"I remember running after Brett died," he said. "It was tough. My heart was so heavy."
Brett Akio Jensen was 19, a student at the University of Washington, when he died in a fall from his fraternity balcony in 2002. At Everett's Cascade High School, where his father was a longtime counselor, he'd been a top student, class president and football player.
"In all my years in education, I never knew anyone like him. He loved life, and lived it to the fullest," said Jensen. He's made a habit of sharing his son's favorite saying, "carpe diem." Loosely translated, it's Latin for "seize the day."
He is now retired from counseling at Cascade, but in the years since Brett died, Jensen and his wife, Jan, have made sure their son's contributions aren't forgotten. Each spring, a Brett Akio Jensen Memorial Scholarship is awarded to a Cascade senior -- this year two students received $2,000 each.
The family also donates scholarship money in Brett's name to the Rotary Club of Everett. This year, their $3,000 gift was boosted by Rotary to become an $8,000 scholarship. In 2001, Brett Jensen had won a Rotary scholarship. In all, the Jensens have given more than $45,000 to help deserving students carry on Brett's legacy of scholastic excellence.
This summer, Don Jensen has combined a love of running with his devotion to his son's memory to organize the inaugural Brett Jensen Memorial Fun Run/Walk. It's scheduled for 8 a.m. Aug. 22 at Everett's American Legion Memorial Park. The route, a 3.4-mile loop, heads south through Grand Avenue Park and back to Legion.
It's a noncompetitive and untimed event with one big goal, "to keep Brett's memory alive," Jensen said. In doing that, the family wants to build the scholarship fund, emphasize health and fitness, and enjoy a day the way Brett would have.
Brett Jensen's name was in the news earlier this month when his retired No. 55 Cascade High football jersey was among items stolen from the school's gym. Championship footballs were also taken in the gym lobby theft. Jensen said that when Doug Kloke, Cascade's athletic coordinator, called him about the theft, "it was like getting kicked in the gut."
"All we can hope is that someone will have the courage to bring it back, even if it's left on the doorstep of Cascade High School in a plastic bag," he said.
The jersey evoked a cherished time for the Jensens, just as Don Jensen has poignant memories of past Father's Days with both his children. "Father's Day is still very special because of our wonderful daughter, Megan," he said. "We couldn't be prouder of who she is, and has become."
A graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in psychology, Brett's younger sister now works at the University of Washington. She is involved in researching student alcohol use and conducting student surveys.
"She feels like she's doing some good," Jensen said.
He said his son had never been a high school drinker, but that alcohol was part of the scene he found when he moved into the Pi Kappa Phi house. In 2004, the Jensens settled a lawsuit against the fraternity for an undisclosed sum. According to their lawyer, Brett Jensen died after a drinking party at Pi Kappa Phi.
Jensen, who laments his son's "one fatal error in judgment," wants to see improved safety in college residences and more supervision of teen students. When he read about a similar accident recently at UW, Jensen said, "I was saddened and sickened, but not surprised."
The fundraising run will celebrate a life ended way too soon. Brett Jensen would have turned 27 on Aug. 28. "We've decided to do the run on the Saturday before his birthday. It's one more way to keep his memory alive.
"A father couldn't ask for a better son," Jensen said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, email@example.com.
The family of Brett Jensen, a Cascade High School graduate who died in 2002, is planning a fun run to benefit the Brett Akio Jensen Memorial Scholarship Fund. The 3.4-mile run or walk is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. Aug. 22 at Everett's American Legion Memorial Park. Registration is $25 before July 31, or $30 later. Download a registration form at http://brettjensen.wordpress.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 425-338-1877.