Kindness memorialized

Jonathan Bahm with teacher Adam Humes the morning of Jonathan’s fifth-grade clapout at Markham Elementary. Photo courtesy of Amy Bahm.

When Jonathan Bahm attended Markham Elementary more than a decade ago, he enjoyed all of his teachers. But having teacher Adam Humes for homeroom and science in third grade turned his school life from black and white into Technicolor.

“He loved all of his teachers, but there were teachers like Adam who were transformative,” said Jonathan’s mother, Amy Bahm, Crestvue Manor Drive.

Humes, whose wardrobe spans from leisure suits to Steelers jerseys and a hairstyle out of Jared Leto’s playbook, is also an artist who has painted murals at Markham. His vibrant teaching style coaxes kids out of introversion and gets them excited about learning. “He pulled out the best thing from every child,” Amy said.

A detail person who oozed creativity while always following the rules, Jonathan gravitated toward colorful characters like Minions, SpongeBob SquarePants and Marvel superheroes, but had a deep affinity for Mr. Rogers and emulated that gentle nature, even as he was 6 foot, 3 inches tall.

When Jonathan died last year at age 23 after an act of violence in his California home, Humes turned to art to help begin the healing by calling out Jonathan’s kindness. Now, everyone who passes on the second floor near Humes’ Markham classroom can see Mister Rogers in his signature red cardigan, with a King Friday XIII puppet. The mural features Rogers’ famous quote: “There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”

The idea came to Humes after hearing Jonathan’s brother, Bryan, speak at the funeral. “It never hurts to be kind,” Bryan said at the time, quoting Jonathan’s favorite Mr. Rogers line. Those words are painted on the mural’s trolley, which is also adorned with: “In memory of Jonathan Bahm.” (Easter egg alert—Mr. Rogers’ tie print is the
Markham logo.)

Humes is not the only one who has created a memorial to Jonathan. In May, Emma Kaufmann Camp built and dedicated a treehouse in his honor and the students created a plaque for him at the camp.

Humes had a special bond with Jonathan and he knew all his quirks, including that love for Mr. Rogers and his desire to always do things the right way. “He had to make sure everything was correct,” he said, noting that sometimes he had to push him to turn in assignments because he kept trying to make them better. “He literally was one of the kindest, sweetest human beings on the planet. Loved life. Loved learning.”

Jonathan graduated from Mt. Lebanon in 2017 and Chapman University School of Engineering in 2021. He always found a way to work with children, whether it was as a counselor at Emma Kaufmann Camp in West Virginia or as a third grade Hebrew school teacher at Temple Emanuel of the South Hills. With his degree, he could have gotten a job as a software engineer but had an affinity for video game creation. He had also wanted to be a teacher, specifically of 7- to 9-year-olds, because that’s when education came alive for him in Humes’
class, Amy said.

“Markham is magical,” she added. “He literally ran to school every day.”

Markham Elementary teacher Adam Humes in front of the mural he created with his father, George, in memory of former student Jonathan Bahm. /Photo: John Schisler

Markham principal Jocelyn Artinger was not on staff when Jonathan was a student, but said it meant a lot to her to hear that Humes formed such a deep relationship with him. She also is not surprised. “He really does engage with students and sees more than just what is on paper,” she said. Forming those bonds is the essence of being a good teacher. “It is one of the most important things we do,” Artinger added.

These days, teachers have so many responsibilities. “It makes it harder to focus on forming a relationship,” she said. But she noted that in the recent new teacher induction, the faculty was asked to think about their favorite teachers and why they meant so much. Their favorites, she said, made them feel seen. Heard.  Validated. “Not one person said; ‘They made me a better math student.’”

Humes, of Jonquil Place, and his father, George, who is a retired teacher and also an artist, painted the Mister Rogers mural—their third at Markham—over one week in August 2022. Adam had kept in touch with the family through parents Amy and David after all three boys moved on to other schools (Bryan also had Humes for homeroom and science, and the youngest, Evan, had him for science.) He reached out through mutual friends to make sure the family was OK with the mural concept. “I didn’t want to create any more pain,” he said.

Humes has taught at Markham for 19 years, educating 60 students a year. He knew from growing up as a teacher’s son that he would eventually lose a student. Jonathan is the first and Humes is visibly shaken as he recalls hearing the news. “Of all people,” he said. “This is something that is on my mind all the time.”

Humes said that the idea of kindness as a theme for the mural, created by hand and by airbrush in acrylic paint, represents the positive way Jonathan lived his life. “He was only on this planet a short time, but he put so much good out into the world, and I think you hear that from the people who knew him,” Humes said. “If we all could take a Jonathan vibe, it would make this world a
better place.”

Certainly kids see the mural and ask him about it. “A few of them have asked. And it’s very hard,” Humes said.

“Markham is forever the most special place for us,” Amy Bahm said, noting her gratitude for the connection her children have with Humes. “I want everyone to know what a gift he is.”