Fighting tears and breathing deep, John Johnson tried as best he could to speak about his best friend.
“He was the best man,” Johnson said.
After a lengthy pause, he continued.
“I can’t believe these jerks took him away,” he said, his voice shaking. “It’s not fair. Why did they have to do this?”
Johnson was one of approximately 40 people who gathered outside the WBUL studio in the basement of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center on Thursday to remember Ronald Stem, a former USF student and WBUL DJ that was fatally shot on campus last month.
During the emotional ceremony, Stem was described as charismatic, honest, compassionate and tremendously giving. Sarah Cobb, Stem’s girlfriend at the time of his death, described him as a “very special man” who “put his soul into everything he did.”
She told the crowd about the stray cat he adopted and how he named it Licorice because it was coal black.
“He even built an extension on the end of the bed so the cat could sleep on it,” Cobb said.
Stem, she said, loved to help people, so he built them things they needed. Cobb said he built her a footstool, a bookcase, a table and even an entertainment center for her television, VCR and DVD player.
“The thing about Ron is that when he saw a need, he would volunteer without being asked,” Cobb said. “Then he would come back the next day and have it for you, unannounced.”
Stem, who DJed as “Rockin’ Ron” from 2003 to 2004, built a table for the studio so he could have somewhere to put his vinyl records.
“When I first saw that table, I thought, ‘We don’t need this in here,'” said former DJ Lee Anderson, who worked with Stem. “But then about a month later, I realized, ‘Wow, I use this table every single day.'”
A plaque dedicated to Stem at the service – which described him as “an inspiration and role model to us all” and also had a photo and a passage from John Lennon’s “Imagine” – sat on that very same table. It will hang in the WBUL studio.
Johnson, who goes by “Johnny P. Lovetrain” and shared Saturday night duties with Stem when they both worked there, read the plaque to the crowd. The most emotional speaker, Johnson was also the last to speak.
“I hope you heard the song I dedicated to you on the radio in heaven,” he said. “Your spirit will be in me forever.”
Student Government adviser Jen Breck, along with WBUL employee Angela Granese, organized the event.
The first to speak, Breck called Stem a “person of action” and described how he is responsible for getting WBUL FCC certified and how he fought for WBUL at SG senate meetings. And even though hasn’t worked at WBUL since 2004, Stem would still drop in from time to time, Breck said.
In fact, three days before his death, an emotional Breck said Stem left a note on her door wondering how WBUL was doing.
“I was excited to get that note because I hadn’t heard from him in a while,” Breck said. “Then, when I found out it was Ron who was killed … I just want to say I am very proud to know him and to have worked with him.”
After the service, Cobb said the memorial helped Stem’s USF friends find some closure, adding that she cried all her tears at the funeral and the days after the murder.
“Ron meant a lot to a lot of people,” she said. “He always made us feel like we were really something. He could lift people up.”
An avid lover of Chubby Checker, model trains and the military, Stem, who was also a retired Army major, took classes at USF from 2002 through 2004. In 2002, he met Cobb in the laundry room of Magnolia Apartments. She said they planned to marry once she received her doctorate in nursing.
“He was an amazing man and an amazing character,” Stem said.
To Kendrell Watkins, a former WBUL station manager, Stem was a firecracker, an energetic guy who leaves an impression.
“When you meet ‘Rockin’ Ron,’ you know who he is,” Watkins said. “And you don’t forget.”