Don and Jan Jensen (far right and far left) with Sara Thomas and Zack Demars, both 2017 Cascade High School graduates and winners of scholarships awarded in honor of the Jensens’ son Brett, who died in 2002.

Brett’s Run/Walk helps scholarships for Cascade graduates

Brett Jensen would have turned 35 next week. A top student, ASB president and athlete in Cascade High School’s Class of 2001, he died the year after graduation. His life of achievement ended when he fell from a fraternity house near the University of Washington campus.

Zack Demars, another standout Cascade graduate, never had the chance to meet Jensen.

“I was just 2 years old when he passed away,” said Demars, 18, who on Monday was featured as The Herald’s Super Kid. “There’s no way I could have met him, but I’m so affected by his story. Everyone at Cascade is impacted. The Everett community is impacted.”

Demars and Sara Thomas, both 2017 Cascade graduates, received scholarships this spring awarded in Jensen’s honor.

For Demars, who is headed to the University of Oregon, it was a $10,000 Brett Akio Jensen Memorial Scholarship given by the Rotary Club of Everett. Thomas, now at Boise State University, received a $5,000 Cascade High School Brett Akio Jensen Memorial Scholarship.

On Saturday, Demars will be among hundreds of participants in Brett’s Run/Walk, starting at 9 a.m. at Legion Memorial Park in Everett. The event benefits the Brett Akio Jensen Memorial Scholarship Fund. The fund covers an annual $5,000 scholarship at Cascade and half of the Rotary scholarship, which the club bolsters with matching money.

Brett’s parents, Don and Jan Jensen, and his sister Megan Jensen Evans, started Brett’s Run in 2009. It’s their way to help others and carry on Brett’s positive approach to life. His family recalls that he lived by a motto, “carpe diem” — seize the day.

Education is at the family’s core. Don Jensen is a retired Cascade High counselor. His wife taught at Eisenhower Middle School. Their daughter is a school psychologist in Everett.

“It’s nearing about $150,000 that we’ve given out,” Don Jensen said Monday. His wife has made banners to be displayed at Saturday’s run showing all the scholarship winners’ names. “It’s pretty impressive,” he said.

The family has kept in touch with Brett’s friends and some scholarship recipients. One recipient, Carl Manhardt, graduated from Washington State University College of Pharmacy. Jensen said Manhardt stopped by recently and made a significant donation to the scholarship fund.

“His friends are having babies now and becoming successful young men,” said Jensen, whose loss is never far from his mind. “We’re never going to get over it, ever. You move on, learn how to cope.” The fundraising event “lifts our spirits,” he said.

More than a noncompetitive walk and run, the event will include a silent auction, with sports memorabilia, gift baskets, garden art and other items.

Demars said that although he never met Brett, he has seen the Jensens at Cascade. They have donated hundreds of turkeys to school food drives.

As they honor their son’s memory, the Jensens also have a stinging message about college fraternities and the dangers of alcohol. “They try to cover it up,” said Don Jensen, who remains disappointed in the UW for its response after his son died. “They didn’t send anybody to the house or the memorial. They wanted it to go away,” Jensen said.

In 2004, the Jensens settled a lawsuit against the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity for an undisclosed sum. They sued the UW chapter of the fraternity and the national organization for allegedly making alcohol available to minors. According to the lawsuit, Brett fell from his fraternity house deck after a “Century Club” party where participants drank a shot of beer every minute for 100 minutes.

Jensen said his son had little experience with alcohol. It’s an issue that affects students nationwide. At WSU last fall, fraternities and sororities temporarily banned social events after a 21-year-old student was found dead in his room at the Pi Kappa Phi house, and several rapes were reported in Pullman’s Greek Row area.

Rather than joining a fraternity, Demars will live in a dorm at Oregon. As a first-year student, he plans to be part of a media and social action academic residential community. As he leaves home, he won’t forget Brett’s tragedy.

“That something like this can happen to someone like that, it’s shocking,” Demars said. “I continue to be inspired by Brett, by all he’s done for Cascade and all that the Jensens have done. I’ll be taking what I’ve learned from them — their incredible kindness — to college with me.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Brett’s Run

Brett’s Run/Walk 2017, a 3.5-mile walk and event to benefit the Brett Akio Jensen Memorial Scholarship Fund, is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday starting at Legion Memorial Park, 145 Alverson Blvd., Everett. Online and mail registration closed, but participants may sign up at 8 a.m. Saturday. A silent auction and T-shirt pickup (for those registered in advance) also start at 8 a.m. Cost is $30, free for kids 12 and under. Information: https://brettjensen.wordpress.com/

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