Keith D. Jensen - A Son's Tribute

(Thoughts I shared at my dad's given funeral today.)

The greatest compliment I ever received was, “You look just like your dad.” And the greatest compliment of my dad that I’ve ever heard, I heard last night at the viewing from Jim Young when he said, “Keith was my best friend.” I think there are a number of people who would say the same.

I want to begin with the most important thing about Dad. It’s what makes him my hero. It’s what makes me want to be more like him in my life.

Dad was born the youngest boy of 8 children. He has one younger sister. His father suffered from allergies, so dad did all the farm work as a teenager. His father also struggled with alcoholism and was not often a kind or tender man. Dad’s parents were divorced because of this after all the kids had left home. 

We all know that the cycle of abuse often goes from generation to generation. But Dad broke that cycle. Neighbors would take him to church where he learned to love the Lord and formed a desire to serve Him all his life. 

Dad’s testimony of Jesus Christ and the Atonement is deep and profound. He worked all his life to emulate the Savior, loving everyone and taking every opportunity to serve them. He was kind, gentle and patient with his family and neighbors. They saw in him a spiritual power that exceeded his tremendous physical strength.

I never saw him raise his voice or a hand to anyone. He was never vengeful, nor did he demand payment for hay that others had taken on credit. As a child, I could not understand that. Eventually I came to understand it. Truly he lived the phrase, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

Dad taught me many things that have served me well in my life. 

He taught me to be inventive. Our first bale wagon had two rod levers to control hydraulic operations. The furrows in the fields often tipped bales flat, so they needed to be turned up on their edge before the bale wagon could pick them up.

I would ride on the tractor wheel fender and jump off to run ahead and turn the flat bales. That was not particularly safe or efficient, so Dad got inventive. He selected an old steel seat, probably from a horse drawn hay rake—you never knew when something like that was going to come in handy, he’d say.

With the seat welded to the side of the bale loader, we went back to work. I would sit there and jump off and run ahead to turn the flat bales and wait for the seat to catch up to me. The only trouble was that the bale loader needed to be raised just an inch or two at the end of the field to turn around without gouging the hay with the skid. 

Dad would pull on the lever that operated the chain on the bale loader a little further and raise it up just a little with me riding on that seat. On one of those turns, the lever got stuck. The bale loader launched me up and over to the other side of the wagon. Dad stopped hauling and we went straight to the shop where he promptly cut off the seat.

And that is how we got our first motorcycle. Todd and I would take turns riding that Kawasaki up and down the furrow rutted hay fields turning the fallen bales up on their side. It was great fun.

Dad taught me to embrace change. He installed pressurized irrigation and bought wheel lines and hand lines. He improved and upgraded his equipment lineup from time to time. He reclaimed ground that had been overwhelmed with salt grass and alkali. We chained two tractors together to plow that sod. He loved John Deere but wasn’t afraid to use something else when it made sense—which was not that often. Just get the job done. That was the important thing.

Dad taught me to read scripture. He would often gather the family at 6 a.m. to read the Book of Mormon. Each member of the family took turns reading. Dad would correct our pronunciation and prompt us if we got stuck. Whenever I hear someone struggle with reading scripture, I remember Dad’s love for scripture. They were sacred and we ought to read them properly.

Dad taught me to work. Once or twice, up and down the field, and he’d put me in the driver’s seat. Another round while he watched and corrected me when I messed up. Then he would go work on something else until I was done, broke down, or hungry. Later in my teen years, sometimes a friend would ride along with me as I worked. They were always amazed that I was able to operate machinery. I took great pride in that as a kid. Thanks, Dad.

Dad taught us to love the Lord. He would bear his testimony to us. He would have us all kneel in family prayer. He never shirked his duties in the Church. He read his scriptures nearly every day. He sat us down to watch General Conference every six months. He gave wise counsel and never had an unkind word for anyone.

Dad taught me to serve others. When it would snow heavily, he would send me with the old John Deere 3020 and blade to LaMar Sherman’s place to plow the snow all the way up the hill to his house. Doing that small act of kindness always made me feel warmer inside.

Dad taught me to solve problems with what I had. There was not always time to go to town to get a new part, so he would weld a fix and we would get back to work. I became an expert welders helper and I learned the fine art of holding a flashlight to help him work in the dark to get a machine fixed and running again. And that is a rare skill. 

