|Graphic by Amy Gunter Jahn, Class of 1992|
Tomorrow by 8 a.m. hundreds of walkers, runners and cyclists will be gathering at Dog Beach for the ninth annual Celebrate Life run/walk.
Beginning tonight---and, even for some, a few previous nights this week---the Sandpoint High Class of 1992 celebrates its 20th-year reunion. They're gathering from all over the country and from several foreign countries.
First, I must say a little about this class. During their sophomore year in high school, they endured relentless encouragement, prodding---whatever you care to call it---from me while completing a major writing project.
"You'll be so proud and glad you did this," I would tell them. "It may not mean much to you now, but as the years pass, you'll be glad."
I learned a few years later that at least one student from the class took my encouragement to heart. Her acknowledgement turned out to be one of the most meaningful and joyous experiences of my teaching career.
And, her gesture ended up as the basis of a story in my third book Lessons with Love. It's called "Angela's Antics."
As a tease, I must tell you that Angela and I were NOT the best of friends while she was a student in my class.
In spite of that, an educational experience in that class succeeded beyond my wildest expectations, eventually leading to a valued friendship between the two of us.
The project involved interviewing and writing the stories of longtime Sandpoint residents, and the results were later published in Beautiful Bonner, a fascinating collection of history published by the Bonner County Historical Society.
Stories written by those students---twenty years later---have evolved into cherished, meaningful information as many of their subjects are no longer living.
The Class of 1992 was led during its senior year by Jenny Jacobson Meyer, who, as a sophomore, wrote about her grandpa Elmer Jacobson.
With that in mind, I'll just let the piece below, written for a recent edition of the Bonner County Daily Bee tell the "rest of the story."
After reading it, if you feel at all inclined to help with the Celebrate Life mission, an address for donations---any time of the year---is included below the story.
Class of 1992 Reunion Coincides with Celebrate Life
By Marianne Love
When Sandpoint High’s Class of 1992 gathers this weekend for its 20th-year reunion, alums will not only reflect on school days and respective life journeys, but many will also participate in the annual Celebrate Life Walk/Fun Run across Lake Pend Oreille.
The event was inspired by their Senior Class president Jenny Jacobson Meyer who died in 2008, leaving behind her husband Jeff, daughter Grace and a purposeful legacy through Celebrate Life.
“Jenny always got things done,” says 1992 grad Angela Warren Miller of Bend, Ore., a graduate of Whitman College where Jenny attended for two years before earning her degree from the University of Idaho.
“We could always count on her,” Miller adds. “I didn’t and don’t attend for to draw inspiration but to support my friend. If she decided there’s a need for Celebrate Life in our community, I’m going to be there. It’s as simple as that.”
We basically set the date so that we could attend and support Celebrate Life,” says reunion chair Suzanne Huguenin.
Several ‘92 classmates have participated in past years. The event not only raises funds for cancer patients locally but also reminds participants of Jenny’s mantra during her 8-year fight with cancer: celebrate every moment of life.
“Every year it's a mini class reunion because of our love for Jenny and this community,” Suzanne explains. “It's a way to reconnect and remember what really matters in life . . . our class continues to make a difference and support our community through Jenny and Julie's wonderful creation.”
Jenny, her sister Julie Walkington and January Tuinstra hatched the concept in 2004. Julie and January are dear friends and Registered Nurses at Bonner General Hospital (BGH).
With help from generous sponsors, a handful of dedicated friends (especially Nathan Jeffres) and family have organized and promoted the event each year. Participants pay an entry fee, receive a T-shirt and join an average of 400 other walkers, bikers or runners.
Registration forms are available at Meyer’s Sport Tees, Sandpoint Furniture and BGH. Those wishing to register online can visit www.bonnergeneral.org.
“It’s about making the [cancer] battle a bit easier with a small gift of encouragement,” Jenny explained in 2007. “[It’s] little things that help make a cancer patient see past the pain and make it through another day.”
Jenny’s wish for Celebrate Life was to keep both the event and distribution of funds simple.
“. . . a beautiful run, walk, pedal, stroll across the Long Bridge, followed by time to visit and enjoy a burger generously barbecued up by Sandpoint Furniture,” says Julie Walkington. “The fact that we are nine years into this and going strong is special in itself. We are becoming a known community support to those in the Sandpoint community battling cancer. That alone is special, and that is what Jenny would have wanted.”
“. . . no forms to fill out, no income specifications, no standards to meet . . .” that’s how Jenny described the process for BGH nurses distributing funds to cancer patients. “They can tell what kind of day you’re having, and if they think you need a pick-me-up, they can hand you over a coffee card [or] maybe you need groceries during the week . . . .”
Since its inception, Celebrate Life has raised $120,000, with every penny distributed locally through Bonner General’s Outpatient Clinic, Home Health, Hospice and Kootenai Cancer Center at BGH. Celebrate Life funds also give to many community cancer benefits.
Over the years, cancer patients have received gas/ restaurant vouchers, massages, coffee cards, firewood, house cleaning, medical equipment, family trips, airfare, car repairs, etc.
Huguenin, also a BGH nurse, has witnessed firsthand the effects Celebrate Life has had on patients and their families.
“It’s not only financial but emotional support,” she says. “The key to this weekend is celebrating our own lives, living in gratitude and love.”
Huguenin and her classmates will wear the Celebrate Life T-shirt with the embossed words “Walking for Jenny.”
Many will also reflect on memorable times with their beloved friend.
For example, grads Hilary Sheffler Howard, Dr. Cherise Neu, and Niki Parenteau vividly remember horse activities, singing duets, membership in the Evergreen Club (where Jenny aka “JJ” or “Jenny J” served as leader) and saving “fuzzy caterpillars” to take to school.
“We both had freckles, and our parents bought us matching coats in second grade,” Dr. Neu recalls. “She was an angel here on earth. We know she is in Heaven now. I can’t wait to see her some day again.”
Parenteau, a SETI Institute researcher http://www.seti.org/, arranged for the Celebrate Life T-shirt inscriptions and additional “Class of 1992” T-shirts.
For the past four years, Angela Rebella Knarr, her husband and daughter have come from California to participate in Celebrate Life.
Knarr, an attorney, often thinks of a day when she and Jenny sat outside the high school commiserating about the pressure they both felt to be “perfect.”
“ . . . we shared our fears, our frustrations and our hopes . . . it was as if we were both just able to drop the walls, be vulnerable and support each other,” she explains. “After that day, I loved Jenny even more because I had seen a side of her that wasn’t ‘perfect,’ and it made her even better.”
“Jenny was so proud of her sister for creating this nonprofit,” classmate Jodie Topp Lewis wrote. “It amazes me how hard Julie works on this throughout the year.”
As for Julie, January, Nathan and the rest of the Celebrate Life volunteers, they figure on working with the event as long as there’s a need.
“There are no words to convey the passion we have for this event,” she says. “There is nothing more fulfilling than being able to support local cancer patients and their families while honoring the memory of my sister.
“I pray” she adds, “that one day we will be celebrating the CURE of cancer as we run, walk, stroll or bike across the Bridge.”
Celebrate Life accepts donations at any time. Send to: Celebrate Life, P.O. Box 420, Ponderay, ID 83852