JOHN LOUIS WOOD
John's functional life ended on March 9, 2015, when he was hit by a Fort Smith city bus, suffered traumatic brain
injuries and was completely paralyzed on his left side. He died on January 26, 2018, in Springdale from pneumonia.
John was born October 25, 1954, in Kansas City, Missouri, the third of seven children of Vincel Lenore Wood and
Annabelle Rose Williams, who lived in Liberty, Missouri. He grew up in Ballwin, Missouri, where the family moved
when John was five years old.
He attended grade school at Holy Infant Catholic School in Ballwin, educated by the dedicated Sisters of Mercy. But
he did not fare well under their tutelege, and both tormented the nuns and, as he would recall it, was tormented by
them. It set the stage for a very troubled life. Not the nuns' fault, of course, but John's destiny was set early on.
During and after his formal education at Lafayette High School, he made a name for himself selling drugs, mostly
marijuana, out of the Bell Shoes store in Ballwin Plaza on Manchester Road. He was well known enough to local
police that they frequently cased the store, searched him after numerous alleged traffic violations, but never found
evidence to arrest him. Remarkably, sometime later after he stopped dealing, John found a crushed and flattened
bag of marijuana under the floor carpet of his old car. Sometimes you just have to be lucky, he said.
John was always good with his hands, whether it was fishing, hunting, taxidermy, construction or painting. He went
"legit" by working for, and learning taxidermy from Paul Kantor near Gray Summit. John considered Paul the best
taxidermist he had ever met. John also was able to acquire a house in the Soulard area of St. Louis, and renovated
it, lived in part and rented part out. He was never keen on having a "real" job. He was happier cobbling a living
doing different things all at once.
While in Soulard he met his wife, Joellen Mary Feirtag. Joellen was a scientist, a professor, wickedly smart, and John
fell hard and fast in love. They married in January 1990.
The marriage went wherever Joellen went to advance her career. They moved to Minnesota, then to Nova Scotia,
then back to Minnesota. John was content to follow along, a jack-of-all-trades who could find work wherever he
landed. The marriage produced two beautiful daughters, Colleen and Emily.
Unfortunately, John suffered from mental illness, which manifested itself early in school, but grew to unignorable
dimensions after his marriage. He and Joellen divorced after Emily's birth, and John did not take it well. He
threatened his wife, his daughters, and everyone in his birth family. He got some good jobs, but couldn't hold them
because of his temperament. He ended up serving time in Minnesota because he refused to pay child support.
After prison, John decided to live off the grid. He would find work in construction, as a fishing and hunting guide, or
simply live in an old RV in southeast Kansas, where he stayed many years.
He got by doing whatever he could, lived however he wanted, took advantage of private roadside donations (sign
said "Homeless, vet, please help" but he wasn't a vet) and government handouts. He always refused to pay child
support, and ended up completely estranged from his wife and daughters, whom he often threatened even though
he professed total and complete love. It was the contradictions that defined his life, and the manifestation of mental
illness that possessed him.
He told numerous stories, mostly the same ones, over and over again. He talked of life in the streets, how he killed
one, or two, or possibly three men. Maybe he did. Maybe not. His family was never sure.
The family was sure, though, that he was homeless for many years after his marriage ended. Drifting from town to
town and staying wherever he could get a meal and a cot. He fixed up the old RV so he could drive to wherever
residency gave him the most benefits, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma or Kansas.
He knew how to live off the land. He could catch fish out of any pond in the area. He could bring home a deer from
the outskirts of Wichita, his mother's birthtown and a sometimes living place among aunts and uncles.
Once he and his brother-in-law Jim Burnley were out spotlighting deer on a levy and suddenly, a big buck appeared
on the levy with the moon behind him. JB was in awe and just taking in the scene but John was freaking out, trying
to find a gun so he could shoot it! It wasn't even deer season yet. Thankfully, the deer left before John could take
aim and no one went to jail that night.
JB did take John to JB's farm to hunt once. They ended up partying one night at a friend's house. John and the
friend hit it off and John ended up staying there for a time. But, as usual with John, it ended badly. John burned the
guy's mail before he left.
After the RV was disabled he still lived town to town, handout to handout, odd job to odd job, until March 9, 2015.
Leaving the Salvation Army shelter in Fort Smith he ran across the street, in the crosswalk with a walk signal his
way, and was creamed by a Fort Smith city bus turning left. John hit the pavement, skidded for about 20 feet, lay
still. The bus video of the event is dramatic, and John later enjoyed showing it to his caregivers.
He was rushed to a local hospital, and then moved to Washington Regional in Fayetteville, where neurosurgeons
saved his life. After 30 days in ICU and 30 days in a regular hospital room, he was released. He was almost
completely paralyzed on his left side, could not think or speak coherently, but he was alive.
You would think that someone who gets run over by a bus while walking in a crosswalk would get a sizeable
settlement. You would be wrong. Even though federal law requires bus systems to carry $500,000 worth of liability
insurance, Fort Smith ignored that rule and carried only $100,000 of insurance. John got that, but he had to hire a
lawyer to get it. Medicaid and his lawyer claimed most of the settlement. John put what was left in a trust fund, but
never used any of it. He did qualify for Medicaid, and he did get a nursing home and wonderful care from Westwood
Health and Rehab in Springdale. His family is very grateful for the caregivers' patience and love at Westwood. John
loved bantering with them and knew almost every one by name.
His last 31 months were spent in a wheelchair at Westwood. He couldn't push himself very well with one arm, and he
needed drugs for pain and to combat his mental illness. He had some good days, but was in constant pain and
mostly slept a lot. He reconciled with his church and loved receiving Communion when Phil and Hope Fredrich would
bring the sacrament. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus.
When John got very sick a few days ago, the family decided to stop the antibiotic infusions, which John said were
torturing him, and chose comfort care. His last days were spent struggling to breathe, and he couldn't speak words,
but he wasn't screaming in pain. His brothers were there most hours, but John died as he lived, alone.
John was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, James Loyd Wood. He is survived by his brothers Jeffrey
Lenore Wood and Joseph Lacy Wood of Springdale; his sisters Kathryn Mary Wood, Salome Ann Engle and
Suzanne Kay Burnley, all of St. Louis; his former wife Joellen Feirtag of Minneapolis, MN, and his daughters Colleen
Wood and Emily Wood.
Mass of the Resurrection will be held Friday 10 a.m. at St Raphael Catholic Church in Springdale. He will be buried
at Holy Cross cemetery in Cuba, Missouri, next to his parents.