Teenager Jonah King would mow the neighbor's yard and not tell them he did it, just to be nice.
"He's the most selfless kid you'll ever met in your life," says his father, Kenneth King, of Stedman.
It is rare perhaps for a father to say he wishes he could be the kind of man his son was, but King says he feels that way.
At 16, Jonah possessed the confidence of someone twice his age. He was strong in his Christian faith and strong in his ideals.
When he went to get his driver's license, he chose to be an organ donor. His mother, Jackie King, said he should think about it.
He told his mom, gently but firmly, he would be a donor: "That's the plan. Now leave me alone."
Jonah knew he wanted to be a Marine, too. He had military in his blood. His brother, Noah, serves in the Marines, and his grandfather, Wilton King, is a retired Army command sergeant major.
Kenneth King signed the papers for Jonah to enlist in June of 2012.
A week later, and days before his birthday, Jonah was dead. He had been riding his skateboard near his home in Salisbury and tilted backward, hitting his head. He died in the hospital of a brain injury.
Jonah's friends gave stirring testimonials about him at a candlelight vigil at West Rowan High School. Kenneth and Jackie, who are divorced, looked at each other in grateful shock.
"They talked about the things he had done for them," says Kenneth. "One kid after another. We knew he did a lot of things, but we had no idea ..."
The parents now celebrate Jonah's birthday, June 28, by raising money for children and bringing awareness to helmet safety. In 2012, they donated to an orphanage. In 2013, they collected more than 100 helmets, which they donated to Toys for Tots. This year, they will divide their efforts, with Kenneth collecting helmets and donations around here.
He plans to donate the helmets to the Bicycle Man charity, which is run by Ann Mathis, wife of the late Moses Mathis. King says Ann Mathis told him they had more bikes to give away than helmets.
"We don't want any other parents to have to deal with this in their lives," King says.
He says he also wants to shine a light on skateboard safety. Jonah was healthy and hearty at 220 pounds, not someone you would think as vulnerable to that kind of accident, King says.
He described his son as full of life, handsome and a hit with the ladies. Jonah led the fan section at football games, sprinting the sidelines with a large flag after touchdowns.
He was funny and often spoke with no filter. Family and friends called him "Mr. Inappropriate."
But time and again, Kenneth returned to his son's giving nature.
He says a man in Maine is breathing with Jonah's lungs. Another man has his liver, and another, his corneas.
And another 16-year-old has Jonah King's big heart.
Columnist Myron B. Pitts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3559.
We are very thankful to Ray and his family for all that they do to support the JKKHELMETFOUNDATION every year. Ray has done many interviews in the paper on TV and the radio. He is a wonderful part of our lives and we are blessed to have him.
Below is a video of John Damato, Jonah's heart recipient.
The letter below is from Jonah's lung recipient's wife. Jonah has touched so many lives!
Ken King (Jonah's father) gives a radio interview in April, 2018. Click above to hear the interview!
Pitts: Teen's legacy of care continues
Noah, one of Jonah's brothers wrote and sang this song at one of the benefits.
Ray Brooks Organ Recipient Gives Interview
Organ donor recipient hold helmet drive
Liver transplant recipient bonds with family of teen who was his donor
Myron B. Pitts
Updated May 30, 2016
Before they met, the family of teenager Jonah King and the man whose life is sustained by King's donated liver knew about each other.
Donor rules do not allow organ recipients to meet the family of donors unless both sides agree and work through certain protocols.
But liver transplant recipient Ray Brooks, a volunteer firefighter in Pitt County, says he and his wife, Janet, used news accounts, coupled with what little the medical team told him about his young donor, to figure out it was likely Jonah. The 16-year-old who split time between Cumberland and Rowan counties died after a skateboard accident.
When Ken King, Jonah's dad, called Brooks on the phone in the spring of 2013, "They had found out about me," says Brooks. "We both knew about each other early, but we didn't violate protocol."
These days, Jonah's people and Brooks and his wife and two children are close.
"It's amazing," says Tina Todd, who is Ken's longtime companion. "They've become more family than friends. We talk to them often.
"It's just that part of Jonah is still alive. He helped somebody."
The families have a reunion and helmet drive every year that alternates between Stedman, where Ken King lives, and Rowan County, where Jonah's mother, Jackie, lives. This year's event in Stedman is scheduled for June 25. John Birmingham, who received Jonah's lungs, will be down with his wife from Maine. A man in New Jersey received Jonah's heart.
Jonah's Helmet Drive seeks donations of helmets or money to buy helmets for young bicyclists and skateboarders. People can donate online atjkkhelmetfoundation.com. They can also donate at the Tobacco Road Outlet at Eutaw Village and in Clinton and at Hendrick Chrysler Jeep on McPherson Church Road.
Todd says the last two years family has donated helmets to the holiday bike giveaway organized by Ann Mathis.
In 2014, I wrote about Jonah, an energetic, friendly 16-year-old who was known for lending a hand whenever he could. Jonah had dreams of enlisting in the Marines. But in June 2012, he died after he fell off a skateboard and hit his head.
His dad, Ken, told me at the time Jonah had insisted on being a donor, despite his mother asking him if he should think more about it. Jonah was easygoing but firm when he made up his mind.
"That's the plan," he said about being a donor. "Now leave me alone."
The difference in the lives of people like Brooks cannot be calculated.
He had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which he had contracted as a baby but didn't know. He had already had one liver transplant, which came as he was at "death's door," he says. He reached out to the family of his donor, a 42-year-old woman, without success.
Hepatitis caused the liver to fail.
He received Jonah's liver in a surgery that, because of complications, took 16 hours at Duke University Hospital. But his body readily accepted the organ, and he was released in 10 days.
What remains is his bond with Jonah's family.
"We've all just become closer," he says.
Columnist Myron B. Pitts can be reached at email@example.com or 910-486-3559.