by Michaeleen Howatt-Nab
Does one become charismatic, magnetic, and a true life force, or is one born with it? Does it develop throughout time as the result of experience, or is it created from within? In John Marsch’s case, I always wondered since our friendship was only formed in the last seven or eight years. What a gift it was to learn more about him from those family members and friends who joined the private memorial service for him at his beautiful home on May 22. Together, they painted a beautiful picture of his extraordinary life. The setting was Montjoie, the historic house that John restored into an “opulently cozy home” and believed he was only stewarding on behalf of the community. Among the many events John hosted, it was the most poignant and saddest of all days. But I get ahead of myself. To fully appreciate this day, I’d like to share some of his history.
My first impression of John was a tall, friendly farm boy, which he didn’t find too amusing since he felt his image was more akin to James Bond. As our friendship grew during the years, I realized my intuition was accurate.
John grew up in Ohio farm country with humble beginnings. He lost his father when he was only a child and later lost his older brother Jim, whom he adored, to the heart disease that has haunted the Marsch men. John always took great pride in the fact that he stayed consciously healthy, and was one of the longest living Marsch men in his lineage. It is one of the reasons he approached each day as a gift — determined to make it a good one and to learn something new. He often challenged his friends and loved ones to do the same. In accepting this challenge, we can honor his life.
John became the father figure for his late older brother’s five children while he was in his early twenties. He and his beautiful wife Kathy added their twin daughters Melissa and Michelle to the brood to make it seven children, whom John was delighted to have in his life at the ripe old age of 25. It was his most important role and he took it very seriously. He was devoted to his growing extended family, known as “Marsch Magic.” I often teased him by calling him Papa Walton, especially when he was trying to pull off a James Bond moment.
Hearing memories from John’s family and friends — from his childhood best friend to the doctor who cared for him in this last year — helped to reinforce my hunch that his “magic” was innate and not learned. There was joy in the telling of stories from his Tom Sawyer-like youth to his college days at the University of Maryland, through his years as a telecommunications pioneer and, of course, this last year of challenge and courage as he fought stomach cancer. His mischievous and often self-deprecating sense of humor, his gusto for living, and his passion for learning were illuminated throughout the afternoon. One of the common, yet surprising, themes was his love of spontaneous singing, even if the lyrics were made up and sung out of tune.
John’s volunteer leadership at the Lobero Theatre, first as boardmember and then as executive director, revived hope for fiscal success and community confidence. More than $2.5 million for Lobero programs and capital needs was raised during his tenure as executive director. He was very pleased with the leadership that George Burtness and David Asbell have continued at the Lobero. John, being good at so many things, could truly be called a Renaissance Man and a mentor to many. He was respected in the business world, receiving numerous accolades and realizing great success. He loved his company TMC Communications, which his colleagues described not as a job, but as a great source of fun for John. John was a lover of the arts and an avid sportsman. He enjoyed skiing and horseback riding with his family. He rented a large ski house every year to host the annual “Marsch Magic” family ski trips. He had a piano lesson every morning for years. At home in Santa Barbara, he was often seen running barefoot on Butterfly Beach. But John’s real passion was flying, and he became an accomplished pilot with several beautiful aircrafts. While he loved the bird’s-eye view and the freedom it afforded him, he also cherished the mechanics of pulling his plane out of its hangar to make the final approach.
While his magic was an inherent trait, John’s ability to tap it was his doing. His voracious appetite for reading and learning history were born during his childhood. His success in business, especially since he began with nothing, gave him a healthy perspective. He saw money as a tool for life, not the reason for it. At the same time, he understood the need to help others who may not have shared the personal strengths that he had to call upon. As his friends recalled, John was driven more by a sense of accomplishment than by wealth for the sake of wealth.
John will be remembered for many things: as a force to be reckoned with; for his generous community involvement with numerous charities, playgrounds, animal rescue and shelters, and the children’s programs he helped fund, many times anonymously; and as a caring boss who would go the extra mile for an employee. He was someone with a big heart and the voice of reason, someone who would step up and take responsibility, even for the mistakes. And as the line often blurred between his family and friends, many of us were blessed to be included in that family. He was always a true and genuine friend.
But John’s blood family was the source of his heartbeat. He filled the role of father, uncle, and now grandpa (Poppy) to his three grandchildren Christopher, Gabriella, and Nicholas, with one more — a boy named John — soon to arrive. They gave him the most hope and joy in his life. John’s greatest happiness was in being a father to Melissa and Michelle, and his fondest hope was for his family to have fulfilled, happy, and healthy lives. He did not want to miss anything in life and told me he had no regrets; he felt he was the luckiest man in the world.
We gathered last month to thank John, celebrate him, and say goodbye. The ceremony was a tearful one, as we heard Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman sing “Con Te Partirò” (“Time to Say Goodbye”) while his friends, nephews, and sons-in-law carried him away. As a final tribute to John, two of his friends flew overhead in the airplanes that were such a glorious part of his life. They flew side by side, from the copilots’ seats of his planes, leaving the pilots’ spots open for John. Perfect.
We love you John, and will miss you every day.