for Ollie, 72, who has worked at West High for 16 years.

“She was so passionate about helping Ollie that I wanted to help, too,” says Emily’s good friend, Shannon Anderson. The feeling was contagious among other students and teachers. 

“I always knew the students liked me,” Ollie told media and television stations who covered the story last November. “But now I know the students love me.”

“It is a great honor to work with the West High student community and the entire Longhorn universe,” says West High Principal Jeremy Mitchell.

In fact, West High encouraged other Parkway schools to adopt the Joshua Chamberlain society, and thereby Josh Eckhoff. “Each school does different fund-raising, but all proceeds benefit the Joshua Chamberlain society,” says Annie Wayland, West High social studies teacher. “We even have a district shirt that unites us in our efforts.”

Working as a team, all represent Parkway’s emphasis on character education.

As for Josh Eckhoff, he represents what may be the quintessential Parkway student—a person of character and courage who overcomes all challenges to succeed. He can’t drive, has limited range of motion on his left side, and would like to improve his speech and cognition. But these challenges haven’t stopped him from pursuing a liberal arts degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“It was great to be back in Parkway,” he says. “It felt like a real homecoming.”

Look for more stories on character education in the future.