Remembering Jarred Oliver

‘We are so proud and honored that he got to live to be 39’

Posted 12/3/20

In the end, Jarred Oliver’s impact on his hometown was clear: A steady stream of headlights lit up the night sky as mourners paraded through Powell to celebrate his life.

Jarred is …

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Remembering Jarred Oliver

‘We are so proud and honored that he got to live to be 39’


In the end, Jarred Oliver’s impact on his hometown was clear: A steady stream of headlights lit up the night sky as mourners paraded through Powell to celebrate his life.

Jarred is remembered for many qualities — his kindness, one-of-a-kind laugh and ability to make people feel special. His family also recalls how he never complained, even though he faced challenges from the moment he was born in 1981.

“We never knew from day to day if he was going to survive,” said Kelly (Oliver) Johnson, his mom. “For the first two years of his life, we fought to get him to live.”

Jarred was born with omphalocele, a rare condition in which some of his abdominal organs were outside of his body. He also had Klippel-Feil syndrome, which caused limited movement in his neck and back because the vertebrae were fused.

“We are so proud and honored that he got to live to be 39,” Kelly said. “I’ve talked with people whose children have been born the same way that just didn’t survive. And it just makes me feel honored that I got to be chosen to be his mother for 39 years.”

Jarred made the most of his 39 years. In the days since he died of heart failure on Nov. 11, his family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances have shared favorite stories and memories of Jarred.

“We just want everybody to know that he loved them as much as they loved him,” said Nick Oliver, Jarred’s brother.


Turning disabilities ‘into a positive’

Growing up in Powell, Jarred exceeded doctors’ expectations.

‘He was never supposed to be able to ride a horse, never supposed to be able to do a lot of stuff,” Nick said. “With no fear he got on horses and rode around, knowing that if he would have got bucked off, he would have broken his neck and that would have been it.”

He never was supposed to jump on a trampoline, either, but he tried that a few times, too, Kelly said.

Klippel-Feil syndrome also caused hearing loss, and Jarred started wearing hearing aids when he was 4 years old. He later learned sign language at Northwest College, finishing the intermediate and advanced classes.

“He helped teach the advanced course at the college — he just picked up on that so well,” Kelly said.

Jarred also used sign language to help at the Powell Police Department at the request of his dad, the late Steve Oliver, who was a longtime police officer.

“When his dad was alive, he called Jarred down to the police department a few times to help interpret for someone that was deaf,” Kelly said.

Jarred worked as a paraprofessional in special education for Park County School District 1, and served as a sign language interpreter in the special needs classrooms. He also was an independent contractor for the Wyoming Department of Developmental Disabilities for both children and adults.

“He took his disabilities and he turned them into a positive, where he could teach … and help all of those kids,” Nick said. “He just took what could have been totally negative in his entire life, and made it something that worked for him.”

Jarred developed special bonds with his students over the years, working with them as they grew up in Powell schools.

He understood what it was like to face physical challenges. When Jarred was little, he would go to the kitchen table for breakfast, and have to run to the bathroom to throw up.

“Then he would come back to the table, sit down, finish eating and then go off to school like nothing was wrong,” Kelly said. “And it was like that every day.”

When Jarred was a baby in 1981, surgeons put everything back together, but things weren’t in the right place, his family said.

“The coroner told us that he must have been in pain for every day of his life,” Nick said.

Jarred, however, never complained.


‘Followed in Dad’s footsteps’

From a young age, Jarred looked for ways to help people and put others before himself. His father, Steve, was also known for his kindness and willingness to help.

“That’s where [Jarred] got it from … he followed in Dad’s footsteps in just about everything that he could,” Nick said. “Dad was the same way. We always were trying to help somebody.”

Now a father himself, “I tell my boys all the time, that’s what Olivers do: We help people when they need help,” Nick said. “That’s what we try to do as much as we can. I try to instill that in my boys, but my brother was way better than I ever will be.”

Jarred and Steve both had a special way of making people feel important when they talked to them.

“Even if it was a two-minute conversation, you would walk away and you felt important,” Nick said. “They had that gift.”

Steve died in an accident in 2007, and Jarred wrote about how his father impacted others.

“It has been such a blessing to have that Christian action in my dad as a role model for me to follow,” Jarred wrote in an essay that his family shared.

Jarred became a Christian at a young age, and “he loved the Lord,” Kelly said.

“Jarred told me time and time again, he said, ‘Mom, when I go, you don’t have to worry where I am, because I know where I’m going ... and I’m ready,’” Kelly recalled. “And I know he was. He’s back with his dad.”


Celebration of life planned next year

While the family held a private memorial, a larger celebration of life is planned for next summer, COVID permitting.

It will be a celebration — as Jarred would want — not a funeral, his family said. A fireworks show is planned.

A scholarship fund has been established in honor of Jarred, and his family would like the scholarship to go to someone who plans to work in special education.

Memorial donations can be made to the Powell Schools Foundation, with Jarred Lee Oliver Scholarship in the memo line. Checks can be mailed to: Powell Schools Foundation, Attn: Mary Jo Lewis, 160 N. Evarts St., Powell, WY 82435.

The family is thankful for all of the support they’ve received, and grateful for the years they had with Jarred.

“I feel so blessed,” Kelly said. “And I miss him so much.”