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Memorial planned for Travis

Katie Watson, 15, sits in the chair that will be used as the model for a permanent memorial to Jessie Travis, who died in a car accident two years ago. - Gayle Saran
Katie Watson, 15, sits in the chair that will be used as the model for a permanent memorial to Jessie Travis, who died in a car accident two years ago.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

An unoccupied armchair carved in wood will be a memorial to Jesse Travis, a teenager who died two years ago in a South Whidbey traffic accident.

The bigger-than-life chair will be the creation of South Whidbey wood sculptor Pat McVay, and will be modeled on one that was a favorite of Travis and his friends. The memorial, due to be completed sometime early next year, will find a permanent home in the South Whidbey Community Park.

Travis died in a car accident on June 20, 2000, on Coles Road while a passenger in another teen's car. The chair sat on the stage at Freeland Hall during a memorial service for Travis following his death.

The well-used wingback actually belongs to Diane and Robert Watson of Langley. Travis used to sit in the chair when he and his friends spent time at the Watsons' home.

"Jessie and my son Jamie were good friends," said Diane Watson. "I can still see Jessie sitting in the chair surrounded by all their friends. They called it the 'Masterpiece Theater' chair."

Travis once used the chair during a dramatic reading of Ernest Hemingway in an English class.

Watson's daughter Kaitie remembers Jesse, too.

"He was my friend and very kind to me," Katie Watson said.

The final sculpture will include an open book on an arm and a soccer ball resting by one leg. Travis was a varsity soccer player at South Whidbey High School.

A community fund-raising project was started soon after Travis' death by Victory Lee Schouten of Langley and several of Travis' friends. The original plan was a bronze sculpture of the chair which would have cost about $7,000.

"We fell short of the money needed for that so we started looking for a less-expensive medium and came up with the idea for a wood sculpture," Schouten said.

In the months since then, the group raised $4,000 in donations towards the memorial.

"We began the process of how we could adapt the original idea of a life-size armchair. In the end we decided to work with wood carver, McVay. We showed him our sketch and described the idea and Pat was very interested in working with us.

McVay also included a lifetime repair offer in his project proposal, incase of any future damage the memorial might suffer

Organizers hope the empty chair will serve an an evocative symbol of those young people who have died to soon, and a reminder to all to drive safely.

"We hope this memorial, made by a local craftsman will embody the love we feel for all of the young people of our community," Schouten said. "This beautiful empty chair will be a moving and evocative symbol of the empty place left by Jesse, and by the other young people who grew up, went to school, and played sports here on Whidbey, only to have their bright futures cut short."

"Even as we go about our busy lives, we remember and miss them all."

The original idea was to place the chair at the new soccer park fields on Langley Road. But Travis' parents, John Rogers and Robin Farrand wanted the memorial at the old fields in the South Whidbey Community Park's Maxwelton Road facility.

"Jesse really had no connection to the new fields," Shouten said. "It seemed like an important point to me because Jessie and his father spent many hours at the old fields on Maxwelton Road."

Schouten said she hopes the finished sculpture will be dedicated in late January or early February of 2003. She said she would like the dedication ceremony to be on or near Jesse's birthday, Feb. 10, 2003."

A plaque will be placed on the chair.

The exact message for the plaque has not been decided, but Schouten hopes it will also honor the memory of all athletes, scholars dreamers and family and friends who have died too young.

"Honor their memory, drive with care," Schouten said.

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