By Bob Hansen

Justin Farmer had a stroke. No one knows how long it was before his aunt found him unconscious. But in only four days, the Fountain City community where he lives and works came together in his support.

Farmer, 50, is a well-loved fixture at Martin’s Country Mart, a convenience store along U.S. 27 in Fountain City. The community has come to love his sense of humor and his concern for all.

“He says he’s been sold with the building four times in 15 years,” said co-worker Tricia Harris. “He loves people but he doesn’t like to admit it.”

A regular customer, Jon Starr, added, “He’s a good (stuff) stirrer,” using an unprintable word for stuff. “He’s good at saying, ‘Well, she said …’ and he’d start a rumor just to see how long it took to get back to him. But he knows everybody in town’s problems but he wouldn’t say a thing about ‘em.”

Another worker at the store, Stacie Ward, remembered her first time in the store five years ago. She had just moved to Fountain City. “You ain’t from around here,” Farmer greeted her. She ended up working there, noting how Farmer would call to let her know when her son rode by on his bike on his way to the fishing hole, and when he saw the boy riding back home.

Just about everyone in town seemed to be talking about Farmer last week, asking how he was doing and telling about how the community has come together to support him.

Martin’s Country Mart, also called the Mini Mart, is under new ownership. Farmer knew the old owners, Rob and Colleen Martin, were selling to Tommy and Amber Knox, and the sale became official on Monday, March 13.

In fact, says Amber Knox, “Justin is actually the reason I was fine with it. My husband (Tommy Knox) has wanted to do this for some time but I wasn’t sure until he (Farmer) said he came with the store. Justin’s just got enough pizazz that he keeps the customers coming back. He’s very witty and is good at giving customers a hard time, but if you know how to take him and give it back to him, it’s an instant connection.”

So, even in the midst of the ownership change, the Knoxes, with a lot of help from the Martins and the store’s 10 employees, put together a benefit: “Pizza for Justin.” All of the proceeds from the sale of pizza on Monday would go toward Farmer’s expenses.

Amber Knox explained that Farmer had helped the Martins build up the store’s pizza business. “He really homed in on that,” she said. “If they were questioning, ‘Should we change that?’ he was the one who said yes or no. It was something he was really passionate about so we just thought it would be appropriate to do this for him.”

Word spread through a Facebook page called “Fountain City Indiana: Community Forum,” posters in various places around town and people telling friends.

The Knoxes ordered extra supplies but by noon on that Monday, they knew it wasn’t enough. Tommy Knox made an emergency trip to Indianapolis to pick up another order of pizza-making supplies. They bought more at a Richmond department store.

All the employees helped but one of the store’s two pizza ovens went down. At times, they got more than an hour and a half behind on orders.

“Everyone was so understanding,” Amber Knox said. The staff at Reid Health, where she works as a nurse practitioner, had put in a $500 order and she asked if they’d mind taking delivery the next day or in days after. That was OK.

Friends of the Knoxes, Jeremy and Ashley Scarrette, showed up. Seeing how tired the Knoxes looked, they pitched right in. Doug Berhalter came to pick up his family’s supper order and found out about the delay, so he took their pizza home uncooked and said he hoped that would shorten the wait time for others.

By the end of a long day, they’d raised $3,500 for Farmer.

On Tuesday, Amber posted results on Facebook. “To put things in perspective, our average daily food sales for the month are $305 in the AM/lunch, $268 for PM & $573 total daily.

“Yesterday, AM/lunch sales were $756 (over 2 times the average), $2664 for PM (nearly 10 x’s our average), for a total of over $3400 on the day in food sales. Nearly 90% of food sales yesterday were for pizzas for Justin!”

Contributions continue coming into the store. Amber Knox guessed that at least $500 more had been stuffed into a large jar on the counter, where well-wishers had already filled four large cards with signatures.

Among those helping at the store that Monday was Brystal, the Knoxes’ 13-year-old daughter. She helped fold all the pizza boxes. She and Farmer share a liking for Thing 1 and Thing 2, and have T-shirts with those Dr. Seuss characters on them.

His friends said Farmer loves animated shows. He had paid extra for TV streaming services at the home where he lives with his aunt, and knew the release date and all the details of upcoming animated releases, said Ward.

By Friday, Farmer had been in a medically induced coma since being admitted to Reid Health’s intensive care unit eight days earlier, Amber Knox said, after securing permission from his aunt, Jan Statzer, to speak about it. He had what is called a hemorrhagic stroke, caused when a blood vessel bursts in the brain.

His aunt had posted that a large section of his scalp had to be removed to ease pressure on his brain. He was in isolation because even a slight sound could set off neurostorming, a harmful nerve reaction in the injured brain. He had not been able to move his right side but there had been some movement of left side extremities.

Amber Knox posted, “While he remains in a medically induced coma as his brain and body continue to try to heal, we are receiving some positive feedback on his status; the reality is only God knows the final outcome. Regardless, he has a long road ahead of him. We will continue to pray for him, the medical team, & his family/friends.”

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A version of this article appeared in the March 22 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.