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Remembering John Mark Eberhart

Former book review editor for The Kansas City Star, poet, and regular "Book Doctor" on KCUR, John Mark Eberhart, died Tuesday, March 19, after a fight with cancer. He was 52.

John Mark Eberhart was born on November 28, 1960 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis, Mo., Savannah, Mo., and the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Eberhart earned an undergraduate degree in journalism in 1983 from the University of Missouri-Columbia; he returned to school to earn a master of arts degree in English in 1998 from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The writing life

Eberhart worked in newspapers for nearly 30 years, starting in the early 1980's in Baton Rouge, La. where he served as environmental reporter for The State-Times from 1983 to 1986. He joined the staff of The Kansas City Star in Kansas City, Mo. in 1987, and was the book review editor from 2000 to 2009.

The Star's political correspondent and Up to Date host Steve Kraske recalls Eberhart took great pride in the number of times his byline appeared in the paper. In March 2009, the Star cut nearly 30 positions including Eberhart's.

In a 2012 article in the J-School Magazine of the Missouri School of Journalism, Eberhart gave this advice to journalism students:

Your writing is something that is going to develop over a long period of time...I’m still learning. Writing is tough and getting better at it takes time. Your progress tends to be incremental, not dramatic. Don’t worry about that, just persevere. Third, the world is changing. I had to make a career change because my newspaper career ended. But, I still use my journalism degree every day.

Most recently, Eberhart served as the Reader's Advisory Coordinator for the Johnson County Central Resource Library in Overland Park, Kan. He joined the library staff in 2010.

Eberhart also authored two poetry collections, "Night Watch" (2005) and "Broken Time" (2008). "Broken Time" was a finalist for the 2009 Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, which recognizes local authors. His poems appeared in journals such as Coal City Review, Mid-America Poetry Review, New Letters magazine, New Millenium Writings, Pleiades, and The Midwest Quarterly, among others.

Battling cancer

Cancer was something John Mark Eberhart had experienced before.

In June 2002, Eberhart's wife, Sherri, was diagnosed with breast cancer; it was four days after the couple's 13th wedding anniversary. His mother, Arda, died in 2004, after a painful battle with cancer.

In 2008, Eberhart shared a story of how he and his wife, Sherri, were coping with her illness in The Kansas City Star:

Each June since then, we have marked another year of marriage...We could wallow in the self-pity, but what good would that do? At this stage, you choose: crack jokes or go nuts.
Speaking of "stage," Sherri is Stage IV. There is no Stage V, not for breast cancer. Diagnosed at Stage IIB, Sherri has fought hard. To be honest we've forgotten the exact order of things, but an approximation: Chemo. Surgery. More chemo. Radiation. More surgery. Then, beginning in summer 2005 when it became clear the illness had metastasized to her lungs, it's been chemo, chemo, chemo ...
How many times have I taken to her to the emergency room, her system compromised by the toxicity of various chemotherapies? We've lost count. How many complications have there been, from the lymphedema (swelling) in her right arm to the chemo port that broke inside her body? Couldn't tell you.
How many times has she lost her hair? Lots.
It's the hair, and the do-rags, and the ball caps, and especially the wigs that provide the most humor these days, though sometimes I react not with laughter but in ways somewhat less enjoyable.

Sherri Eberhart died in October 2008.

After a series of difficult treatments for his own cancer, first diagnosed in 2009, John Mark Eberhart was in hospice for more than a week before he died on Tuesday morning. He's survived by his wife, Michelle Hays Harkness (they married in May 2011), his father, John W. Eberhart, and stepmother, Bonnie Eberhart, brother Ken, of St. Joseph, Mo., as well as extended family members and friends.

On Sunday, John Mark Eberhart's cousin, Elana Falcon, posted a poem by Eberhart on Facebook:

Arrow This is the time. The wind in this wheat will never be the wind again. The scent of last night's shower in the summer soil, the shadow of a single thunderhead barreling eastward over the high plains between Limon and Goodland -- tomorrow's deluge for Kansas City. But I am moving west along this superhighway, not to return. I am following my fathers. I am "rolling with it," as they say. I have left nothing behind -- no people, no possessions, no regrets. And now that evening sun sinks lower, as if beckoning. In the old stories, the souls of the dying, it was thought, vanished into the west. I've always liked the sound of that.

A visitation for John Mark Eberhart is scheduled for Tuesday, March 26, at 1 pm, with a funeral following, at D.W. Newcomer's Floral Hills, 7000 Blue Ridge Blvd. Kansas City, Missouri. The family requests donations to Kansas City Hospice House or Wayside Waifs in lieu of flowers. Find out more here.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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