December 1, 2017

A gift of the heart and hands: Handy seventh-grader leaves his mark on the lives of students and teachers

Seventh-grader John Meer can be seen at St. Louis School in Batesville with his tool kit, including a hammer or two, as he selflessly serves the school community taking care of repairs. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Seventh-grader John Meer can be seen at St. Louis School in Batesville with his tool kit, including a hammer or two, as he selflessly serves the school community taking care of repairs. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

BATESVILLE—The more you learn about 13-year-old John Meer, the more you keep smiling.

Consider this story about John, a seventh-grader whose ability to fix things with his hands may only be surpassed by the way he uses his heart to carve a special place in the lives of the students and teachers at St. Louis School in Batesville.

A couple of years ago, a classmate had a wobbly desk, so John brought in an Allen wrench to tighten it and a 5-foot-long level to check it. And ever since, he’s been using his time before school and even during recess to secure bookcases, fix broken chairs, repair picture frames and tighten wobbly desks around the school.

“I was just thinking one day, while I was eating my lunch, of all the things the teachers had done for me through the years, and I just wanted to pay them back for it,” he explains. “I help my mom a lot in the kitchen, too, because she helps me with my homework. I even made breakfast in bed for her on her birthday, but she didn’t eat it there because it would be too messy.”

And consider this story about John. He had just finished making height‑appropriate tables in the second-grade classroom of teacher Jan Narwold when she rewarded him with some candy. Yet on the way out of the classroom, John gave the treat to a second-grader who he had noticed was working hard.

“I think someone who is working hard and paying attention to the teacher deserves it more,” John says about the gesture.

Gifts of the hands and the heart

The two stories show the two main points that guide John’s life—fixing things and helping others.

As the sixth of nine children of Nancy and Clifford “Kip” Meer, John has been pitching in on the family farm near Batesville for as long as he can remember, and trying to follow in his father’s footsteps for just as long.

“He’s just inspired me over the years,” John says about his dad. “I’ve been in the woodshop here and there. I’ve built things. I made a lamp. I made a step stool that you can flip back and it’s a chair. I like doing electrical work, too. And I can swing a hammer as well as I can swing an axe.”

Still, the gifts of his heart outshine the talents of his hands, say the people who have watched him grow up at St. Louis School through the years.

“John inspires me and everyone around him to serve others selflessly with the gifts that God has given us,” says Jenny Lents, a seventh-grade teacher who has had her desk chair repaired by John. “He continually asks how he may be of help, and if he is given any treats for his service, he gives them away to another student.”

“He has a heart of gold, and he knows his stuff,” says first-grade teacher Jessica Laker, who had a wooden bookcase in her classroom repaired by John. “He always asks if there’s anything he can do. He even read a chapter of a book to my first‑graders the other day.”

Jan Narwold notes that her second‑grade students “look up to John, and try to be like him. John is living out the Catholic faith. He’s helping others.”

John’s contributions of hands and heart recently led to another memorable moment at St. Louis School.

‘He’s giving back the best way he can’

A few weeks ago, a representative of a catalog company came to the school with some sample products to show the principal, Chad Moeller. One of the items immediately caught Moeller’s attention—a ratchet tool kit.

Knowing that John often borrows tools from him or maintenance director Wade Ryle, Moeller thought the tool kit would be a nice gift for John for all he has done at the school. The principal also arranged a presentation during which some of the teachers gave the tool kit to John.

It’s the one reward that John has kept for himself.

“I thought the teachers at St. Louis must like me a lot to give me this,” John says, smiling. “It made me feel happy that I’m a student at St. Louis, and they allow me to do what I like to do.”

What John does best, Moeller says, is serve as a role model—for children and adults.

“John has found a way to use his passion and skill to give back to the teachers and school that he loves,” the principal says. “He’s giving back the best way he can.”

On this morning during recess, John carries the tool kit with him as he walks into the first‑grade classroom where he is scheduled to give a presentation on the careful use of tools the next day. When they see him, the first-graders smile at him and approach him easily.

“As you can see, I have a lot of student friends,” John says.

Moments later, he’s stopping in the second-grade classroom of Narwold. After a few moments there, he starts to head toward the door and back to his seventh‑grade classroom. Pausing for a moment, he turns to Narwold and smiles as he says, “Anything you need fixed today, my door is always open.” †

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