Family turns tragedy of son’s death to a good cause

EVERETT — Within hours of learning about their son’s death, Don and Jan Jensen were surrounded by friends.

A houseful of them.

Ten years later, those friends remain ever near, helping the retired Everett educators turn tragedy into good.

More than 300 people are expected to take part Saturday in the 3.6-mile Brett Jensen Memorial Fun Run and Walk. Now in its fourth year, the jaunt around north Everett is one of several fundraisers that remember a promising young life cut short.

Brett Jensen was a straight-A scholar and former student body president at Cascade High School. He died May 7, 2002, in a fall from a balcony at his fraternity house near the University of Washington. The freshman was 19 and an inexperienced drinker.

In the decade since, with the help of matching money from the Everett Rotary Club, nearly $80,000 has been given away in scholarships in Brett Jensen’s name. More than 1,000 turkeys have been donated to the Cascade High School’s annual food drive in his memory to help hard-pressed families celebrate the holidays.

Behind the scenes, nearly two dozen volunteers give Don and Jan Jensen the resolve to organize a large-scale event each year to raise more money to help their community.

“We could never find the strength to do this without them,” Don Jensen said.

Jan Jensen was a teacher at Eisenhower Middle School for more than 20 years; Don Jensen, a counselor at Cascade for 18. Their daughter, Megan, a year younger than her brother, is now a doctorate student in California. They made a lot of friends along the way.

And those friends are willing to go to great lengths to help.

Consider one donation that was supposed to be part of this year’s silent auction but will be marketed elsewhere to fetch the highest price for scholarships.

The Jensens are in possession of an encased basketball that was signed by the U.S. men’s basketball team that won the gold medal at this summer’s Olympic Games.

How it got to them is a lengthy and convoluted story of determined people pulling in favors.

The short version is Don Jensen has a friend whose daughter dates a boy who through mutual friends knows a young woman who works with Blake Griffin, a Los Angeles Clipper star who was part of the U.S. team until he got injured. Griffin got his teammates to sign the ball during training camp in Salt Lake City.

“It was so nice of them to think of us,” Jan Jensen said.

The ball has signatures from some of the National Basketball Association’s marquee players, including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. It won’t be at Saturday’s auction or run, which begins at 9 a.m. at Legion Memorial Park, 145 Alverson Blvd, but it will be sold soon, Don Jensen said.

Brett Jensen would have turned 30 next week.

Some of his former classmates at Cascade High still help his parents and their friends stage the walk and run.

Don Jensen said the event has four purposes: to remember their son, to promote health and fitness, to raise scholarship money and to have fun.

He’s just glad others continue to support them and remember Brett.

“It wouldn’t happen without them,” he said. “It’s a lot of work and sometimes we wonder about it, but then we do it and get rejuvenated. We’re just so grateful.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

On the web

To learn more about the Brett Jensen Memorial Fun Run and Walk on Saturday morning, go to brettjensen.wordpress.com.

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