When Jan Fish's son, Tom, died two years ago, the longtime Gold Hill resident could hardly imagine moving forward with her life, much less spearheading a community project.
Now nearing two years since his tragic death, Fish listens daily to the music her son once made and is striving to create something positive in his memory and for the town he called home for most of his 28 years. A former city councilwoman, Fish and husband Peter Fish are working to raise money and build a skateboard park in their 1-square-mile town.
To volunteer or donate to the Tom Fish Memorial Skate Park, write to:
P.O. Box 167, Gold Hill, OR 97525 or see www.firstgiving.com/gold_hill_skatepark.
To contact Jan and Peter Fish, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Fish was an avid skateboarder and snowboarder, a mentor to the young and a musician.
"We have about 30 songs that he did, and I listen to them everyday," says Jan Fish. "He could have been a solo performer if he had gotten past his demons."
Born in Ashland, Tom Fish did all the usual things kids in his hometown would do, from playing in the Rogue River and at Gold Hill beach to jumping illegally off the bridge leading into the city.
In third grade, he won the Patrick Elementary spelling bee and went to the county championships. During high school at St. Mary's, his interest in music and Latin flourished.
A daredevil, Fish's two favorite sports were snowboarding and skateboarding, which would eventually lead to his undoing. Most residents who knew Fish as a child recall seeing him on his skateboard in various parts of the city.
"He was not a natural, but he would spend hours and days perfecting a new trick," recalls his mother. "He was very passionate about everything he did."
Fish attended Santa Barbara City College, San Francisco State, Expression College of Digital Arts (Emeryville, Calif.) and Southern Oregon University, where he was majoring in Spanish with a music minor.
A series of injuries from snowboarding and skateboarding led to his addiction to prescription pain pills. A prescription for methadone, used to treat the pain-pill addiction, worsened Fish's dependency, resulting in his overdose.
Fish died at age 28, April 21, 2009.
"I have seen at least four or five obituaries in the last couple of years where the same thing has happened, and I feel like people need to know about it," says Jan Fish. "It's a lot more common than people think."
Moved to make something positive grow from the tragedy, the Fishes, with help from a community group dubbed CanDO, have raised nearly $12,000 for a street-style skateboard park.
Set for construction at the city's popular sports park along Highway 234, the couple plan fundraising efforts and grant applications in coming months.
Peter Fish, who will turn 75 in April, plans a 26-mile marathon on the Bear Creek Greenway with runners and skateboarders.
Gold Hill City Councilwoman Margaret Dials, one of Tom Fish's seventh-grade teachers, says the project will be an inspiration for many reasons. Dials remembers a bright boy who loved to ride his skateboard.
"I think it's a wonderful idea for many reasons," says Dials.
"I was one of Tom's teachers back when we were just beginning to talk about having a skate park, and all the kids were so excited. I remember Tom was the sweetest boy, and he loved skateboarding. I think this is a wonderful legacy to build this skateboard park in his memory. Some of the kids he skated with have little kids learning to skateboard now, and we've always struggled to have things to do for the older kids in the city."
Listening on a recent afternoon to the songs her son left behind, Jan Fish smiles as she thinks of what his reaction would be regarding her plans.
"When Tom was a little boy, he made me get on a skateboard — he was probably 12 or 13 — and I went across our basketball court teetering the whole time. I said, 'Never again honey!' " recalls Fish.
"I know he would really love what we're trying to do. I think he would — or I think he does think — it's a great idea. I think he's smiling down on us right now."