Dad taught me that you go to the house and eat dinner ONLY when the work is done. And perhaps that was the most important lesson.

I testify that God lives and loves us. I know that Jesus is the Christ and that He suffered and died for our sins that we might be made pure and worthy to live with Him and the Father forever. All we need to do is have faith in Him, keep His commandments, make and keep covenants, and most importantly endure to the end. 

That’s what he taught me. And Dad did all of that. He loved his sons for the work they did on the farm, but he might have appreciated the hard work that my sisters did even more. He told Mom that the boys worked hard in the fields until they got hungry and then they’d come looking for something to eat. But the girls would stay out on the tractor all day until the job was done.

Even when Alzheimer’s was robbing him of his memories, he would put on his coat, hat and gloves and go feed the cows and horses twice a day, every day. After years of doing that, he had worn a deep trail from the house to the corrals under the red rock bench in Ioka.

Last summer when Mom wasn’t able to care for Dad, he spent the very last of his energies in mortality lifting the spirits of his new neighbors at the care center. He would go from room to room, shake everyone’s hand and tell them how glad he was to see them. He did not need to remember them. He knew they were his brothers and sisters.

Yes, Dad taught us all to stay until the job is done. He taught us to endure to the end. This lesson defines his life. He learned it at an early age and continued doing it until the very end. 

Perhaps his headstone could read, “He stayed until the job was done.”

Keith D. Jensen - A Life Sketch

(I wrote this life sketch of of my dad to be read by my sisters at the funeral today:)

Keith Devon Jensen was born June 4th, 1940, in Huntington, Utah. He was the youngest boy of 8 children. His parents were John Alferd Jensen and Ila Woolman. Until he was 9 years old, he spent summers at his father’s sawmill in Huntington Canyon. He played in the big piles of sawdust and loved the old steam engine whistle.

His parents sent him to Primary and Sunday School. Valiant leaders and neighbors helped Keith learn to love the Lord and to serve Him. His patriarchal blessing promised he would serve a mission, so he was disappointed that he could not afford to go. Much later in life he served joyfully as a ward and stake missionary, going with the full time missionaries to teach and serve many members of his community. 

Keith learned to work hard as young man. Fun and games were for other kids. There was always a cow to milk or farm work to do. His father had terrible allergies, so Keith did all of the farm work as a teenager. That work ethic showed in everything he did in his life.

In high school, Keith joined the pep club to be closer to LaRue McElprang, a cute sophomore in the band. Soon they began dating and became sweethearts. While LaRue finished high school, Keith sold his horse in order to attend college in Price. He studied auto mechanics.

Keith would catch a ride from Huntington to Price with his sister-in-law on her way to work in the morning and hitchhike back home in the afternoon to see LaRue. Date money came from a tool pusher job at the college.  

LaRue graduated from high school in 1960 and by December of that year Keith gathered enough courage to ask LaRue’s dad for permission to marry her. To his delight, Milton McElprang agreed and on Christmas eve that year, Keith proposed to LaRue. They were married on July 28, 1961, in the Manti Temple.

They moved to Salt Lake City and lived in the old Liberty Park ward. Todd was born a year and a day later and Tyler arrived about three years after that.

Keith worked as a mechanic for about a year then went to work for Linford Brothers Glass. It wasn’t long before he became a journeyman glazer. He installed windows in the old Deseret Gym where he fell from a scaffold and broke his pelvis. Healing was slow but he was back at work some weeks later. As the new guy, it fell to Keith to install windows in the research facility at Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge south of south of Dugway Proving Grounds. On the long dirt road home in the dark, he fell asleep and drove of the road into the desert. When he woke up there was no road and no way to see where it was, so he turned the wheel in the direction he thought he should go until he found the road again, guessing which way was home. He guessed right.

In addition to working as a glazer, Keith and LaRue worked to manage several rental homes owned by LaRue’s father. They loved their friends but longed for a simpler life away from the city. LaRue’s father bought ground in Cedar View and Hancock Cove. Keith and LaRue moved to the Cove in 1966 into a little red brick house. A few years later, Keith and LaRue bought the farm from her father and continued to help manage the herds on the pastures in Cedar View.

