Tribute to Jason (These words were shared at the memorial service.)
by Dr. Tim Santoro, San Jose, CA 4/1/06
Jason was kind and compassionate and generous. He rarely had a disparaging word to say about anyone. He was down to earth and had a sensible way about him. He was funny and smart as a whip and when he would tell a story (which was not infrequently), the entire room would be listening intently to every word and rolling with laughter.
Jason loved the outdoors and knew his way around this area better than anyone I have ever known, with the possible exception of his dad. If I lost my bearings while hiking or fishing in the mountains, I would never worry because Jason, without fail, knew exactly where we were. I learned a lot from Jason and he influenced my life in many ways. We had many great adventures together – experiences that I will always remember with fondness, and now, with a sense of loss.
Though Jason was my best friend, I realize that there are many others who considered him their best friend, as well. There are not many people who are so well-liked by so many people. He had a unique and magnetic personality and was the best kind of person. He was a good and honest man and he made the lives of those who had the benefit of knowing him richer and more interesting.
It is a tribute to Chuck and Sandy that Jason was a person of such excellent quality. I am honored and privileged to have been Jason’s friend and I hope someday I’ll see him again. I will miss him greatly.
Reflections on Jason’s Life… (These words were shared at the memorial service.)
by Andre Elkins 4/1/06
As many of you know, Jason belongs to a family of investigators. His parents taught him to look deeply into the past for clues as to what makes up our existence as humans. I, too had been fascinated with the past, but for me it was more along the lines of the geological story and the intriguing crystalline things that it can produce. This fascination for me spun off the hobby of rock hounding. Jason knew that I had an addiction to digging in the dirt. It was an addiction that Jason was all too familiar with even if we were looking for different gems. Jason wanted to please. It was a large part of his character. So one weekend, Jason took us to Laramie to a secret spot off of I-80 just before Veedavu. Here resided a pegmatite that yielded crystal specimens of quarts, mica, and amazonite. This was Jason’s stash and yet he divulged this secret spot because he loved us. This I would come to learn, was Jason’s way. My wife and I have returned multiple times to this site since and so has my son.
On another occasion, Jason, my wife Tonja, and I decide to go and explore a remote area of Colorado that was said to have one of the highest concentrations of petroglyphs or rock art. We jumped into his truck on a whim with nothing but a topographical map in hand and a lust for discovery in our hearts. This adventurous spontaneity was one of the character flaws that made Jason so attractive. I take liberty and call it a flaw here, because of how this weekend quest and its tribulations have been seared into my and my wife’s mind. I could indulge and entertain you with images of us driving across sage flats that had seen no traffic other than that created by buckos, prairie dogs, and elk. I could try to express the horror that my wife and I felt as Jason deftly maneuvered his truck along precipices and ravines. Or I could make you laugh with the vision of us mired down in the middle of Vermillion creek when his alternator belt went on strike, but alas that which I remember most was the eight mile trek with my wife to where we could hail a tow truck via cell phone. It was the middle of the night and it was cold. We built a fire for warmth while waiting to be rescued, all the while watching falling stars dart across a clear Colorado night sky. And in the end, we had found the petroglyphs that we had been hunting for, just as we had found a binding way to connect our story with each other as well as that told by those that has passed this way before us. Jason gave this gift to us.
The last story that comes to mind attests to Jason’s compassionate ability and desire to teach. Jason and I would often engage in deeply philosophical arguments. Looking back, I think Jason indulged my soft science education out of kindness and the fact that a conversation involving differential equations and applied mathematics would have been far too one-sided. So one random night, we were talking about life, death and the meaning of our existence. I had taken on the role of the nihilist and the fatalist, a role that for some reason I had draped myself in for as long as I could remember. Jason, sensing that I was struggling with my understanding of our existence, offered comfort by explaining to me in layman’s terms how he understood the physical universe. He went on about our connectivity to the past, the present, and the future. He took me to a place where our borrowed carbon atoms became a part of an ever expanding presence both temporal and spatial. He made me feel significant by defining a human point in the infinite. He then went on to explain his perspective on human existence, geology, and space over spans of billions of light years. I realize that this must sound fanciful to those of you who were not there, but I want you to know that from that point on, I was not as afraid of my own mortality because of how Jason conveyed his understanding to me. Jason was a teacher.
These are just three brief stories in a long and lasting catalogue of events and encounters that I shall commit to memory hence forth. It is a memory of a man that always carried a smile upon his face. It is the memory of a man that had a heart of gold. It is the memory of a man that I am proud to have known, and it is the memory of a man that has made me a better man.
