May 29, 2013 - Army specialist Jenna Beno was witty and smart. She loved animals and reading and was tiny with a mighty spirit. Her spirit will live on in the Clarkston Junior High School courtyard.
Bill and Kristi Beno helped to dedicate a plaque at Clarkston Junior High School to their daughter Jenna Beno, honoring her service in the U.S. Army. Photo by Wendi Reardon (click for larger version)
The school dedicated the courtyard in Beno's memory last Thursday in their Memorial Day ceremony. The 2006 Clarkston High School graduate and U.S. Army veteran passed away last October from injuries sustained while serving in Iraq.
"It is overwhelming," said her mom, Kristi, about the dedication. "It is very humbling they would honor her. We take life for granted and all the things we get to do. We think it is owed to us and it isn't - there is a price to pay and there are people who pay it. We are here because of them."
"She was a tough character," her dad, Bill shared.
Clarkston High School Jeanie Lamereaux remembered her tough exterior and when Jenna took on two boys from a rival school during a football game.
"Jenna was a tough little tomboy," she said. "She found herself alone and two boys from a rival school hassled her. They started pushing her around and trying to pick a fight.
"They picked the right person," Lamereaux continued. "After a few moments there were two boys on the ground wondering what happened. Jenna leaned over them and said 'you just got your butt kicked by a girl.' As a teacher I frown on fighting. But I did feel proud of her standing up for herself."
Lamereaux was changed the first time Jenna came into her classroom.
"Jenna blew into my classroom like a strong but refreshing storm," she said. "She was tiny but she was mighty. I always knew if I had prepared a good lesson because Jenna would evaluate me out loud - 'come on Lamereaux, this is boring.'"
Lamereaux smiled, "though her comments were loud, she was full of warmth and said it with a smile."
Jenna served for five years with the army, with three of them at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital. She sustained respiratory damage while she was in Iraq. It caused permanent damage to her vocal cords and paralyzed them so they didn't open all the way.
"Her breathing was extremely impeded," Kristi explained. "It was like breathing through a straw all the time."
While she was at Walter Reed, she helped out at the humane society because she was always drawn to animals.
The animals gave her comfort and were soothing, especially since she was diagnosed with 70 percent post-tramatic stress disorder.
"The animals bring the anxiety levels down," said Kristi. "She really enjoyed working with them."
She added Jenna also shared awareness of what veterans face when they come home from combat - either injured or not.
"Jenna was really passionate about anything she believed in," Kristi said. "If she believed in it, she put all of herself into it."
Jenna also helped veterans by transporting them around in her truck.
"She was like a mini bus system," Bill said.
"She loved it," Kristi added. "She named her truck Zoey."
The junior high began dedicating stones to veterans last fall and has plans to dedicate a stone made by the art students every Veteran's Day. While the committee was planning the first event in 2012, word spread Jenna had taken a turn for the worse. Not too long after, she passed away. The committee decided to dedicate the courtyard to Jenna - who was one of their own.
"Jenna paid the ultimate price," said Alex Sennabaum, teacher at the junior high. "It is fitting and proper to dedicate it to her. She volunteered to serve to protect our country and protect our freedom. Service for our country is a calling. People who volunteer have something inside of them that motivate them to do more to protect our freedom."
He added it was his hope students and everyone visiting the school look into the garden, see her picture and take heed.
"Think about what she has done, what she has given of herself," Sennabaum said.
"Thank you, Jenna," Lamereaux, pausing and taking a deep breath, "for enriching the lives of everyone you met. Thank you to all the veterans who have sacrificed their dreams and aspirations."
Memorial Day has always been a special day for the Beno family to remember those who have served our country, but this year even more of a special day since it is their first without Jenna.
"We extend our hearts out to all the other families who have lost members for whatever reason," said Kristi. "We are very grateful to the community, the school, and our church. Everybody has been so supportive while we journey through our grief. Just supportive in general not just to us."
For video coverage on the dedication, please visit www.ClarkstonTV.com
Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.