Keith farmed and started a dairy which ended in devastation when the herd got out into a fresh alfalfa field and most of the cows died from bloat. It was a monumental struggle, but Keith and LaRue carried on and kept the farm. 

Keith gained a reputation among his neighbors as a friend to all with a kind smile, warm handshake, and generosity with his time. He often traded labor with fellow farmers, each helping to harvest silage. He was known to sell hay to many on credit when he knew they would never be able to pay him, and he never worried about getting paid.

Four daughters followed and then a son from 1967 to 1980, Ruth Ann, Melissa, Rebecca, Maria, and David. A few years later Leonardo was adopted from Colombia. A perfect crew for farming and moving handlines. All the children learned to work hard on the farm, acquiring skills and learning a work ethic that have served them all well throughout their lives.

Keith often leased additional farm ground. He was particular about producing good alfalfa hay. He would often rise at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning to go bale hay with the perfect dew on. On one morning, he drove through town to one of those farms just a little too fast. Two young Roosevelt City police officers pulled him over. He didn’t have his seat belt on, so he jumped out of the old Bronco and walked back to the police car.

“Does your mama know where you boys are at this time of night?” he asked.

They told him how fast he was going.

“Oh, that old thing. It can’t even go that fast,” he said.

They asked where he was going in such a hurry.

“I’m going to bale hay. Why? Do you want to come help?” he asked.

No. They did not want to help and waived him on his way.

The farm in Hancock Cove eventually became Sterling Meadows. Other farm ground was acquired and leased. Keith continued to work the farm while LaRue worked at the hospital in Roosevelt. In the mid ‘90s, they moved the family to Ioka where LaRue still lives.

Keith was a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving over the years as Sunday School president, Elders Quorum president, High Councilor, Bishop, Young Men’s president, and dedicated ward and stake missionary and home teacher. He loved the people he served and did so because of his firm faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His dedicated service to others led many in our community to renewed faith and activity in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Keith and LaRue’s children have blessed them with 35 amazing grandchildren with 8 spirited great-grandchildren. Two more are on their way. They have all learned to love Grandma and Grandpa spanning many years, each with precious memories of days on the farm. Jaelise, one of the oldest grandchildren (my oldest), put it this way:

“Cowboy shirts. Mint gum. Baling twine. Puttin' around. Rodeo broadcasts. Always teasin'. Four-wheeler rides. Sandwich cookies. Silly faces. Farmers hands. Warm hugs. Sly grins. Morning chores. Biggest heart. Best gramps of a lifetime.

“I wish grandpas never died...”

Keith and LaRue also invited into their home four Navajo foster children, John Thomas, Dorothy Smith-Bain, Ruby Thomas Dickson, and Gilbert James. John has passed on. Mom and the older kids who knew them still stay in touch with the girls. Ruby and Dorothy still call them Mom and Dad. In all they spent a total of 6 years in Keith and LaRue’s home. John spent many additional summers working for Dad on the farm.

Some years ago Mom knew that Dad was losing his ability to remember. Eventually he agreed and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. One of the hardest days in his life was watching his farm equipment being auctioned off after accepting that he would no longer be able to work the farm. He kept a bright smile and appreciated all who came to help.

He continued to do the chores every morning and every night, putting on his coat, hat and gloves, and walking the well worn path to the corrals until finally he could not even remember how to do that. He retained his personality and love of others until the very last.

Mom cared for Dad until she was physically unable to adequately care for his needs. Her hardest day was leaving him at the care center in Vernal last summer. She visited him several times each week. 

The caregivers at the nursing home called Mom not many days after he was admitted. They asked if Keith had been a bishop. Yes, Mom said, and asked why. They told her that he spent his day going from room to room, shaking hands and telling residents he was glad to see them and cheering them up. The nursing staff said he changed the whole unit because of this.

His memory may have failed him but his heart never did.

People Are Like Cows

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing one of the best sermons I've ever heard from a pulpit. I was visiting the services held for the residents of the care center where my dad is now being cared for because of advanced Alzheimer's disease. Mom and I and two of my children were there with Dad. 

The speaker was an old rancher who apologized for his lack of experience in religious speaking and knowledge of scripture and doctrine. Instead he said he would talk about cows because that's what he knows. He said cows are a lot like people.