So, Jason, I want to thank you for being a part of my life and my family’s life, albeit for far too short a duration. Rest assured that your memory will live on in my family for as long as those that follow us will tell our tale, and it is OUR tale, all of ours. For our history has been entwined now for all time in an infinite dance of fate and past fortune. Not only, Jason, will an aspect of your memory live on in my familial lore, but so too will a portion of what you gave to me and my family, live on through your ever present teaching legacy. My son will carry a portion of your being that was passed on directly through proximity to you as well as that which you gave me that I will endow him with. I love you and will miss you, but I shall take comfort in the ephemeral elements of our existence that you showed me, could be stretched eternal and infinite, by recognizing that we are but a page in an endless story that is told in time by countless cosmic scribes.
With the utmost love and sincerity,
-Tonja, Andre, and Bastion
Goodbye Jason… (These words were shared at the memorial service.)
by Matt O’Neal, Seattle, WA 4/1/06
For those of you who do not remember me, my name is Matt O’Neal. I have been Jason’s friend from the time my family moved to Laramie when I was in junior high. Jason touched my life deeply and I would like to share with you a few words in tribute to him.
When I close my eyes, I can picture Jason’s tassel of blond hair, steely blue eyes, and wonderful smile. Please take a moment to close your eyes and picture Jason as you would like to best remember him.
Jason was my pal, buddy, confidante, ski partner, camping buddy, fishing companion, hiking partner, study partner, debate partner, fellow National Honor Society member, fellow computer geek, and outdoor enthusiast.
No trout in the State of Wyoming was safe in Jason’s presence. We spent summers fishing every beaver pond, lake, stream, river, and fishing hole imaginable. All we needed was to scrape together enough gas money and we were off to explore the great beyond. We thought we were invincible. They were the best of times.
Jason had grown up going on digs with his Dad. My Dad worked for the Forest Service, so I had also spent my childhood close to nature. We shared that common bond. Jason had a piece of Wyoming in his soul. He had a little of that beautiful wildness in him that draws us all to the mountains. When I look towards the Snowy range in the distance, it is breathtaking, and it reminds me of my best friend.
Jason was a magnificent friend. He accepted others and overlooked their faults. He gave his friendship unconditionally and many loved him for it. He was always there for me when I needed him. I felt closer to him than to my brothers. He was a part of my family. He was fiercely loyal and would stand by his friends through the worst adversity.
We spent so much time together that we had our own language that was difficult for others to understand. It was the language of past experiences, future hopes and shared dreams.
Jason was a great story teller. If we found ourselves holed up in a tent due to weather, we would while away the time with stories. I would not trade the time we shared for anything. I have shared many of Jason’s stories with my children, and, in that way, his legacy will live on in our collective memories.
Jason was a bright and talented individual with incredible potential. He graduated near the top of his class in high school and was a fellow member of the National Honor Society. He persevered in an engineering program at the University of Wyoming, when many failed or dropped out. He had a courageous spirit and a big heart.
I was always underestimating Jason. We spent the better part of high school racing on the cross country ski team together. He was always close on my heels, motivating me to train harder and ski faster. Jason suffered from asthma, but it didn’t stop him from routinely besting athletes who were bigger, stronger, and faster. He was a graceful skier and he made it look easy. His crowning achievement was winning the Wyoming State Governor’s Cup. He skied a brilliant second day race to come from behind and win on his combined time. I saw him skiing the final few kilometers using perfect V2 form. It was poetry on snow.
Jason was a pathfinder. I would have been lost without his innate sense of direction. Whenever we would come to a fork in the road, I only needed to glance at Jason and he could tell me where we needed to go. Whenever I came to a fork in my own life, he would always give me great advice and positive encouragement. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He was my pathfinder, my compass, my right hand.
In saying goodbye, we always used to tell each other, keep your face to the sun and the wind to your back.
Jason, wherever you are now, “keep your face to the sun and the wind to your back.” Wyoming has lost a favorite son, brother, and friend, and you will be missed.
God bless you.
Mountain Biking with Jason…
by Mark O’Neal, Portland, OR, 4/6/06
I remember talking Jason into buying his first mountain bike, shortly after I got mine. I took him to recycled cycles and showed him a brand new Diamond Back Ascent EX. We rode them into the beaver ponds to fish up by Veedavous. I have a couple of pictures from mountain biking I’ll try to dig up for the website. I’ll always be thankful that Jason loaned me his bike for Thanksgiving break so that Heidi (my fiancée) and I could ride around Laramie in the snow. It was one of the highlights of Heidi’s visit and remains one of my fondest memories of courting Heidi.
Road trips, skiing, and more…
by Pat Kelly, Hawaii 4/6/06
I first met Jason when I moved to Laramie in the 10th grade. Jason and his friends and family welcomed me and I have fond memories of the time we spent together. I remember Jason always smiling and laughing and his great sense of humor. Of course Jason was a great skier and we all spent lots of time on skis. I remember on one ski trip, after our cross-country races were finished, we enjoyed the downhill course on cafeteria trays. I remember playing Asteroids, the full-sized arcade game, in the basement at Jason’s house. I was impressed with Jason’s Dad making arrowheads in the back yard. Jason, Matt and I went fishing in the beaver ponds outside Laramie (didn’t we get Matt’s Scout stuck?)
