One for 'Gups'
For 33 years, Don Jensen served the south Washington County area as a teacher and community leader. Even after his death, he continues to give back.
Jensen, a teacher at Royal Oaks Elementary in Woodbury and a longtime Woodbury resident, died of cancer in September 2011. Next month, Jensen's family is holding a golf tournament fundraiser at River Oaks Golf Course in Cottage Grove to benefit the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge.
"He was very near and dear to our hearts," said his daughter Sue O'Connell, 47. "My dad was huge into giving back to the community. If somebody needed something he was always there to help them out. We just wanted to give something back in his honor."
Hope Lodge gives cancer patients and their caregivers "a free, temporary place to stay when their best hope for effective treatment may be in another city." Hope Lodge provides a home-like atmosphere with a variety of resources where guests can stay in private rooms or interact with others in similar situations while fighting the disease. There are currently 31 Hope Lodge locations throughout the United States, including two in Minnesota - in Rochester and Minneapolis.
Jensen and his wife Char spent more than eight weeks at Hope Lodge, according to O'Connell.
"They allowed my mom and dad to stay there at no charge while dad was actively receiving treatment," said O'Connell. "They got to know a lot of people there and it became almost a home for them during that time."
Kayla Miller, Jensen's granddaughter and O'Connell's daughter, spearheaded the golf tournament in order to keep Jensen's memory alive, in addition to raising money and awareness for Hope Lodge.
"He is definitely a role model that all of us grandchildren looked up to," said Miller, 25. "He was somebody you could always talk to and he was probably the calmest person you'd ever meet in your entire life. He also would give you all his clothes if you were cold."
Because of his laid-back demeanor, some of Jensen's family members and close friends and co-workers called him Mr. Excitement, said O'Connell. But, she said, most of the Jensen's grandchildren called him "Gups" instead of "grandpa," but O'Connell and Miller said they didn't know how it started.
"Ever since I was little I remember calling him that," said Miller, who currently lives in Cottage Grove. "I have no idea why, but that's what everybody did."
O'Connell, the food and beverage manager at River Oaks since 2000, said her dad was "dedicated to his community and his family" and that is a reason why the family continues to do things for him.
"We're a pretty close family and my dad went to every sporting event or anything the kids did. This is kind of their way for them to give back to him," O'Connell said.
Jensen, who was a fifth grade teacher was 68 when he passed away. Jensen spent most of his summer months with his family at their cabin, but wasn't really a golfer.
"We have a lot of family that plays golf, so I figured this was a way to get everyone together during the summer. But, he loved the summer and going to the cabin," Miller said. "We're hoping to have tons of people. I know we're going to have tons of family and friends and a lot of people that my grandfather taught with. I know some people that don't golf have been practicing. It should be a lot of fun.
"Cancer can effect anybody in one way or another. If we can bring some awareness to that, we'll be very happy."