Clinton's Bob Jensen leaves behind a legacy of kindness

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

CLINTON—On a fall day more than 45 years ago, the new girl at Clinton Junior High had her books thrown out the window by a group of bullies.

The teacher blamed the girl for not having her books, and she ended up in Principal Bob Jensen's office.

Jensen understood intuitively there was more to the story, and made the new girl feel at ease. He also got the bullies to leave her alone.

Jensen, 75, died Friday at his home in Clinton. Along with his wife, Mary, and three children, Jensen is survived by thousands of acts of kindness.

From 1966 to 1998, he worked for the Clinton School District, first as junior high principal, then as superintendent.

After his retirement, he continued to work in his community, volunteering his time and connecting with people who needed his support.

Julie Knutson, a former Clinton teacher and school board member, said she heard the story of the “new girl” at her book club this week.

“There were six of us there,” Knutson said. “Everybody there had a positive experience with him.”

There would be very few people who knew Jensen “who wouldn't have experienced his kindness on some level,” she said.

And it wasn't just children.

His daughter Jan Jensen-Davis said every Sunday after church she and her siblings would go visiting at the nursing home, taking homemade cards and artwork.

“He would call up in advance and ask about people who didn't have any relatives living nearby,” Jensen-Davis said.

Those lonely nursing home residents became extra sets of grandparents, an extension of family. 

Jensen was a prolific artist, both personally and professionally. In a 1975 profile in The Gazette, Jensen said he was at the point where he had to turn down commercial art jobs, “Either that or go into it full time, which I am not interested in at all.”

In 1970, Jensen agreed to provide paintings for the bare walls of Meadow Park Nursing Home that had just opened. When those were purchased, he painted more.

His art and creativity were vehicles for his kindness. He made cards of all kinds for people: sick children in the hospital, former students, staff members and those he knew were struggling and needed support.

In 1988, before a trip to Japan, Jensen took up origami. Those animals were added to the cards.

When Knutson's son Kyle was in fourth grade, he got sick and had to stay home for an extended period.

“Bob made him an origami mobile,” Knutson said. “It hung in his room for several years.”

Deb Ducharme, Jensen's niece, said that he routinely wrote and illustrated books for the children he knew.

“Every birthday I would get a book,” Ducharme said. “It featured me—'Debby's adventures.'”

Jensen-Davis remembers her father reading a newspaper story about a girl who was chronically ill. The story encouraged readers to send her cards.

“My dad sent her a card every day,” Jensen-Davis said. “I remember going to visit her in the hospital with my brothers and sisters.”

Where did all that kindness come from?

Jensen-Davis said her dad's father died when Jensen was 10 years old.

“His mother had to raise him, his twin brother and his older and younger brothers during the Depression,” Jensen-Davis said.

In high school, Jensen got a paper route, saved his money and put himself through college. He also put one of his brothers through college.

Both Jensen and his wife were teachers and “lead by example,” Jensen-Davis said.

While working at the school district, Jensen was instrumental in establishing the student and teacher exchange program with Tow Iwate-Ken School District in Japan. The exchange continues to this day.

Last updated: 5:41 pm Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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