When Elon junior Garrett Fitschen closes his eyes, he remembers his friend Jackson Yelle as always smiling, riding with his Jeep windows down on the roads of Elon. For Fitschen, he’s glad his memory of Yelle is so happy.
“He lived up the street from me and we always used to be going opposite ways,” Fitschen said. “He drove a Jeep so he always had doors off, top down and so through the plane and just this huge smile on his face and I'm glad that's … what comes to mind.”
Over the last week, the campus community has been honoring the life of Yelle. He died at 21 years old in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina while on a weekend trip with Elon University’s club baseball team. To carry on his legacy, many of his closest friends got tattoos for him, including Fitschen. He decided to get the words “This is the life” — something Yelle said while at the beach. Fitschen said that’s how Yelle lived his life, with a “no regret attitude.”
Fitschen played baseball with Yelle on the club baseball team. Fitschen said Yelle was the same on and off the baseball diamond.
“It's hard, their personalities change on the field, but he would, he was always the same loud energetic, I know it sounds almost cliche, but team player Jackson,” Fitschen said. “He didn't care how much he played or not, he didn't care how he did. Like he never got mad at himself or the team or anything like that. He was the first guy out there whenever you did something good or bad.”
Junior Stephanie Abbazia was also friends with Jackson after meeting and becoming neighbors with him this year. She said she can’t think of just one memory to recall because every day she saw him smiling.
“He was just always so happy. Always such a happy guy, never sad, always looking for the positives in anything. Always telling me not to worry, always just there and just so great and never, I never didn't want him around,” Abbazia said. “He was just always someone I wanted to be there with us and just an awesome friend and awesome person. Just all good words to describe him.”
Abbazia also got a tattoo, but chose to get a dragonfly. When she was sitting at his memorial tree, she said she saw a dragonfly land on one of his sweatshirts. She then told Yelle’s sister, Lexi, and learned how important dragonflies were to them.
“Just know that if you look at a dragonfly, I'll be thinking of him,” Abbazia said. “I believe in signs and I saw the dragonfly and felt like maybe that could have been him. I talked to his sister about it and she said that it was something that they both really loved as kids was dragonflies. So it really stuck with me.”
After looking up the meaning of the dragonfly, she learned it also meant that someone was coming back to be there for you.
“It's just nice knowing that there's like some sort of sign that we can hold on us forever and see in nature that will remind us of Jackson and know that he's always with us,” Abbazia said.
For Fitschen, carrying on Jackson’s legacy goes beyond the tree and memorial. His message is that he wants people to know this won’t be the last time the team talks about Jackson.
“I want everyone to know that, especially his close friends and club baseball in general, this won't be the last we're talking about him and this won't be the last of sharing moments about him,” Fitschen said. “Although it's fresh and it's new, Jackson was so much bigger than that and he'll live on so much longer than that.”
Jackson’s memorial services will take place this Friday and Saturday in Orleans, Massachusetts. Abbazia also shared words to those who didn’t know him like she did.
“You never had to know him, you just had to know that so many people love him and so many people will always continue to love him even if he's not with us. He was never the kind of person that had to be shown how much you care about him because he already knew,” Abbazia said. “He didn't care about hearing it every day as long as he made his friends and family happy around him. That's just something that you don't really see in a lot of people and it's something I'm really going to miss.”