He told a story of when he was nearly 12 years old and assigned the responsibility of moving the herd from winter range in the valley to summer range on the mountain. He was excited to be named trail boss as his only hand was another boy a few months younger than himself. The two boys were to get the herd to a midway point where they would meet the older boy's dad who would help them finish the drive.

Eager to show his dad how good of a cowboy he could be, the young trail boss worked very hard to keep all the cows on the road and moving along perfectly. His horse was doing a lot of work and once the two boys arrived at the midpoint, the horse had worked up a lather of sweat.

As the boys ate their breakfast, brought by the dad, the cows and horses rested. Before getting started up the mountain again, the father took his son aside and told him, "Son, a good cowboy doesn't work his horse on cows that are headed in the right direction."

Our speaker said he has thought about that wisdom his entire life. He continued with the story, indicating that when they got the cows moving again, he noticed that most of them were heading in the right direction. Some would wander a little off the road. Some would take a little shortcut when the road turned. 

When they arrived at the gate to the winter range, he had to ride up ahead of the herd to open the gate so the cows could go through. He opened the gate and looked back. There were about a dozen trails leading to the gate from all directions made from so many previous years. He realized that most of the cows were always going in the right direction generally and would eventually get to the gate from one direction or another.

He told us that people are like those cows and the gate is like baptism and other ordinances of the gospel. Many of us wander by the wayside, but as long as we're headed in the right direction, the Lord through His grace will help us get through the gate. 

So if you're riding herd on your kids or others in your life who need to get through the gates, you ought to take it easier when they are heading in the right direction. Just follow along and keep 'em going toward the gate. The Lord will do the rest.

Keith D. Jensen - My Father

Dad is a mountain of a man. At 79 his grip is still firm. His hands are made from the large bones and rawhide of decades of daily hard work. His eyes pierce you as he looks through your exterior to see your soul with love beyond comprehension, as if to say, "It'll be alright. Just keep'a goin'."

Born the second youngest of four boys and four girls, Dad grew up working at the saw mill and on the farm. His own father suffered from allergies and alcoholism, so Dad spent his teen years taking care of the farm by himself. He learned quickly to rely on himself to solve the problems that come with running a farm. 

As a boy he responded to the invitation of a neighbor to attend church and became a devoted servant of God, attending his meetings, reading the scriptures and serving others. He wanted to serve a mission but funds were scarce. Instead he attended Carbon College, married his high school sweetheart, LaRue McElprang, and started a family.

Dad and Mom raised eight kids on a farm just outside of Roosevelt, Utah -- Todd, me, Ruth, Melissa, Rebecca, Maria, David, and Leo. We all learned to work and shoulder responsibility. We learned to love one another and to get along (not always perfectly). 

Dad raised a lot of hay. He fed some of it to his own cows and horses. He sold most of it to pay the bills. And he gave much of it away to neighbors who promised to pay one day but never could. He never bothered them about it. Eventually, when David was old enough to go to school, Mom went to work at the hospital to make up for the dwindling of the farm income. But Dad never gave up on the farm. He worked and worked and some years were good and others not so much.

As Alzheimer's began to take it's toll, Dad did the bravest and most humble thing I have ever witnessed. He agreed with Mom to sell all the equipment he had accumulated over the years to pay off the farm and house and hang up his farmer's hat. It may have been the most difficult thing I ever saw him do. He put on a brave face as friends, neighbors and relatives attended the auction to take away the instruments of his livelihood, the tools and machines that had come to symbolize and define so much of his life.

Even then for years after that, Dad would put on his hat and coat twice a day to venture out to the corrals to feed the dwindling number of horses and cows. He wore a trail through to the ground making this trip more than 700 times a year. This ritual is such a part of him, that he still puts on his hat and coat to go out. He gets as far as the garage and cannot remember what's next, eventually returning to the house, not knowing why.

Now with his memories beyond his reach, I introduce myself to him when I visit and tell him, "I'm Tyler. I'm your son," and he smiles with sweet surprise and joy, hugs me and asks, "Did I do a good job?" 

Yes, Dad, you did a very good job!

Happy Father's Day!

