In July we launched a new program to help Missoulians honor the legacy of those they have lost. The idea behind the program, which provides an online platform for friends and family to donate gifts in memory of a loved one, came from Tara Jensen, a supporter who lost her father in 2016. We sat down with Tara to learn more about her dad, Greg Jensen, and why this program matters.
How old was your dad when he passed away?
My dad was only 59 when he died suddenly from a heart attack. Many years ago he made the commitment to be an organ donor, and we were grateful to honor his wish.
How would you describe your dad?
My dad had a remarkable ability to make every person he met feel incredibly special. It felt that way because he was truly interested in hearing what they had to say. One person wrote me a sympathy card that said, “I didn’t know your father well. I only talked to him around the neighborhood. But every time I talked to him, for those few minutes, I felt like I was his best friend.”
What did your dad value most about Conrad, MT?
Even though my parents met in Havre, they built their lives together in Conrad. My dad was a teacher and later a principal. He loved his students, whether he was teaching his 2nd grade class or coaching the high school tennis team. He enjoyed giving the kids hugs when they walked into the school and playing with them at recess. He also took pleasure in interacting with parents and community members and working with his fellow educators.
After he passed away, how did you honor your dad’s memory? What surprised you about that process?
Because my father’s death was so sudden, we had to quickly plan the funeral, notify family members, and take care of all the other painful things that need to be done after you lose someone. We knew people would want to donate in his memory, and we also knew we had to make decisions right away.
My sister suggested setting up a scholarship in his name. Unfortunately, the Conrad Scholars program did not have a way to donate online, so a friend set up a Go Fund Me page. This served its purpose, but it felt impersonal and even a bit awkward to use a national platform only a day or two after he died.
Why did you approach the Missoula Community Foundation with the idea of creating personalized memorial pages?
It took me a year or so after my dad’s passing to think about what happened. I remember how hasty the process was. We understood that people would want to respond quickly and we needed to have method to accommodate donations. After reflection, I knew there should be a better way to honor those we have lost and make the process a bit easier for loved ones.
Meredith [MissoulaCF’s executive director] and I met for coffee and together we developed the idea to have the Missoula Community Foundation host individual memorial pages on their website. We envisioned a program that gave families a safe and secure way to collect donations, in which the process would be set up quickly and managed sensitively by staff. The Missoula Community Foundation could hold the funds until the family was ready to decide where to donate them – whether that would be in a month or a few years.
The program also has the added benefit of helping Missoula nonprofits – and the Missoula Community Foundation specifically. Instead of giving processing fees to Go Fund Me they can stay right here in Missoula and help out other families in our community.
What would you say to those going through this process? Did creating a personalized memorial page provide any solace?
When I lost my dad, I felt an urge to do everything immediately for fear that people would forget him and what an amazing man he was. The advice I would give to families and friends experiencing loss is to give yourself some time to make legacy decisions. There is time to decide, and their memory will always be with you. You can continue to honor them as long as you choose.
It has been a few years since my dad passed, and we’ve awarded four scholarships to Conrad High School graduates. Even though it is hard, it brings a bit of solace to know that his memory and life’s work live on.
Did your dad give you any advice that you’d like to share?
My dad gave great advice, but it was the way he lived his life that people remember and talk about. Here are some of the lessons from my dad:
• Ask others about their lives and really listen
• Laugh a lot
• Be exactly who you are
• Notice the beauty in the world
• Challenge yourself to do great things
• Be curious
• Take advantage of every single day
To set up a memorial page for a loved one or as part of your own legacy planning preparations, please visit our Giving in Memory page or contact Nikki Robb at (406) 926-2846 or firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.