Those who knew Sterling resident Jon Ployhar remember his passion for used cars and conspiracy theories being surpassed by his strong sense of faith gained through years of fighting personal battles.
More than 100 friends and family members of Ployhar shared their memories of him and supported each other at a memorial held on Sunday at the Sterling Community Center. Throughout the afteroon, those who spoke publicly about Ployhar celebrated his many contributions to the community and dwelled on the positive things he brought to their lives.
The 49-year-old was killed in October during a traffic stop in Sterling after a confrontation with Trooper John King. Troopers said Ployhar fled during the attempted stop, and was shot by King while the two were fighting.
While the circumstances surrounding his death were alluded to, those who spoke instead filled the time with stories of the times he spent worshipping with them, policing the community and visiting with family and friends.
Wayne “Froggy” Debnam is a member of a community watch group called the Sterling Brotherhood who met Ployhar shortly before his death. He remembered Ployhar as one of the residents who helped catch and hold a man wanted on several charges for troopers in September.
“For us to be together today and give Jon the celebration of life, I know he’s smiling down and saying, ‘I really dig this,’” Debnam said.
Debnam said the memorial shows how Sterling residents take care of each other during hard times.
He said the details of Ployhar’s death should not be the focus when thinking about him.
“We’ve got to let that go, we’ve got to let that rest and just remember there’s a little bit of Jon in every one of us today.” Debnam said.
Members of Ployhar’s family and of the brotherhood began the memorial with a procession to present Ployhar’s ashes. The ceremony was conducted by Celeste Rodgers, a pastor at the Sterling-based church Ministries of the Living Stones, of which Ployhar was a member. Several friends shared their memories of Ployhar, and Sterling resident Travis Gage honored his friend with an emotional rendition of “You Raise Me Up.”
Gage said he chose the song because he felt it aligned with what people knew about Ployhar, who was said to have supported and counseled many of his friends through difficult situations. He was described as committed to helping others and passionate about addressing issues of drug abuse in Sterling, even to the point of obsession.
“I was approached, but it was my decision. I wanted to sing for Jon,” Gage said. “I’ve known him a long time… He was a good guy and I felt honored to be able to sing for his celebration.”
A potluck dinner followed the ceremony, also organized by the Ployhar’s former church. Ployhar’s siblings, who buried their mother not long after his death, said the community took on the memorial’s organization for them. Stephanie Huber, Ployhar’s niece, said knowing who to reach out to would have been hard, since she lives in Anchorage along with her mother and sister. “To me it actually means quite a bit,” Huber said. “It’s a lot taken off of our shoulders.”
“It shows how much the community loved him,” added Marti Delimont, Ployhar’s sister.
Delimont will take Ployhar’s ashes and eventually scatter them, she said. Huber said she hopes her family and those who knew Ployhar will find closure through the memorial. His brother, Kent Ployhar, said the community was very receptive when he asked for help following his brother’s death.
“It’s the whole community, it’s amazing. I mean, everybody knew him,” Kent Ployhar said. “To say that somebody in Sterling didn’t know him, you already know that that’s impossible.”
An investigation of Ployhar’s death by the Department of Public Safety has been underway since October. Alaska State Troopers Public Information Officer Megan Peters said in a previous email to the Clarion that troopers will consider “any and all evidence available. The Office of Special Prosecutions and Appeals will receive the investigation report.