By Tonja, Andre and Bastion Elkins, Steamboat Springs, CO 4/7/06
We will always remember, with fondness, Jason’s adventurous spirit. We have countless memories of silly road tripping mayhem, looking for dinosaur tracks, hot springs, petroglyphs, crystals, and far away places to fish. He made us laugh and he made us think. He was awesome with Bastion, when he was little and he was a good friend always. We are glad to have been his friend, if only for a short time. His loss has affected us deeply. His influence in our lives will continue on.
Fishing in Heaven…
By Ayesha Jeffries, Loveland, CO 4/11/06
I wanted to send my deepest sympathy to you, Annie, and your family. I know how close you were with Jason and there is an emptiness in your heart that will never go away. I remember the times I was around you and Jason and how nice it was to see a brother and sister so close and the best of friends. I just want you to know that you all are in my thoughts and prayers always.
The website is so beautiful. Jason’s friend did a wonderful job in the viewing of Jason’s life throughout the years. I’ll always remember how shy he was at first till he got to know you then he was the entertainment from then on. I’ll just never forget how awesome he was at fishing. Knowing him he’ll be fishing in heaven, laughing at all of us who can’t seem to catch a thing.
Cookies and Ice cream
By Joyce O’Neal, Wenatchee, WA 4/11/06
It was 1986, Jason’s Senior year in high school. Jason was a close friend of our son, Matt. Our house was kitty-corner from Laramie High School. Matt and Jason seemed inseparable. They were always in the kitchen looking for food.
People may not remember this, but Jason was thin as a rail in high school and had difficulty gaining weight. At some point, he had taken a job at Baskin Robbins in order to fill out his waist-line with free milkshakes. One day I was in my office completing a decorating project when I heard the blender in the kitchen running on high. I wanted to say hi to the boys, and I figured they were probably having an after school snack. I found Jason with a sheepish grin on his face, running the blender full of cookies and ice cream. It looked like enough milkshake for three boys. “Where’s Matt?” I said. Jason responded that he didn’t know for sure, but imagined that he was at school. It takes a village to raise a child. He was always welcome in our home.
Jason made a great buddy for Matt to ski and fish. We will miss him. – Sonny & Joyce O’Neal
My Brother and Best Friend…
By Ann Culnan (Reher), Laramie, WY 4/13/06
After being sick, I would find get well cards he made me and he never failed to bring me home a scoop of my favorite ice cream after getting off work at Baskin Robbins, even if it meant cradling it while he rode his motorcycle home. I had some big shoes to fill following him through school and I can’t name the number of times he helped me with math and computers! Sure, we had our sibling altercations, but for the most part we just got along really well. I will miss his humor, his stories, and his magnetic personality.
Goodbye my friend…
My Uncle is with Me in My Mind…
By Brie Culnan (age 7), Laramie, WY 4/13/06
I miss him. I love him because he was my friend. I could always talk to Jason no matter what. I want to show him some of my new toys, but I know I can’t. I can still see him in my mind because he is with me in my mind right now.
Missing My Uncle at Reading Time…
By Alex Culnan (age 4), Laramie, WY 4/13/06
I liked how Jason would come into the room singing silly and dancing. I also liked how I would sit in the chair with him and he would read me a book. He was nice because he would read me a book.
Cameron and Sara Smart, Victorville, CA.
I was saddened to hear about your brother. I remember him as quite the jokester….and actually one of the nicer older brothers of friends I have ever known. There was a night that we were out playing hide and seek in the
dark and there was a bright light in the sky( that turned out to be the biggest harvest moon ever). We were somewhat afraid it was a space ship for a little bit. He very calmly told me there was nothing to be afraid of. Not degrading or stupid little kid like, but brotherly. I wished I had a big brother from that day on…I thought you were so lucky. I have some very nice memories of him.
–Childhood friend to Jason and Ann, Nikki Slagter Baker, MT.
Every time I think of Jason, I see his smiling face. He was always so happy. I remember socials over on W-Hill road and going fishing and camping up around Vedauwoo and the Beaver ponds.
I remember one time when George, Jason, and various other friends were going camping out by Happy Jack road. I had an AMC Eagle at the time. Jason was riding with me and I had a tendency to drive fast. It was a Jeep road/trail
but I was driving about 40 mpr. We were bouncing and flying. Jason said he had driven their many times and he didn’t think it was possible to get there that fast. I remember that it was a nice night sleeping out under the stars. As I recall, George was the master cook of the evening.
