There are many different ways to memorialize a person, but the memorial for Johnathan Skinner is one of the more unusual.
Bear River Bottling Co. in Utah has created a hot sauce to honor the Salida man who died at age 30 of cystic fibrosis.
Skinner, the son of Rhonda and the late John Skinner, grew up in Salida, graduated with the Salida High School class of 2002 and earned a degree in meteorology from the University of Northern Colorado.
He loved lightning, and in spite of his difficulty breathing, he chased storms all through his college years and up until about a month before he died.
“He had two large oxygen tanks in his room, and he’d take them on dollies to the chasing vehicles,” his mom said. “He literally chased storms until he was unable to walk.”
Skinner’s friend Jon Meyer was studying to be an engineer and went to college with him. Skinner’s enthusiasm about meteorology inspired Meyer to change his major to meteorology. Meyer is now a research climatologist at the Utah Climate Center and a lecturer at Utah State University, and he has a hot sauce company, Bear River Bottling Co.
“What started out as a hobby trended more and more into a second career as word of mouth spread and sales continue to grow,” he said. “My family and friends joke about the fact that I went through a Ph.D. program only to start selling hot sauce on the side.”
Meyer ventured into the world of craft hot sauce seven years ago when he became bored and dissatisfied with the grocery store brands and was intrigued by the world of boutique super hot sauces.
“It turns out there is a huge and growing following of specialty hot sauces, and that really lit the fire for me,” he said. “It’s a blessing to share new flavor experiences with customers and fellow ‘pepper heads,’ and it’s absolutely surreal to hear positive reviews about a sauce I’ve made. That makes the extra work on top of my first career worth all the while.”
Meyer said it was a “no-brainer” for him to dedicate a sauce to Skinner, with proceeds going to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and a scholarship in Skinner’s name.
“He was a beacon of unconditional love and positivity despite his cystic fibrosis,” Meyer said. “He was the fork in the road to my career. I was an undeclared college student searching for my way, and I first considered a career in weather because Johnathan sat next to me in calculus class with a radar meteorology text book. We became good friends through the years at UNC, as anyone would easily do with Johnathan, after about 60 seconds.
“After I moved away for grad school and Jonathan’s condition worsened, just about every trip home to Colorado included a spot carved out to visit him in the hospital where he stayed for long stretches at a time for treatment and therapy.
“After his passing I wanted his positive influence that had benefited so many to positively influence the meteorology program and subsequent weather weenies, so I started a memorial scholarship in his name. Five years later and with the support of friends, family and even strangers, the scholarship has awarded over $6,000 to weather and broadcasting students.
“The sauce is an extension of my feeling that good can continue to be done in his name. I can help increase cystic fibrosis awareness in his honor.”
One of Meyer’s goals is to give back to the communities that have shown so much support for his company, and one of the ways he plans to do that is through a program called “60 for 6,” which defines the commitment to donate 60 cents (roughly 10 percent) of every bottle sold to one of six charities that rotate through the year.
Lightning Sauce, named for Johnathan Skinner, is the first pillar for this program and is one of several sauces planned to be permanently linked to a charitable contribution. Proceeds will go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and to the scholarship in Skinner’s name. Other charities being considered are veterans’ relief, cancer research and child hunger.
The label of the Skinner sauce bottle reads, “We captured lightning in a bottle in memory of J. Skinner who despite his cystic fibrosis lived a full life as a passionate meteorologist and a storm chaser who loved lightning photography and reminded all around him that life was meant to be lived to the fullest! A portion of sales goes to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and a scholarship in his memory.”
Lightning Sauce is available on the website at bearriverbottling.com and costs $6.50 for an 8-ounce bottle.
“Currently it is available in stores only in Utah,” Meyer said. “Interstate retail sales require more in-depth certification by the USDA, but we are working toward developing protocols so that we can be on shelves throughout the region.”
Skinner died Jan. 12, 2014, at University Hospital in Denver with several of his Salida classmates at his bedside. He had suffered from cystic fibrosis (CF) all of his life. CF is a genetic disease in which mucous builds in the lungs and clogs the passages. The person can’t breathe and must go to the hospital for breathing treatments to clear the mucous.