Sonoma friends and family remember Brandon Barmore
For teens who imagine themselves invincible, losing Brandon Barmore last week was a devastating and powerful blow.
Two months shy of his 18th birthday, Brandon died March 26 in a hotel swimming lagoon on a Seeds of Learning service trip to Nicaragua.
A dozen Sonoma Valley High School classmates, two Rotary Club members, and trip leaders from the Sonoma-based nonprofit were with Barmore and tried to revive him. He died at an area hospital on Sunday, March 26. His family in Sonoma was informed that day.
Sonoma Valley High School students were on spring break during the service trip, but school is back in session this week. On Wednesday, March 29, grief counselors and six therapy dogs were on campus for students and staff. A short letter from Principal Kathleen Hawing was sent to school families on Wednesday informing them of the tragedy.
Interviews with family, friends and teachers lovingly paint a picture of Brandon as a charismatic young man with a hundred interests and a thousand friends.
In addition to being a captain of the track team, during his four years at SVHS, Brandon ran cross country, played water polo, wrestled, competed on the swim team and skied on the weekends.
In addition to being a counselor at the Sebastiani Theatre summer camps, he was a ropes-course volunteer, helped out with Witchie Poo and worked for the Rhotens, who manage the theater, throughout the school year.
In addition to being a star student in the high school's culinary elective, Brandon was a passionate home cook who loved to experiment with vegan recipes and a dehydrator to brew his own kombucha.
In addition to captaining the forensics speech team, Brandon also was also involved with both the high school's Mock Trial team and its Model U.N. club.
He was nominated as Homecoming King last fall, and was elected the high school's Mr. Dragon in February.
He was also a work in progress. Friends describe him as nerdy but charismatic, hilarious and confident but also humble.
Brandon brought the house down with his antics for the Mr. Dragon competition, dressing up as teacher Dean Knight, rocking “Safety Dance” in a gold lame suit, and underscoring his tremendous school spirit by donning every SVHS T-shirt he had ever owned, all at once.
He was color blind but a snappy dresser who friends, amid giggles, credit with single-handedly bringing short shorts back in style for boys.
“Everything that Brandon did he poured his heart and soul into… and he did a lot,” his mother, Margee Barmore, said when she and husband Phil Barmore spoke this week with the Index-Tribune. “He kept so busy. We keep hearing of more things that he was involved in that we didn't even know about.”
Friends would catch up with Brandon by giving him a ride the last few blocks to campus in the morning. They laughed that he was always running late, despite only living a five-minute walk from school.
Despite his seeming confidence at SVHS, Brandon was a painfully shy child and so Margee, who teaches kindergarten at the Kenwood School, homeschooled him through third grade. In fourth grade he enrolled at Kenwood Elementary, and later attended Adele Harrison Middle School and then SVHS.
“He really came into his own over the last few years,” said Margee, who credits, in part, a newfound love of performing for Brandon coming out of his shell. Brandon played Danny in “Grease” and took the stage in “Guys and Dolls” in high school.
“He was natural, it was a gift,” she said with a big smile. In the days since his passing, she has taken to watching and rewatching videos of Brandon performing.
But Brandon loved learning perhaps most of all. He loved to read, collected facts, his friends describe him as a walking encyclopedia.
“His friends would jokingly call him, Ted, because he loved Ted Talks so much,” said Margee.
Brandon planned to attend Santa Rose Junior College next year, and to transfer to UC Davis to pursue a career in biological sciences or medicine.
“He loved the Ecology Center and was fascinated by natural sciences,” Margee said. “His room at home is like a laboratory. I was just looking around this morning and I'm talking larvae, silkworms, roaches, grubs and who knows what else.”
For his senior project, Brandon created a bee hive and studied ways to protect pollinators locally.
“He was excited to share what he had learned with the community,” said Margee. “He was always looking for ways to help.”
Brandon wanted to go on a Seeds of Learning from the moment he first learned about the nonprofit. In the months leading up to their departure, he enthusiastically participated in every planning meeting and fundraiser, including a boisterously received walk down the catwalk for a winter SOL fashion show at the Community Center.