On a hot, sultry August day in 1934, in a farm home with no indoor plumbing and no electricity, Jay Jessen was born. He came from tough, uncomplaining country folk. To support his family during the Great Depression, Jay's father, Peter Jessen, raised fruit and vegetables to sell at market. The overabundance of certain crops gave Jay a life-long aversion to cucumbers and pears.
Jay attended a one-room country school, grades one through eight; high school years were in the small town of Garwin. By the time Jay was 16, he became a "hired man" at a neighbor's farm, where he worked for room and board. When he graduated from high school, he moved to the town of Dysart, where he lived with an aunt's family and worked at a seed corn company.
At 18, he enlisted in the US Air Force and received training as an electrician. For most of his four-year hitch, he worked on a top secret plane based in Frankfurt, Germany. Everyone at the base was curious about that plane; only after about 50 years was the information declassified and Jay shared with his family the story of what was, during the Korean War time frame, the most advanced camera system available to the military.
While in Germany, Jay met the love of his life, an Iowa girl raised just five miles away from his Iowa home. He and Helen Ruth Grimes married in Switzerland, and in 1956 returned to Iowa. Jay took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled at Iowa State College in Ames. He graduated in 1961 with a bachelor of science degree.
Jay's main career was as a National Park Service ranger. His first duty assignment was at Colonial National Historic Park, followed by Catoctin Mountain Park, Big Bend National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Boston Navy Yard, and finally Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, where Jay retired from the Park Service in 1988. He immediately changed hats and became well known in the community as the operator of his own business, Jay's Home Repair. After ten years another retirement gave Jay and Ruth plenty of time to travel in their little motor home, looking for birds in every state of the union.
All of his life, Jay did things his way; in death, he did the same. He determined in August that he would not extend his life by chemotherapy, but would leave this earth as naturally as possible. His wife, Ruth, and children, Michael Spencer, Kent David, and Janis Kay, were with him in his final hours.
Memorial services will be held on Monday, October 22nd, at the Northern California Veterans Cemetery at 9:30, and at 11:30 at Redding Christian Fellowship at 2157 Victor in Redding, California.
Remembrances may be sent to Ruth Jessen, 851 Mission De Oro, #101, Redding, CA 96003.