GREENFIELD — When John Ubelhor strides across the stage at Greenfield-Central High School to receive his diploma Saturday, onlookers could never guess the adversity the 18-year-old has overcome in his young life.

Walking the halls of Greenfield-Central High School the past four years, he looked every bit the carefree, confident high school athlete.

Near the start of his senior year, however, his mother died of a drug overdose.

His dad also died of a drug overdose when John was around 9.

John was just 8 years old when he and his older sister were taken in by his aunt, Racquel Neuenschwander, his mother’s younger sister.

The young woman was a 20-year-old newlywed and new mother at the time, a mere nine years older than John’s sister, Hayley.

“It was a lot, but it was worth it,” she said.

 John Ubelhor, left, sits alongside his aunt Racquel Neuenschwander, left, at her home in Greenfield. John Ubelhor lost both parents to drug addiction but has thrived since his aunt adopted him and his sister 10 years ago. Wednesday, May 28, 2024. Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

John said he missed about half of his third grade year while transitioning to live with his aunt, but was able to make it up the same year.

He’s now poised to graduate high school with a commendable grade point average of around 3.85, and plans to study computer science at Indiana University in Bloomington this fall. He’d like to work in video game development or some sort of programming.

Wrestling has been his biggest passion in high school, having competed on his school team since the eighth grade.

He also played football from junior high up through his freshman year.

His aunt said sports became a great outlet for John as a kid.

“He didn’t have much stability growing up. When he moved in with us we saw so much potential, so we got him involved with sports and that really changed his entire outlook,” she said. “I think sports really contributed to molding him into who he is today. He had an outlet for all his energy and he really did well with all the coaching, and ended up really excelling academically as well.”

She also credits her soon-t0-be ex-husband, Brandon Neuenschwander, with being a great influence on John.

“He was a big influence and helped a lot with raising him,” she said.

John said it’s been nice growing up in a peaceful community like Greenfield.

“It’s a lot nicer community than where I used to live,” said John, who lived on the southwest side of Indianapolis before moving in with his aunt.

He was also able to grow up with his aunt’s two sons, ages 10 and 2.

John said he doesn’t have many good memories of his mom, which meant her death didn’t affect him as much as people might expect.

“I mean, unfortunately she was never really involved, so as sad as it may sound it wasn’t too much of a shock,” he said. “We were all kind of mentally preparing for it because she had overdosed multiple times before.”

When she died, the resilient teen took just one day off from school, not so much for himself but to support his family.

John said his mother likely died homeless, living on the streets of Indianapolis.

He didn’t have a lot of interaction with her after he and his sister were removed from her home.

John said his dad wasn’t around much during his youngest years, but he remembers the volatile times when his parents would sporadically live under one roof with him and his sister.

“My dad was an alcoholic and my mom had anger issues and they fought a lot, so they broke apart several times,” John recalled.

“Then eventually my dad moved out and then we moved into a trailer park with my mom and one of her friends who was already living there, and then it just spiraled from there,” he said.

It was John’s maternal grandfather who first intervened on the children’s behalf, going to court to have them relinquished to his custody.

Shortly after John and his sister moved out, his mother’s roommate died of a drug overdose.

Their aunt stepped up, saying she would take over guardianship for him and his sister. John said she did a great job of serving as a surrogate mother figure for them.

While he still calls her Aunt Raquel, as he always had as a little kid, he knows his life could have been far different had she and her husband not taken him and his sister in.

“I’m always thinking about where she could be if she didn’t take us in,” John said.

But Neuenschwander said she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“I think he’s an amazing kid,” said the proud aunt, who knows she’ll be grappling with mixed emotions as John accepts his diploma and says goodbye to high school.

“I am super proud and super excited for this journey for him — he’s definitely earned it — but I’m going to miss him when he goes off to college,” she said.

Despite what he’s endured throughout his life, John doesn’t fixate on the fact his path to high school graduation hasn’t exactly been normal.

“I don’t like saying that I’ve been through a lot and that I’ve overcome a lot. I’m just a normal kid,” he said.