Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Trenton Johnson died fighting a forest fire on July 19. A lifelong friend recalls the memories he left in Missoula.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 12:26 PM

Trenton Johnson was adopted from the Ukraine. At least that’s what he’d have told you if you were just meeting him and you asked where he was from. He pulled that prank for upwards of a decade, finding endless joy in the prospect of people believing he’d come from such a foreign land. I first met Trenton in the second grade, and I still have a hazy recollection of him informing me of his fictional origins. I believed him for months until his parents verified that the claim wasn’t true while driving me up to the first of what would end up being many trips to Trenton’s cabin on Elbow Lake.
click to enlarge Trenton Johnson in 2011, the first year he played lacrosse. - PHOTO COURTESY KEILAN SAYER
  • Photo courtesy Keilan Sayer
  • Trenton Johnson in 2011, the first year he played lacrosse.
Trenton had dozens of little quirks like that. Throughout his life, Trenton managed to draw laughter and happiness from what would have been nonsense to anybody else. For whatever reason, he named every cat he ever met “Rilo,” and would proceed to refer to the cat as Rilo even if he was provided with the actual name. Any time he rolled through a yellow light he’d kiss three fingers and touch the roof of his car for “good luck.” You’d be going through everyday life and all of a sudden Trenton would do something small that made you look at him a little weird, and then maybe you’d let out a giggle. 
On July 22, I was absolutely blown away by the displays and tributes the Forest Service and all the different fire departments from the northwest put on. At the memorial at Fort Missoula, flying from the outstretched ladder of a fire truck, was a massive American flag, and that is an image that will stay in my mind forever. I am also grateful for the displays the Hellgate lacrosse team made—a team that both Trenton and myself suited up for to win the state title in 2015. His jersey was displayed at the private memorial, and a lacrosse scholarship fund has been established in his name.

But Trenton’s influence ranged so far outside of the lacrosse and firefighting communities. He really was a friend to all. The night after the funeral, I hosted a small gathering for Trenton’s friends, and as I and a few others went through our contacts looking for people to invite, we amassed a list of more than 20 people, all just as touched by Trenton’s existence as I was. The gathering turned into a party, and it was beautiful to see the turnout. The group was comprised of family friends, friends from elementary school, middle school, high school, lacrosse, cross-country, people he just met in the classroom—people who would never normally be seen with each other. It illustrated in plain terms why Trenton’s loss is so huge to the community. He was a hard person not to be friends with. Social standards meant nothing to him. It didn’t matter how you looked, what you liked to do, who you hung out with. Trenton was friends with everybody, and once he considered you a friend, you were his friend for life.

He loved fun, he loved work, he loved people, he loved his family.

And everybody loved him for it.

When somebody dies, there’s a rush to try and define what they were. Whether they were a fireman or a lacrosse player or a scholar, people try to understand the deceased in narrow terms. And while Trenton wore all of those qualities proudly, they barely scratch the surface in describing him as a person. Of course there is no way to put into words what Trenton was, but if I were to try, I’d say he was above all a friend.

That was what was most special about Trenton. Beyond his obvious strengths as a smart, hard-working, loyal, thoughtful and happy person, he made life more fun with his quirky intricacies and winning attitude. He could make anything fun, through pure determination and a starkly individual view of his surroundings. There was rarely a hard time that Trenton couldn’t make at least a little bit better just by being there, and by being himself. He was unique in his own right, and in this way, Trenton was from a distant land. Or he may as well have been. He was his own person in such a pure way that he was invitingly foreign to everybody he got to know, because there was no chance you’d ever met anybody like Trenton. You may as well have met somebody who had been adopted from the Ukraine.

Chase Koenig is a graduate of Hellgate High School, he is currently attending the University of Iowa as a second year Creative Writing student. He has been friends with Trenton Johnson since they met in the 2nd grade.

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