The Legacy of Joplin’s Jaxon Buerge

Legacy, some of us spend a lifetime working towards what ours will be after we pass away. Although, it may be naive of us to think that we have any say in the matter. K R P S’s Fred Fletcher-Fierro tells us about a Joplin teenager’s legacy that continues to inspire.

Jaxon and his Dad Justin Buerge

Jaxon Blair Buerge passed away at the age of 16, on Thursday, December 27, 2018, due to injuries sustained in a car accident. Jaxon was the first of two sons born to Trisha and Justin Buerge. All four were traveling on Interstate 70 in Western Kansas during a snowstorm when their SUV was rear-ended. Even though Jaxon was only 16 and the Buerge’s had relocated to Overland Park, Kansas, he left his mark on his hometown of Joplin.

“We opened Honey Badger Gym in 2015, and big tenet of, of what we’ve built it around was community.”

Tyler Schmitt, Co-owner of the Honey Badger Gym in Joplin

At 20-months old, Jaxon was diagnosed with autism. At the time, Joplin didn’t have a local center to help treat individuals with the disorder. So Trisha and Justin sought treatment for Jaxon at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.. This would set in motion the opening of Freeman’s Ozark Center for Autism five years later. The center is now known as the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism.

Tyler Schmitt and Travis Jarmin, co-owners of Honey Badger Gym, met Jaxon when the Buerge’s relocated to Joplin and were looking for a place for him to work out.

(R) Travis Jarmin and (L)Tyler Schmitt co-owners of the Honey Badger Gym

They came to the gym just the two of them, before I got to meet Jaxon, and I was just immediately struck with the passion that they spoke with when describing Jaxon and everything that he was able to accomplish, you could tell that they were all in on giving Jaxon every opportunity.”

Tyler Schmitt

On many levels, Jaxon was a typical 16-year old and very active. From skiing to running 5-K’s and playing tennis, the Buerge’s were looking for a special place for their son to workout and make some friends.

“I quickly realized what kind of impression he was making to the members around him that were just working out on the side, not even participating with him.”

Tyler Schmitt

As part of Jaxon’s treatment at the Leffen Center, visits to the gym were regular. Tyler remembers what it was like to train with Jaxon.

The Buerge Family on the left, Tyler Schmitt (Center), Freeman CEO Paula Baker (Right center) Travis Jarmin next to Ms. Baker

He pushed through his workout with smiles, laughs and giggles, between grunts and strains. He loved lifting the camouflage bar the most and working out in a weight tactical vest. He would exclaim, “I’m going to be strong!” While during his lifts while pushing himself as hard as any athlete I’ve had the privilege to work with.”

Tyler Schmitt

His friends at Honey Badger loved Jaxon. So much so that the gym raised over $9,000 by selling Honey Badger sweatshirts. Recently, Tyler and Travis were on-hand to present a check to Leffen Center in memory of Jaxon.

Edie Spera is the Director of the Leffen.

Director of the Leffen Center for Autism (L)Edie Spera and Danielle Wilson, First Steps Supervisor


“Jaxon touched so many of us at Leffen. Not only did we have the honor of working with him and being part of his life. But his life is why we are here today, to be able to provide services.”

Edie Spera

Today, the Leffen Center and its staff are a part of the fabric of Joplin and perhaps a reason a family decides to stay or leave the area.

“We have been able to help over 1,500 families over the years. Jaxon’s influence stretches far and wide. Many of our staff got their start here and went on to further their careers to become behavior analysts, teachers, counselors,…”

Edie Spera

His life continues to grow a community among those who knew him very well, to those who have never met him. To the person that knew him the very best.

The Buerges’, Justin and Trisha thanking Travis and Tyler of the Honey Badger Gym for their donation to the Leffen Center for Autism

“It’s incredible. Travis and Tyler, you guys are a part of our family, I’ve said that to you before but….The inclusivity, the love, the generosity.”

Jaxon’s Mom, Trisha Buerge.

“Friends of the Leffen Center, we have had the opportunity over the years to be apart of this in a small way, and it means the world to us to know that Jaxon’s joy is able to be carried forward. Is truly what keeps us going and what fills our souls.”

Trisha Buerge

The legacy of one 16-year old from Joplin, Missouri, will continue to inspire for decades to come.

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