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.
Remembrances of Brandon
“What a wonderful person... you just couldn’t ask for a nicer kid. He had such fantastic comic sense. Our community of kids who are involved here… we’re all having such a hard time coming to grips with this.” - Roger Rhoten
“Brandon was friend, family, the [forensics] captain, Mr. Dragon, and so much more to all of us. We all owe him in some way or another.” - freshman Phillip Bodwell
“Brandon was smart, funny, and independent, but also kind, empathetic, and supportive. We are heartbroken.” – teacher ad forensics coach Janet Hansen
“I was struck by Brandon’s compassion and commitment to service and the enthusiasm with which he spoke about it. The entire Seeds of Learning community is deeply, deeply saddened by his loss.” - Annie Bacon - SOL Executive Director
“Brandon planted himself as a little but powerfully fertile seed in Mesas de Acicaya, the small community where he lived his last week of giving, of loving. Brandon planted himself in the hope of hundreds of children who dream about a future of prosperity and happiness. Brandon planted himself in our hearts... Let’s be fertile soil for him to continue dreaming about a better future for humanity. Let’s all smile his smile, let us all give his hugs, let’s all love his love. Let’s all dream his dream to build a world where all have quality education, where all have food on our tables, where all have justice, peace, beauty and love.” - Julian Guevara, SOL Nicaragua Staff
“Brandon loved talking politics. He got me up to speed on a few current political events I had missed and I was impressed he was able to rattle off names of mid-level politicians like it was nothing. I remember we were bending rebar when one of the leaders, Chris Anspach, started rattling off math problems. Something like, what is the cosign of pi? And Brandon stopped bending, looked out into space and worked out the answer. Anspach followed up with a second, then third math problem, each based on the answer that came before it. And Brandon worked them all out right there, verbally, much to the satisfaction of his math teacher. The SVHS students were a tight bunch. They were constantly cracking jokes and would have us leaders in stitches with their commentary on life when it was time for bed. Brandon was always at the center with funny jokes and clever comebacks. He was a remarkably outgoing and brilliant kid.” - Casey Callais, SOL Nicaragua Staff
“Brandon was one of the most genuine and kind people I’ve ever met. He was one of the rare students who inspire their teacher to continue their learning. I’m going to miss my friend very much.” – teacher Chris Anspach
“Thanks for inspiring us to be authentic and delving into any passion.” - A classmate
“Brandon’s joie de vivre brought light and joy to many. His intellectual curiosity inspired growth; his kindness warmed his peers; his sense of humor enlivened the campus. He will be deeply missed.” – teacher Alison Manchester
“Always had a smile and always made me laugh. He was one of the most amazing people I have ever know. I can’t imagine life here without him.” - Diana Rhoten
“THINK. How can you inspire others to achieve their dream. How can you invoke LOVE.” - Brandon Barmore.