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August 21, 2012

‘If he smiled, he could change people’ Remembering Cam Vennard

Emily Stobbe news editor


irkwood endured a tragic loss when Cam Vennard, rising freshman, was struck and killed by a train May 30, only seven days after school let out for the summer. He had already begun relaxing and having fun; inviting friends to his house, enjoying a concert with his brother and even going on his first date.

“He had a really multi-faceted mature personality. There’s just so many [qualities] that are equal, you know? Funny, kind, musical, unselfish. I couldn’t say one [best thing about him],” Darryl Vennard, Cam’s father, said.

‘He was so affectionate and sweet’

Sue Herrin Vennard, Cam’s mother, had a special relationship with him. “Cam always thought he was my favorite child. He was so affectionate and sweet, a momma’s boy – up until last year, when he kind of turned into a teenager. But we still had our moments where he’d crawl up in my bed. If Darryl wasn’t home, we’d watch TV together and fall asleep,” Sue said. “He was a really loving boy.” Sue always had trouble saying no to him, so if he wanted something, he would ask her. Sue said Cam was extremely opinionated about politics and would often discuss them in the car. Cam was also an idealist, Sue said. He spent his own money to buy Kony posters and then went out and papered his neighborhood with them. “He was so stubborn,” Sue said, smiling. “You could not talk him into anything. He had very strong ideas about how he wanted his hair, how he’d dress, what he would eat -- no fruit, no matter what.”

‘He was like the best friends to his brothers’

Cam had two older brothers, Ben Vennard, sophomore, and Nick Herrin, 2010 KHS graduate. Darryl spoke of threeday fishing competitions Cam and Ben would have at their friend’s ranch and how they would listen to music together and talk. “He was like the best friend to his brothers,” Darryl said. “They would always watch TV together, play videos, listen to music, play music. It wasn’t uncommon at all to find all three boys crammed onto the couch watching TV together.” On the last day of school, Ben and Cam went to their first concert alone to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Ben said the Red Hot Chili Peppers is their favorite band, and Cam was in complete awe of the show. “When we picked them up from that concert, they were electrified. Cam talked the whole way home. He’d give the concert a 10, unequivocally, of all his concerts,” Darryl said. “And it just means a lot to my wife and I that those two brothers who are very close had one of the greatest nights together before Cameron was killed. And I know it means a lot to his brother Ben that he had that experience with his little brother.” Ben and Cam would hang out in each other’s rooms and joke around. “He just kind of put it all out there, and didn’t keep a secret,” Ben said. “More than anything else his imperfections made him more of the character he is. He was his own person.”

‘He had fun to the limits and beyond’

Ian Johnson and Cam had been close friends since they met in kindergarten and lived close to one another. “He was compassionate,” Johnson, freshman, said. “He always cared about how I felt, and he always looked out for everyone.”

Johnson remembered going pool hopping with Cam, as well as when Johnson donned a banana costume and Cam dressed up as a gorilla for fun. Cam chased Johnson around all day to make people laugh. The two friends would talk, go to each other’s houses, or head downtown. Johnson said Cam had lots of friends because of his personality. “He lit up a room whenever he walked in,” Johnson said. “He had this way with people no one else really had. Whoever he talked to liked him.” Johnson also admired Cam’s humor, which he described as the best thing about him. “He could make anyone laugh. He was really witty and sarcastic and smarter than everyone else with his words,” Johnson said. “High school won’t be the same without him.” When Cam was with his friends, he loved to make them laugh. Sam Banjak, Gabe Masi and Jack Veldey, freshmen, remembered how Cam would challenge people to drink hot sauce or eat chili peppers. He once invented a game where players had to jump down from the top of the playground to tag each other. Another time, Cam and Veldey got under boxes and had a ‘box fight.’ When he couldn’t get into a mixer because he was missing a ticket, Cam and a few friends played ‘jaws’ in their pool instead. Cam could turn regular objects into instruments and loved telling funny stories and discussing music. “He had fun to the limits and beyond. We laughed so hard sometimes,” Veldey said. “He took something and he changed it into another. He’d take a really bad situation and make it really fun.” Cam wasn’t always joking around. He was supportive of his friends, comforting them if they were worried and willing to listen when they needed it. “He could be a really mature person and whenever you asked him for help, he would really help you,” Banjak said. “He was always the first person I’d tell something to. And he never shared a secret I told him with anybody else. I could trust him with anything.”

‘He loved his guitar lessons’

Another one of Cam’s passions was music. His favorite groups and singers were the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Marley, the Beatles and especially George Harrison. Inspired by these musicians, he started playing guitar. Cam always either had his headphones in, had music playing from his computer, or was playing guitar. Sometimes he would fall asleep with his guitar next to him in bed. “He loved his guitar lessons, and took them very seriously. All of his friends, some of whom played in bands, were amazed with how good Cameron was at guitar so quickly,” Darryl said. “His guitar teacher loved him. Every time I picked him up his teacher would tell me what a great kid I had, and how [the teacher] was learning music from Cameron.”

‘He had the biggest, most beautiful smile’

Although Cam was a caring person and passionate musician, those closest to him say they will miss Cam’s charming personality, his kind heart, and most of all, his smile. “His smile, we miss it so badly. He had the biggest, most beautiful smile,” Darryl said. “One of the things he had in his journal that we saw after he had passed away was he didn’t want to be conceited but he knew he had a nice smile. And he knew if he smiled he could change people.” Cam’s family and friends will hold him in their hearts forever, as a brother, a son and a friend. “He’s very missed. We think he would’ve gotten a little bit of a kick out of this outpouring of love that people have shown toward him. It’s really helpful to us. It’s pretty remarkable that a 14-year-old boy touched this many lives,” Darryl said. “He was just a beautiful human being.”

photos courtesy of the Vennard family

Cam with his brothers, Ben Vennard, sophomore, and Nick Herrin, 2010 KHS graduate (above). Cam with his dad, Darryl Vennard (below left). Cam smiles (below right).

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Healing from the deaths of loved ones is no small task, so we must tackle it with a series of small ones. Here are some simple, researched and proven ways to accelerate healing. 1. When five to ten feet away from someone you encounter, smile. Smiles release natural feel-good chemicals that improve mood. Plus it makes for a brighter, happier world. 2. Take time each day to recount at least three things for which you are genuinely grateful. Not just general things like friends or family, but more specific things like someone offering you a chair, or the smile that someone you had never met before just gave you. 3. Remember: You are what you repeatedly do. Studies show faking it until you make it is an effective way to improve yourself and your state of being. Think positively even if it’s hard. 4. Stay connected. Friends and family are so important, but there are numerous professional supports that can provide you the help you need, too. Talk to your counselors, teachers, principals and pastors for guidance. They care about you more than you may think. 5. You are what you eat and how you sleep. Remember that our diet and sleep levels affect our thinking and mood. Healthy foods with high degrees of life force like raw fruits and vegetables and at least 7-9 hours of sleep can change your entire outlook on life. to see Gaither-Ganim’s full letter, go to