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From left, Chaminade College Preparatory School rising junior Andrew Marr, Chaminade rising junior Connor Moore, St. John Vianney High School graduate James Marr, Cor Jesu Academy graduate Anna Moore, Ursuline Academy graduate Emma Heidenry and Visitation Academy rising senior Kat Gau posed for a portrait next to a Buckle Up, Phone Down sign May 23 outside St. John Vianney High School in Kirkwood. The teens have been spreading the Buckle Up, Phone Down campaign from the Missouri Department of Transportation to area high schools and other locations.
From left, Chaminade College Preparatory School rising junior Andrew Marr, Chaminade rising junior Connor Moore, St. John Vianney High School graduate James Marr, Cor Jesu Academy graduate Anna Moore, Ursuline Academy graduate Emma Heidenry and Visitation Academy rising senior Kat Gau posed for a portrait next to a Buckle Up, Phone Down sign May 23 outside St. John Vianney High School in Kirkwood. The teens have been spreading the Buckle Up, Phone Down campaign from the Missouri Department of Transportation to area high schools and other locations.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

Gau cousins honor late mother and aunt Jennifer Marr through anti-distracted driving campaign

Six teens spread Buckle Up, Phone Down initiative to 50 campuses

Six teenage cousins from the Gau family made it their mission this school year to help end distracted driving.

Jennifer Gau Marr, a parishioner and school parent at Queen of All Saints in Oakville, was killed by a distracted driver in October 2020. To mark what would have been her 50th birthday this year, Marr’s two sons and four of her nieces and nephews — the high school contingent of the Gau cousins — set a goal to spread the Buckle Up, Phone Down campaign from the Missouri Department of Transportation to 50 area campuses.

The campaign encourages everyone in a vehicle to wear their seatbelts and drivers to put down their phones each time they get in the car. MoDOT supplies the materials, including signs with the message Buckle Up, Phone Down to be placed in a prominent location on a campus driveway.

After talking with her mother about ways to honor her Aunt Jen, Anna Moore, who graduated this May from Cor Jesu Academy, hosted a pledge event at Cor Jesu in fall 2022. This past fall, the rest of the high school cousins came on board, each hosting similar events at their respective schools: Chaminade College Preparatory School, St. John Vianney High School, Ursuline Academy, Visitation Academy and Cor Jesu. (Friends hosted another at Notre Dame High School.)

“Seeing how it impacted three cousins I’m really close with, I wanted to do something to raise awareness and make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Anna said. “We all came together to make it happen.”

At Vianney, recently graduated senior James Marr took the chance to talk with fellow students about the topic, with a photo of his mother set up on the table. “We had a table set up with information and bracelets, so people were stopping by, reading all of it, taking bracelets and wearing them around,” he said. “So you could tell that people were spreading the information and talking about it.”

After the events at their own schools — which were all very supportive of the efforts, the cousins reported — the teens created a spreadsheet of other area schools and parishes to contact, then divided and conquered. After several months of emails, calls and sometimes delivering the signs themselves, they reached their goal in May. Most were high schools, but a handful of parishes and businesses also came on board.

Through the campaign, recent Ursuline Academy graduate Emma Heidenry was touched by the number of people who wanted to support her family and the cause.

“It was people just asking me about it, and knowing that they care about what happened and the situation and are taking it to heart. Like when they filled out the survey, making sure they knew from my perspective how important it is to me and my family,” she said. “It’s ‘Buckle Up, Phone Down,’ but it’s more personal than that.”

Andrew Marr and Connor Moore, both rising juniors at Chaminade, found encouragement seeing fellow classmates continue to wear the bracelets long after the pledge event.

Working together on the campaign with his cousins has been another positive, Andrew said. “We’ve all gotten closer through this.”

At Visitation, rising senior Kat Gau gave a short presentation about distracted driving over the morning announcements before the signs were installed on campus. She got her driver’s license while the cousins’ campaign was ongoing, which has helped her understand just how tempting it can be to pick up the phone to read a text while behind the wheel. “Being able to identify with that and say, ‘I’m sharing this message, and I’m just like you,’ I think is really important,” she said.

She’s glad to be part of the effort to honor Marr, bringing together not just cousins but the wide range of parish and school communities of Marr’s extensive network of family and friends.

“Knowing that we were spreading (the campaign) around the area together as a family, the initiative that we were all taking together, united, made me feel good,” Kat said. “…Everyone knows a Gau, somehow, so it was a great connector. People would say, ‘Oh, I saw that at Vianney, I saw that at Viz,’ and it makes people connect the dots, and I think it makes that message stick even more. And it feels really good to be doing that with my family.”


Buckle Up, Phone Down

Learn more about the Buckle Up, Phone Down campaign, sign the pledge and request a sign at modot.org/ buckleupphonedown.


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