By Sadie Fowler
Mason Goodnight’s death last April really hit Bowling Green hard, a likely result of his age and the unimaginable circumstances of his death to which most parents can hardly relate.
“I think it’s because he was so young,” said Janna Goodnight, Mason’s mom. “I lost my father at a young age, and it was very hard, but losing a child … Because they are your child and you still haven’t raised them completely … There’s really no comparison.”
Trying to find a blessing in the unimaginable, Janna and the Goodnight family are genuinely appreciative of the outpouring of support they’ve received from the Bowling Green community.
“Every time we turn around there’s someone doing something for him,” she said. “It’s hard talking about it all the time, and sometimes I just want to hide from the world, but the support we’ve received has been a huge blessing.”
A foundation in his honor, with the goal of helping other children “experience” fun things has already afforded other children unique opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have, and will continue to do so.
The next event being planned is The Mason Cup, Aug. 24-26, a Rider’s Cup Invitational event where about 30 of the nation’s best young golfers will come to Bowling Green for a weekend of fun and competition on the green.
“Canon Claycomb who is 8th in the nation and on track for the PGA, invited the best kids in the country to come play and (people who purchase tickets) will be able to play with them for the day,” she said. “Cannon named the event in Mason’s honor. We plan to spoil the kids and have fun with it. These kids who are playing will all be household names someday. They’re that good.”
Likely, had Mason been here, he’d be playing with them, too.
A true athlete who loved baseball as well as golf, Mason passed away suddenly about a year ago following a family trip to Florida. Janna, who still struggles to speak of what happened, explained they thought he had the flu. In reality, he had bacterial meningitis that came on rapidly and took his life the night they returned home from their trip to Universal.
“It was total shock,” Janna said. “He has a sister, Maggie, who is 15 and has really struggled with this, too. We were in shock and some days I still don’t know that we’ve grieved, but we had another child so we just ‘survived’ in those early months. She kept us going.
“I don’t think grief really hits you until later. I remember thinking it will get harder, and it does. Grief is like a wave of ups and downs.”
Janna works at a local business, The Jewelry Barn, and Jef Goodnight is the director of the Franklin Boys & Girls Club. He’s also a coach and former educator and has coped with the loss by trying to stay as active in kids’ lives as possible. He still coaches what would have been Mason’s baseball team, and helps with other coaching gigs as well.
“Mason was my baby but people mourn things in different ways,” Janna said. “I lost my baby but Jef lost his buddy. I lost him but not in the same way Jef did. In fact, I realized that first Saturday after he passed when I was working out in my yard that Jef would have been taking Mason to the golf course. I lost some routine in terms of taking care of Mason, but not like Jef did. They were attached at the hip … I think Jef had a really hard time through winter.”
Luckily, friends have been great to keep the family busy and in fact, during those winter months, some older boys asked Jef to coach a basketball team to help keep him busy, which he gladly did.
Mason was a very outgoing boy; funny with long, blonde and moppy hair.
“We found out after his death that he had friends all over the place,” she said. “He went to school here, played baseball there, and ball somewhere else. Everybody knew him. I think a lot of the impact was because of his age. People, not just through donations, began reaching out immediately. They still reach out. I think Mason’s death got people thinking in a ‘pay-it-forward’ mentality.
Janna explained the family appreciates financial donations, and there were many, which are used to fund the foundation where other kids will continue to benefit. This might mean a child being sent to a cool camp, on a trip or getting to partake in some other “experience” they might not otherwise have. Four kids so far have been sent on trips to Washington, D.C., a teen center in Franklin is being named in his honor, and has at least one large grant (Women’s Fund of South Central Kentucky). In late March, a score board at the ball park will bear Mason’s name on it so players will forever remember their friend Mason.
“We didn’t need the financial help personally like a lot of others do so the foundation is used to help others,” Janna said. “But people reaching out in other ways, the pay-it-forward thing, was amazing. Last year, for example, we had a guy approach us about wanting to take care of our lawn for the summer. I told him that we were OK and didn’t need it but he said, ‘No, this is for me. Let me help.’”
This year, the same lawn man approached Janna asking her if she knew of anyone who could benefit from his services for this summer. It’s actions like these that hold as much meaning as monetary donations to the Goodnight family.
“I had told Jef prior to this happening that I could live somewhere else if I had to,” said Janna, a native of New Mexico who moved to Bowling Green during college to attend WKU. “Since Mason’s death, and really seeing how amazing this community has been, I told him I could never leave now.”
The Goodnights are hoping the community supports the golf tournament, sponsored by Leachman Automotive, by purchasing tickets to play golf and attend dinner. She hopes lots of local businesses support the event via table sponsorships for a Saturday evening dinner following the tournament. It is projected to be an annual event and more details will be released as the planning progresses.