Buddy Bench unveiled at Boys & Girls Club in honor of former member


John “Mooney” Vehslage was a friend to everyone.

Whether going to the Boys Club while growing up in Seymour or more recently when a new neighbor moved in, he made sure to introduce himself and make others feel welcome.

Knowing that, his family members and friends couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to keep his memory alive than Mooney’s Buddy Bench.

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On Saturday morning, nearly 40 people gathered inside the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour for the unveiling of the bench, which soon will be placed outside the club, 950 N. O’Brien St.

After a blue cloth was pulled off, they saw the purple bench with “Mooney’s Buddy Bench,” “In memory of John ‘Mooney’ Vehslage,” a crescent moon image and “1964-2018” in the middle and “SHS 79-82” on the top right for the first time.

It was an emotional moment for his wife, Shari Vehslage; daughter, Carmen Vehslage; and siblings, Dave Vehslage, Susie Terkhorn and Phil Vehslage, who were present at the ceremony.

“If you were a friend of his, you knew it,” Shari said of her husband, who died March 1 after battling a brain tumor for the past year. “If anybody needed anything, he would find a way to help them. He was just that way. He felt more comfortable helping other people than people helping him.”

Shari said he often showed his love for others with food by cooking for them. He learned how to cook at the Boys Club when he was 7.

“We had multiple people move in around our house, and we had been there for 17 years, and the first thing he would say is ‘We have new neighbors. Let’s get a basket together and take it over,’” said Shari, who lives in Lawrence, a suburb of Indianapolis. “He would reach out.”

Upon John’s death, his family and friends wanted to come up with a way to honor him. In talking to Boys & Girls Club Executive Director Ryon Wheeler, a Buddy Bench was suggested.

The idea is that if a kid is by himself or herself or needs a buddy, they will sit on the bench and others will come and talk to them and ask them to play.

Dave said that’s what John would have done.

“It just clicked,” Dave said of the bench idea. “John was a buddy to a lot of people. John always had a knack for keeping in touch with his friends and his relatives, and he was always calling folks and checking on how they are doing. We thought the Boys & Girls Club would be a good place to maybe do something special in his memory.”

After seeing the benches in downtown Seymour made by Crane Hill Machine and Fabrication Inc., Dave said that style would be perfect for Mooney’s Buddy Bench.

“He will be remembered a long time here at the Boys Club, just the way we wanted it,” Dave said.

John was a Boys Club member from 1970 to 1982. He was the youngest of five kids, and the family grew up on Brown Street.

“We were on the west side, and our mother always made sure that we integrated with everyone, no matter the status,” said John’s brother, Phil Vehslage. “That was her goal in life because she grew up on the west side, she was divorced and in ‘68 and she made sure that she took care of her five kids.”

Phil said his mother had him and his three brothers go to the Boys Club to make sure they “tried to walk the straight line,” he said.

“The Boys Club to the family was our home away from home,” Phil said. “The friends that we created there are lifelong.”

The brothers benefited from going there, he said.

“I was talking to a friend, and she reminded me that her mother volunteered at the Boys Club and taught us cooking lessons in a class,” he said. “There were always festivals to go to at the Boys Club. There were classes — cooking, ceramic classes. Then there were just the shenanigans of playing at the club.”

Dave said his brother got the nickname “Mooney” from his habit of going by the vending machine at the club and checking the coin slot for coins left by other people.

“One of his friends called him Mr. Mooney, who was the banker on ‘The Lucy Show,’” Dave said.

While attending Seymour High School from 1979 to 1982, he became “Mooney.” Then attending the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, he became known as “Moon.”

“He was always just a laid-back kid, nice guy,” Terkhorn said of her brother. “He was just kind-hearted, and his thing was to bring people together, and he would always hook you up with, ‘I’ve got a friend,’ and then you always meet later, and everyone just stays together because of him.”

On May 19, 2000, John married Shari, who grew up in Connersville.

In 2002, they became the proud parents of a daughter, Carmen.

Shari said John often talked about the Boys Club, especially going there to play basketball.

“It keeps kids from getting in trouble. It keeps them active,” Shari said of the benefits of the Boys & Girls Club. “I think it’s wonderful.”

Carmen, who is now a student at Lawrence North High School, said she has good memories of her father.

“He was kind of silly. He was very real, but he was very charismatic. He would really get what he wanted from anybody,” she said, smiling.

Since he would always reach out to others to make them feel included, Carmen said the Buddy Bench is a great way to honor him.

“It seemed like a really good idea just because my dad really did try and reach out to anybody who needed somebody,” she said. “He never really let anybody pass his mind. He always let people know he was thinking of them. I feel like those ideas correspond with the Buddy Bench idea. I think it is just perfect.”

While Terkhorn now lives in Tampa, Florida, Dave lives in DeWitt, Michigan, and Phil lives in Washington, D.C., they made sure to return to Seymour to see the bench unveiling.

“It turned out just beautiful. It’s wonderful,” Terkhorn said. “It’s great to have it here, and it brings us back to Seymour. It’s probably our last connection to Seymour, so we’ll know it’s here.”

Paul Vehslage, who lives in Bloomington, was unable to be there, but several of John’s cousins and childhood and school friends were able to attend.

On Sunday, Shari and Carmen hosted the inaugural Moon Memorial. People gathered to share memories, enjoy food and drinks, play yard games and have a chance to win prizes. They also had the bench there so people who couldn’t attend the unveiling had an opportunity to see it.

The event served as a fundraiser for the John “Mooney” Vehslage Scholarship Fund, which was created earlier this year in his honor. The first recipient was Jacob Joray, who graduated from Seymour High School in early June and now attends Indiana University. He was introduced at Saturday’s unveiling.

The bench was then returned to Seymour and will be a fixture at the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour for years to come.

Shari said there aren’t many family members remaining in Seymour, but having the bench here will give them a reason to visit.

“We’ll come down on a whim or maybe this is where we’ll join once a year before the benefit,” she said of making the Moon Memorial an annual event.

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To contribute to the John “Mooney” Vehslage Scholarship Fund, send a check to Boys & Girls Club of Seymour, 950 N. O’Brien St., Seymour, IN 47274 or visit bgcsey.org.


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