Love and Wisdom from Dad

Yesterday we enjoyed a visit with my parents to celebrate my mother's birthday. Three of my four children were able to join us. My brother and his wife and his two sons and a daughter-in-law were also there. My oldest daughter brought a favorite client whom we love and have adopted over the last 10 years, not legally, but in every other way. In total we had 13 plates around the table and overflowing to the kitchen counter.

Usually a crowd of this size is disquieting to my dad who suffers from Alzheimer's and gets very confused and sometimes anxious when a big crowd visits. After we ate a fine Sunday meal of pot roast with potatoes and carrots with green salad prepared by my dear wife and a wonderful lemon cake made by my brother's wife, the group retired to the family room to visit with Mom and amongst themselves.

Dad looked on for a few minutes, standing at the edge of the room, but the large group with so many voices made it impossible for him to join in. I took him to the living room not far away but just far enough. We sat on the sofa and looked out upon the field of harvested corn covered mostly by recent snow. And we talked. He is not able to express himself well anymore, but if you quietly and patiently listen, you can hear his words of love and wisdom trickling through the fragments of his speech. He asked what I would do next or where I would go. I told him I would go home and work. In his way he asked about that and my family. In brief and short sentences, I told him about them and my concerns for them.

While he was unable to complete each of his thoughts filled with bits of wisdom and encouragement, but I found myself understanding more and more of what he was trying to say, sometimes finishing his thought for him to which he would then agree. I felt his spirit communicating with me in only a way that a loving father can. I was comforted and leaned my head on his shoulder and gradually fell asleep. He sat quietly there as I slept for about half an hour. Perhaps he slept as well. I'm told my children were checking on me as they made plans to leave and, finding me still asleep, they would return to the other room to chat more with my mom and their cousins.

I am deeply grateful for such wonderful rest and the blessings of my dad's wisdom and love which still has the power to transcend the disease which robs him of his memories and his normal cognitive abilities. His spirit is strong and while I will celebrate the day that he is released from his mortal tabernacle to go and serve the Lord on the other side of the veil, I will suffer the deepest sadness for myself and others who now benefit from his enduring spirit of love and wisdom here in mortality.

Home Again, Mom, Dad and Me

My two weeks with Dad have come to an end. Thanks especially to my sister and her husband who covered the intervening weekend. Special thanks to my brother who joined me in the evenings with dinners from his wonderful wife.

And thanks in advance to my other brother and his wife who will arrive at Mom and Dad's shortly to cover this coming weekend. And thanks to my nephew who covered Friday afternoon to allow me to drive home before dark today and last week.

I will take some time to reflect on this experience and share more thoughts in future posts. Thanks to all who read and responded to my posts about this experience.

And finally, my deepest thanks to Mom for allowing me to experience just a little of what her life every day is like in caring for Dad. Alzheimer's is no picnic. Mom is my hero!

She is an amazing woman!

My Dad, A Son of Adam

I received this note from my dear friend Jeff by email after he read my post about love and memory.
- - - -

Adam had a job in the garden, even before the fall. The fall changed his job from one of complete satisfaction to one of satisfaction peppered with thorns and thistles in-between. We, like Adam, are drawn to work and that for purposes for which we were created.

Your dad still yearns for work, for purpose, for duty. For decades his duty cared for a ranch and animals and a family. Even after all left, his duty remains to care for his wife. Not only did Adam have work, but he had a wife, as that is how we are built and that is how we are complete. Neglecting work or wife terrifies anyone who embraces duty as one of the only earth-bound purposes for which there is no substitute.

Even as the veneer of youth and our support in memory leaves us, we still remember our duty; if we honored such duty while we were young and full of promise. The testament of age shows when all veneer is removed and only that which is within is left. Age reveals who we really were.

For these reasons you are wise to let your father struggle with those things he may still do for himself. You may help, but he must come to the decisions. You may guide, but so long as he can button the coat, you must wait while he remembers. And while he walks through his workshop, he may not know how to make things from the tools there, but he may still fulfill his obligation to care and order those tools for the day when he may remember.

He still has a job. His oath to duty stands. His love for his bride remains and grows. He is a man. He is a son of Adam.


True Love Transcends Mortal Memory

dadnmomToday I employ a new strategy with Dad. My brother and I rise early and chat a moment. Dad has slept most of the night but did get up in the middle and was awake for about an hour before he climbed back into bed. I whisper a prayer of gratitude that my brother has sacrificed his sleep while I enjoyed a full night of blissful dreams.

