Some of the members of RPHS class of 2002 gathered at the R-P Softball Field on May 23 to remember a well-loved classmate, Denise Jacobson Evans, who passed away June 28, 2020, from complications of diabetes. Denise was the R-P team pitcher; she loved and excelled at softball — she loved all sports. Her classmates thought it only fitting to plant a Norway Maple tree in her honor right in back of home plate. In addition, the class will be donating $100 to Gundersen Clinic in La Crosse for diabetes research in Denise’s honor; Denise had been a nurse at Gundersen. They will be giving the remaining funds they collected to the R-P FFA, another of Denise’s passions.
Denise’s friends remembered her funeral as bittersweet. Since it took place during the
COVID pandemic, it was held outside at the Highland Prairie Park near the stone bandshell on a gorgeous June day. Kate Gudmundson Gellerson described it as a beautifully quiet day, a heartbreaking day, when family and friends mourned the loss of someone gone too soon.
Ashley Klinger Petty was one of Denise’s best friends since first grade; they became inseparable throughout school.
Denise was one of seven; she had an older brother, three older sisters and two younger sisters. She was a country girl, sewing 4-H projects and showing cattle. Ashley commented that any time she wanted to play in the summer, Denise would be busy on her projects. At school, the girls would play sports together.
After graduation they headed off to WSU together, and then moved on to UW Milwaukee together. They worked together while in college at Brookdale Senior Living — Denise cared for residents, while Ashley was the activities director.
Denise had started out college planning on a degree in business or finance, but she quickly discovered nursing was her real passion. Both Ashley and Denise came back to Brookdale communities; Denise as an RN in the La Crosse and Winona area and Ashley as a sales and marketing director in the Twin Cities area.
Ashley remembers Denise as a fantastic nurse, a caring, kind, compassionate person who had “zero excuses to miss work.” Denise was easy-going; she never looked down on anyone. “She made me a better person,” Ashley declared. “She was the ying and I was the yang. She was quiet, and I brought her out of her comfort zone.”
The class of 2002 quickly and efficiently planted the tree in Denise’s memory. Jessica Reed Rasmussen pulled up with the tree in her horse trailer; Bob Petty, Lance Rasmussen, and Katie Ristau dug the hole, and Adrienne Britson dipped water from a nearby hole to water the tree. After closing remarks by class president Adrienne Briston and pictures, the group quietly chatted, remembering their friend Denise before slowly drifting away.
Denise’s parents, Ken and Helen Jacobson, will be able to look out a window from their nearby townhouse and see the tree planted to honor Denise at the R-P Softball field. Hopefully, this will bring them pleasant memories of their sweet and kind daughter, Denise Jacobson Evans.