Remembering Jarrod: DePaul Announces Track and Field Scholarship
June 5, 2013
Memorial Day is always a somber day of reflection, but this year it carried additional weight for the DePaul community. Each May, on the last Monday of the month, the country presses pause to remember the sacrifices and contributions made by men and women lost in military service.
Blue Demons grieve this spring for an additional reason, as this year's holiday also happened to be the day former student-athlete Jarrod Jahnke would have turned 33.
Last July, the DePaul family lost a cherished companion when Jahnke - a gifted track & field athlete and member of the class of 2004 - suddenly passed away from a heart attack.
At DePaul, where he was a two-time Conference USA champion in the hammer throw, Jahnke had the credentials to be remembered for his track and field exploits alone. In 2004, he defended his first C-USA title by winning his signature event by 23-plus feet.
Talk to anyone who knew him, however, and athletic prowess is usually the last thing brought up in conversation.
"There are so many people that I could think of at least one negative thing to say about, but he was just one of those rare people that you never really thought anything other than great things about," said former teammate and current assistant track and field coach Leah Bohr. "I would just say he was the definition of what a Blue Demon is."
Most recall fondly Jahnke's presence at meets, cheering his teammates on. Now, even in passing, his aura will continue to shine on the program with the birth of an annual scholarship bearing his name. A $50,000 anonymous contribution was received by the university this year and will serve as the starting point for what will someday be a endowed full scholarship for a member of the throws program.
Current track and field head coach Dave Dopek, who will have the final word on future recipients of the honor, says those recipients will share the same qualities Jahnke brought to the team on a daily basis. That means he or she will have to work hard, remain coachable, have fun and be an inspirational teammate all while not feeling forced to live up to the name on the award.
Dopek says Jahnke was the perfect example of someone whose extraordinary deeds did not go unnoticed even though he couldn't have cared less about personal recognition.
"The interesting thing for me is, in order for Jarrod to have a legacy at DePaul, we have to do something that was against his nature - which is talk about himself, or be about himself or identify great things about himself," said Dopek, who was an assistant coach during Jahnke's time in Lincoln Park. "I keep saying he was a great teammate and he focused more on helping others, which obviously is very Vincentian of him. But he was good at that."
"It's also very interesting to me that when you talk about an individual when they're around, and then you talk about them when they aren't around - oftentimes things change and there are different conversations. That doesn't change with Jarrod. He was loved. He was very much loved by everyone around here."
At the time of his death, Jahnke had been accepted into the U.S. Army Officers' Training Corps and was in the midst of a rigorous training regimen as he prepared to head off to boot camp.
Following his graduation in 2004, Jahnke had worked in the financial industry with an abundance of success. Still, he expressed a lack of fulfillment to friends and explored career options in fire protection and police work before deciding to serve in the military.
Another former DePaul thrower, Carey Ryan - himself a three-time Conference USA champion in the hammer throw - trained with Jahnke for two years on campus and credits his friend with helping him get through the staggering amount of work required of a Division I track and field athlete.
"If there was one thing I could say about Jarrod that was a negative, it was a positive," said Ryan. "The only thing about Jarrod is that every now and then he'd be late to practice. He'd leave with plenty of time to get to practice, but he literally could not walk the three blocks from his dorm room to where we practiced without getting stopped by people wanting to talk."
The pair remained close after graduating and going into different jobs in the financial field.
"Losing Jarrod has been very difficult for me personally, but I am most disappointed for my son, Henry," said Ryan, who continued to work out with Jahnke as he prepared to join the Army. "I really wanted Henry to be a part of Jarrod's life, and have him as a role model. One of my last memories of Jarrod is watching him play with Henry and giving him tons of hugs and kisses."
Warm recollections abound when it comes to Jahnke, a local product of Lisle, Ill. who originally began his college athletic career as a football player at Augustana College. When he made the decision to transfer to DePaul for track and field, he came with much to prove - eventually working his way up from a partial to full scholarship by the time his senior year came.
That an anonymous donor and other former teammates have now moved to begin a scholarship fund in his name, then, is no surprise to anybody who knew Jahnke during his time on campus.
"So many people have come forward, who had a connection with Jarrod at DePaul, and they all really wanted to do something to honor him," said Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto. "It was that same sort of feeling that people had, that he was a truly good person who was all about the entire team."
"It's a great compliment to him, I think, that his teammates feel so warmly and kind about wanting to make sure that his name goes on in perpetuity with our men's and women's track programs. For my part, it's very heartwarming to see his teammates and former classmates want to do this in recognition and in honor of how it was that he touched their lives in such a positive way."
Though abruptly taken from this life, Jahnke's memory, as well as his kindness and passion, will influence future Blue Demon throwers without end. And while he may not have wanted the attention, his story will continue to be told through the Jarrod Jahnke Memorial Scholarship.
"I think his legacy is just being a person who brought people together at the time and will now bring people together forever, said Associate Athletics Director Kathryn Statz. "He epitomizes everything our throws program has always been about, which is getting each other's backs and lifelong friendships."
About the Jarrod Jahnke Scholarship:
An anonymous donor made a gift of $50,000 to name the scholarship in Jarrod's honor. The endowed scholarship annually will be designated to a thrower on the track & field squad.
Alumni, friends and family can contribute the the Jarrod Jahnke Scholarship via the internet through our on-line giving portal https://alumni.depaul.edu/Athletics/ or by calling DePaul Athletic Development at 773-325-7240.
Individuals can name an endowed Scholarship with a gift of $50,000. Each year the percentage of the interest on the endowment will be given to the worthy recipient. To fully endow a full scholarship requires a gift of $1 million.