Despite the lost sleep, Dad is up and getting dressed by about 7:00 a.m. and ready for breakfast about 30 minutes later. The first thing he says to me as I greet him in the kitchen is, "I gotta go home and get my wife." I hug him and reassure him that we will go see her after breakfast and that she will come home tomorrow.
He's eager to see her and very happy to hear that. We eat the same breakfast we had yesterday and 20 minutes later head out to see Mom before she goes to PT today.

When we arrive, Mom is in the bathroom. We wait, Dad in the recliner and me in the straight back chair. In a few minutes Mom emerges from the bathroom with a smile on her face and a warm greeting for us both. She looks good.

Dad rises from his chair as quickly as he can. He pushes past me to get to Mom. He wants to help her get back to the bed. He kisses her and beckons to the bed. He could not be happier to see her. Once she is back in bed resting, Dad sits and relaxes, returning to his primary line of questioning in broken phrases. The meaning is clear. He wants to know when Mom will come home.

Mom holds his hand and pats his arm, assuring Dad that she will be coming home tomorrow. He asks in his own way why she cannot come home now. He is jovial about it and accepts that she must stay one more night. I can see the satisfaction on his face that the one person most familiar to him in this life will soon be coming back home.

I look away and then excuse myself to go find a restroom to give them a moment of privacy they have not really had for more than 10 days. We stay a little longer until the physical therapist arrives. We make our exit and I reassure Dad that we will return later today for another visit. He is reluctant to go but after a lingering moment, he follows me out to the truck.

We get home and like manna from heaven, Dad is able to sit in Mom's new chair and sleep for more than two hours. By noon he is rested and ready for a peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich. I add too much jam and Dad winds up with sticky fingers, a puzzle to solve after we finish eating. Eventually he ends up in the bathroom washing his hands but it takes a while for him to come to this solution. I have learned to make a soft suggestion but when it is rejected out of confusion, it is better to wait and let him work it out.

A little more resting from a full tummy and Dad is ready to go again. He puts on his old work hat and jacket, readying himself to go wander through the garage which doubles as his farm workshop. All his tools are there and while he no longer knows what to do with them, he seems to derive some comfort from looking at them.

This time I head him off at the pass with an even better offer. I tell Dad that if he will wait for a few minutes, I will be ready to take him back to town to visit Mom again. Who, he asks. Your wife, I tell him; my Mom. Oh, okay, he says, and takes a seat in the front room waiting patiently on the sofa. I finish with some email and a little more delay and then we go, but only after I ask if he would like to wear his nice hat and coat to go see his wife. He readily agrees and changes into his nice denim coat and gray felt cowboy hat.

We arrive and he greets Mom, happy again to see her and just as happy to learn again that she will be coming home tomorrow. We enjoy seeing an old family friend named Don. He is out walking and recuperating from an illness there. He is now 88 years old, hunched over deeply and dependent on oxygen, but he is happy to see us. Dad remembers him at least in that he knows this man is special to him and he greets him with a warm handshake and a smile in his eyes that mask any confusion in his memory about who exactly this man is. To Dad that part is not important. What he remembers is his love for this man. No other details are important.

Don leaves and we continue to visit with Mom. Eventually the same occupational therapist who was walking with Don returns to Mom's room, ready to take her to do her last OT session this week. Dad is again reluctant to leave. He tells the OT guy to take good care of her. He gives her a kiss goodbye. And I see much more deeply that same look of love and concern for Mom that he had minutes earlier extended to their old friend Don.

For the second time today we leave, but it takes longer and more encouragement from me to get Dad to walk out of Mom's room. He clearly does not really want to go. He definitely does not want to leave her there again. He is not belligerent about it, but he delays as best he can before eventually accepting that he must wait one more day.

The walk out to the truck feels longer and slower this time. I feel acutely in my soul the love that Dad has for Mom. It does not matter that his memory cannot tell him who she is all of the time. It does not matter that he does not know that she is both his wife and my mother. He is always pleased to be told these things. Dad's love for Mom transcends mortal memory. It is a true and eternal love.

Today was a great day!

Tomorrow will be even better.