Blake Ko Powell took his life on October 18th, 2017, at the age of twenty-two. A senior at Keene State College, Ko was a music major working toward a degree in Music Technology with one semester left. He had a four-year talent scholarship and played in the Keene State College Orchestra. His primary instruments were guitar and bass.
Born in Taegu, South Korea, on August 29, 1995, Ko arrived in the United States on December 13th, 1995. He was three and a half months old. In 1999 he was naturalized in Vermont, where he lived with his parents Jeff and Edie. For his citizenship, a flag was flown over the US Capitol and he received a letter from the President of the United States. As a child, Ko felt welcome here.
After living in Vermont and California, his family moved to Dublin. Ko attended Mountain Shadows School for eight years, a community he loved. At ConVal Regional High School, he began to struggle with fitting in and feeling welcome. He felt his differences deeply in New Hampshire, where the lack of diversity makes anyone of color stand out in stark contrast. At college he felt tremendously isolated and there were intolerable instances of harassment.
Ko was a veteran international traveller. Not including his country of birth, South Korea, or the United States, he visited eleven other countries. He went to a camp in Spain after the eighth grade and returned there as a counselor a few years later. Earlier the year he died he went to Nicaragua, where he worked on a relief project helping build a community oven. He spoke Spanish, most recently in texts with old friends, and he had just started learning French.
Jeff, Edie and Ko moved to Dublin in order to be close to Edie’s parents, Blake and Thea Sabine, who also both died within the same year. They loved their only grandchild deeply. In addition to extended family and many friendships from various walks of his life, Ko had a strong friend group outside of school. They call themselves “The Fellas,” and there were many years of a kind of brotherhood everyone would want to have.
Ko was a staunchly loyal friend and seen as a protector to those he loved. He admired chivalry and was overcome with the changes he was observing in our society and the way in which human beings sometimes treat one another. Ko is often described as having a profound sense of quiet dignity.
Martial Arts were a big part of Ko’s life up until college. A second-degree black belt, Ko had intense physical strength and presence. He studied Tae Kwon Do, Kempo and Capoeira. The tattoos he chose mirrored his love for mythological creatures – a dragon and a nine-tailed fox.
Deeply intelligent and wry, Ko’s particular brand of subtle humor will be missed by many. We all treasure our inside jokes, and Ko had many of the one-word variety that he could deliver with perfect timing. He had a private and somewhat rare smile adored by those who could wait for it.
It’s impossible to remember Ko without recalling his chef stripe. Even at a young age he would often come home from school and announce he had to cook something. He’d rifle in the pantry and refrigerator and lose himself in chopping and sautéing. That intensity of a kitchen personality presented early and he had a chef’s jacket he adorned regularly. Sushi and custom omelets were specialties. He also loved to concoct sauces or a blend of ingredients and present them in tiny dishes for discussion. Cooking for other people was deeply satisfying to him.
Ko loved the outdoors. Aprils would find him clambering in the apple trees. He had a natural gift for pruning – an eye for which branches to take and what should wait. He loved his home and his land, and his hand is in every tree planted: an allée of Asian pear trees, an American Liberty Elm dedicated to his grandfather’s service in WW2, a Korean Willow that moved from one place to another…
His creativity took him in many directions, including sculpture, which he liked to do outside. He enjoyed making temporary sculptures with rocks and leaves and then introducing the element of fire. Dragons and phoenixes were his favorites. He was also exploring wire sculpture.
Being a mentor was something Ko excelled at. Like many introverts, he was not comfortable in group settings but soared in the realm of one-on-one. Every student he taught adored him. He was patient and able to hone in on a particular person’s learning style.
Ko had a guitar for every occasion: classical, flamenco, folk, rock, jazz and heavy metal. He began studying with composer Frank Wallace at age six and they became close friends over the years. When he went into high school he took up the bass in order to be in the ConVal Band and Jazz Orchestra. From there he became an accomplished bass player.
In high school he was awarded a scholarship to attend Guitar Sessions at a Berklee summer program and he attended Berklee Basslines with Victor Wooten, an artist he admired. He played an array of basses from upright and acoustic to electric. He had a 4-string, 5-string and a 6-string bass as well as a fretless.
Lately Ko had been experimenting with his doubleneck, one neck a bass and the other an electric guitar. Using a looper he could lay down a bass track, a rhythm track and then solo guitar on top of that, all without leaving his chair. The doubleneck was also a great teaching tool.
Blake Ko Powell is survived by his parents, Jeff and Edie Powell and so many friends and family who will love and miss him forever. He is buried next to his grandparents in the Dublin Cemetery. There was a Memorial for Ko on Saturday, November 11, 2017, at the Shattuck in Jaffrey. Mt. Shadows inscribed a beautiful rock for him at the school, and there is a stone bench at the cemetery, “Your Soul is the Whole World.” Dear Ko, we love you so.