Jonathan had hopes of starting high school, completing college and working with the Wyoming Michigan Police Department's K9 division, according to Maria Amante, a reporter for MLive.
Jonathan was an inspiration for many. In 2009 his friend and neighbor Alec Ockaskis wrote an essay for the Knights of Columbus contest entitled: "Who I look up to and why" and named Jon Funches as the person he admired most. This led to a story in the Grand Rapids Press by Tom Rademacher. Both Tom's article and Alec's essay are worth sharing, and give us the opportunity to reflect.
They're too busy playing baseball, building a tree house, being 12. But then along comes an essay by a kid from Comstock Park named Alec Ockaskis, who was asked to write on the topic "Who I Look Up To and Why." He could have picked a sports icon. Movie star. TV idol.
Instead, he picked the kid across the street from where he lives, a kid named Jonathan Funches, a 12-year-old boy who lives his life with quadriplegia.
The essay took first place statewide in a Knights of Columbus contest for middle-schoolers. But it originated in a mild dispute.
"My dad said, 'I don't think that's a role model' and argued with my mom that I wouldn't want to be a quadriplegic."
"We were arguing," acknowledged Alec's mom, Kathy, but was quick to point out that good things usually happen when she mixes it up with husband Todd.
While they were still discussing Alec's premise, he walked off and began to type. And he came up with this as a first paragraph:
"There are many types of role models. The ones that you want to be just like, the ones that help you when you are down, and last and certainly not least, the role models who teach you to appreciate life and persevere."
Alec went on to write that "A neighbor of mine, Jonathan, is a role model of the third kind. ... He cannot participate in many activities that a normal boy would love. ... However, what I admire about him is that he participates in everything he can."
Jonathan and Alec live in Comstock Park, but go to different schools. Alec is in sixth grade at Assumption Catholic Elementary in Belmont, and Jonathan attends Comstock Park's Pine Island Elementary.Living across the street from one another gives them common ground -- they also go to the same church -- and part of Alec's essay deals with a time he visited Jonathan to play.
"What should be in a boy's bedroom?" Alec wrote. "Sports trophies, books and posters of a kid's favorite baseball team — or a small hospital room filled with feeding tubes, an oxygen respirator, and a full-time nurse?"
Despite Alec's comparatively bleak portrayal of Jonathan's digs, he points out in his essay that his neighbor has a zest for their church service. "I see him actively participating, wanting to hold a book and sing along," wrote Alec.
Alec wrote his essay as part of a larger assignment given to all 39 students in grades 6-8 at Assumption by language arts instructor Hazel Bowlin. Alec's mother said she helped her son with some transitions, but he told the story.
"It was a standout in my mind," teacher Bowlin said, "especially the insightfulness and originality in seeing a role model in a kid in a wheelchair."
Alex told me that he sees through Jonathan's disability: "I'll feel the Holy Spirit in my heart, and I see past his appearance. After I played with him, I could see he was just another regular kid. He just couldn't do as many things."
Jonathan, who was struck by a car when he was 17 months old is unable to move, except for his head to the right "and a little bit to the left," says his foster mother, Tina Boarts.
Jonathan breathes with a ventilator, is fed through a tube, and requires nursing care around the clock, seven days a week.
Alec's essay could not have come at a better time, Tina said, sharing that Jonathan sometimes has trouble understanding why he was singled out to be unable to run and play with other kids his age.
"It's real tough for him," said Tina, "an ongoing struggle. Just last night, he was asking (husband) Ed when he's going to make him a time machine, so he can go back and meet Jesus. He's got an awful lot of questions, like 'Why did God want me to be this way?'"
Alec's essay "will reinforce everything we have been trying to tell Jonathan about people looking up to him, for his patience and how he tries so hard without giving up," she said.
When Tina surprised Jonathan by reading Alec's essay to him on Thursday, Jonathan was in awe, and told his foster mom that "It was fantastic that he wrote about me. It makes me feel good that everybody cares about me."
Tina herself was no less impressed by her young neighbor's work. "It just blew me out of the water," she said. "I mean, holy cow, this kid just had me."
So much so, that Jonathan noticed her reacting in a way he'd not expected. "Mom," he told her, his face rising to meet hers, "your eyes are blinking."
Here is the Knights of Columbus winning essay by then 12-year-old Alex Ockaskis of Comstock Park, about his neighbor and friend Jonathan Funches:
There are many types of role models. The ones that you want to be just like, the ones that help you when you are down, and last and certainly not least, the role models who teach you to appreciate life and persevere.
A neighbor of mine, Jonathan, is a role model of the third kind. Jonathan is a quadriplegic boy who is the same age as me. He cannot participate in many activities that a normal boy would love. However, what I admire about him is that he participates in everything he can.
What should be in a boy's bedroom? Sport trophies, books and posters of a kid's favorite baseball team -- or a small hospital room filled with feeding tubes, an oxygen respirator, and a full-time nurse? What I discovered when I visited Jonathan to play and cheer him up, was a room set up like a hospital. Everything was so boring in that small room with grey walls and a hospital bed. I set up an exciting track using Hot Wheels cars. I tried to get him involved, however he could only look at the cars I put on his tray. When I left, I felt bad for the things he couldn't do, but then I realized he celebrated what he could do. What amazed me is that even though he could not handle the cars himself, he just smiled and laughed just by watching me have fun.
Even though I switched schools and no longer go to the same school as Jonathan, I thought I would not see him as often. However, he goes to the same church on Sundays as I do. I see him actively participating, wanting to hold a book and sing along. What impresses me is that he sings and participates more than anyone in the Children's Liturgy of the Word. His spirituality and faith makes me appreciate how determined and devoted he is to worship God. Jonathan teaches me that with God all things are wonderful and to appreciate my life fully.
On a warm spring afternoon, I saw Jonathan in his wheelchair at the end of his foster family's driveway. He has learned to appreciate even the simple things like fresh air. I was on my way to a soccer game, and I thought how God has blessed me with the ability to run. When I am on the soccer field, I will play my very best because people like Jonathan teach us to use our potential even when things are challenging.