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Childhood friends remember explosion victims

Sam Watson Johnson City Press • Dec 17, 2015 at 5:58 PM

By Sam Watson

Johnson City Press

Days after former Johnson City residents Jon and Marion Setzer lost their lives to an exploding package at their home just outside of Lebanon, childhood friends and Science Hill classmates remembered them as kind, talented and well-respected people.

"It just broke my heart," said Liz Biosca, who grew up with Marion Irwin Setzer in east Johnson City and graduated from Science Hill with her in 1960. "She was my very first friend when I moved to Johnson City when I was 3 years old. She was at all my birthday parties and everything else.

"She was just the kindest, brightest, most beautiful, strong-spirited person and a strong Christian. She didn't have a mean bone in her body."

Biosca, a retired Science Hill teacher, still has a photograph taken of the two holding hands in a back yard when they were 5.

"It's just one of those things you can't understand how somebody can go through such heartache and pain," Biosca said of her friend's death.

Jon Setzer, 74, a retired attorney, was found dead at the couple's home just outside Lebanon in Wilson County after the explosion on Monday. Marion, 72, initially survived the blast and was flown to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, but she died in the early evening hours Wednesday.

Rowena Robinson Miller and Linda Hartsell graduated from Science Hill with Jon Setzer in 1958. Miller remembered that their mothers had been close friends as they grew up.

"Oh John was just great," Miller said. "He was really friendly. He was gentlemanly — a very polite young man."

He had been an ROTC officer and Key Club treasurer at Science Hill. A regular in the school's talent shows, Setzer was named most talented in the Class of 1958.

"John played piano by ear," Miller said. "He may have learned to read some sheet music, but he would listen to music and go over to the piano and play it. He trained himself to play by ear."

Hartsell, who also attended Central Baptist Church with Jon Setzer, said to her recollection, he had never returned for class reunions.

"He was just a very likable person and well known at school," Hartsell said. "He was a well respected person in the community."

Like Biosca, Helen McCormick Gray grew up with Marion Irwin Setzer. They attended the Training School (now University School at East Tennessee State University) before transferring to Science Hill as sophomores. Gray remembered riding their bikes between one another's homes along East Holston Avenue as children.

"She was just so sweet," Gray said. "I always enjoyed being with her very much. She was just a good girl."

Gray's husband, Bernie Gray, also was a member of the class of 1960, and he remembered Marion well. Pulling out the 1960 Hilltop yearbook, he found that she had been a member of the Future Nurses Club, the Student Council and the yearbook staff and a candidate for homecoming queen.

"She was just a beautiful person in every way at all times," Bernie Gray said.

Several classmates recalled that the Setzers' son, Jon Jr., was killed at 3 years old when they were living in Nashville. The boy, who Biosca said would have been 40 years old this year, was apparently playing in the back yard when a neighbor's dog broke through a fence and attacked.

"I think that just kind of devastated them," Helen McCormick Gray said.

Biosca also recalled that Jon Setzer's father died a few years later when he was thrown from his bicycle while riding near the family home in Johnson City's Oakland Gardens neighborhood.

"So they have really had a lot of tragedy in their lives," Biosca said.

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