-Friend, former roommate, Larry Struempf, Laramie
I still find myself thinking of Jason quite a bit. I occasionally stop by the web page, but I just can’t think of what to say. I saw the comments Alex and Brie wrote; I realize my kids will never get to meet my old friend, but I also realized that they already have and will continue to from the mark he made on me.
-Friend/Former co-worker and roommate, George Rich, San Jose, CA
The Tale of Como Bluff and Chuck’s Truck
One of the reasons that Jason and I were such great friends was that we had an equally intense interest in geology and paleontology. We traveled to many parts of south eastern Wyoming in pursuit of cool rocks or Native American stone tools [only on the surface of course]. The only thing limiting us was our vehicles. I had a old POS Toyota, and he of course had Bessie, but their basic unreliability and off road worthiness [lack therein of], so we usually didn’t stay too far from Laramie. But then one day Jason had finagled the use of his Dad’s truck, which was basically new at the time if I remember correctly. We decided that the day would be a perfect one for at trip up to Como Bluff to see what kind of luck we would have. It was a beautiful Laramie summer day, sunny and in the seventies [boy do I miss those kinds of temperatures living down here in Boulder].
So with characteristically little forethought we set off on our latest adventure. The drive up was uneventful and when we arrived we set about hiking from hill to hill searching for the good stuff. One thing I remember to this day was that, unusually for Jason he didn’t find anything, but I was in the groove, I found a small geode, a small stone tool, a scraper I believe, made out of a nice maroon jasper; and a fragment of fossilized bone [and I am sticking with the theory that it is from a dinosaur, part of the femur I think]. I was on cloud nine, and Jason was happy for me, and only mildly bummed at his poor luck.
Then we quite literally saw the dark clouds on the horizon. One part of what makes summer weather in the Laramie area so nice is the regular thunderstorms in the afternoon, and here was one barreling down upon us. We beat feet back to the truck and made it just in time to wait out the downpour inside. And it came down in buckets! For about twenty minutes, hard enough that we decided against trying to drive in it. After it was over we decided to head back to Laramie, but those bentonite soils up there had turned into ultra-slick mud and so as the song says we were slip sliding away. After some very hairy driving and some close calls in terms of getting stuck we made it back to the highway. The truck was coated in mud by this point and not looking quite so new but we thought the worse was over.
That was when we noticed that the gas gage was on E. Oops, remember that lack of foresight I mentioned earlier? We dug the map out of the glove box and tried to figure our options. We figured that there was no way we could make it to Laramie, but we reasoned that our best chance was to make a run for Arlington on I-80, that was the only place we were sure there was gas to be had. Diving at only 40 mph to save gas we managed to make it, although we must have been running on fumes by that point. Relieved to not be stranded on a lonely Wyoming Highway we drove down 80 back to Laramie swearing oaths to always put gas in the tank before we set out again. We went to the car wash and cleaned the truck, and nothing was the worse for wear. So ends one of the tamer tales of Jason and Jim’s treks across southeastern Wyoming.
– Friend/ fellow UW Engineering student, James McPherson, Boulder, CO.
He looked so different the first time I’d seen him last summer after so many years, older, more mature, weathered by life and all that life brings. When he smiled and we joked with one another of some silly memory that was made a thousand hours ago, I realized that the Jason I grew up with was still there. Those memories we all shared weren’t erased by time, just covered in dust from time going by. I would say you could adopt either 2 of my brothers since I kind of latched on to your family so many years ago, but neither of them hold a candle to Jason.
Stopping, reflecting, remembering, celebrating Jason’s life and his roll in our lives is what I will use to mourn his passing. It is an incredible tragedy and I will remember all the years we shared together, all of them filled with laughter and happiness. I think of him being a part of every summer of mine from grade school on up through high school and to this day, I still call Ann, “Whopper.” Jason started that nickname for us easily 20 years ago. I will also treasure the trips in Ol’ Bessie and I owe part of my ski racing career to Jason. He sold me my first pair of cross-country skis, he encouraged me to try racing, showed me how to prep my skis, and of course he helped me with my technique because he was absolutely beautiful to watch on a pair of cross-country skis, let alone not too shabby on a pair of downhill skis either. One of the best memories I have is when Jason, Ann, and I went sledding up to the Snowy Range in Bessie. It was cloudy and snowy in Laramie, but in the Snowies, we were above the clouds. It was amazing to be sledding in the sun, only to see everything below us completely white because of this huge blanket of clouds. This is one of thousands of memories I will treasure of who I call a brother.
Childhood and continuing friend to Ann and her family.
I read the pages on the website in memory of Jason and no words can describe the sorrow I felt. He had such a big heart and he was always so kind and friendly to everyone. I’m so proud and happy that I got to know him during my year in Laramie. I will never forget his kindness and warm and beautiful smile.
Foreign Exchange student from Finland, cross-country