When students return to Central Valley High School next month, they will be greeted by a new sign over the front door.
“Always believe. He did.”
Jansen Badinger was 18 years old when he drowned while attempting to swim across the Spokane River a little more than a year ago. The sign is a tribute to Badinger, who liked to greet everyone at the front door before classes started each day.
“He wanted to start people’s day off with a smile, I guess,” said Jessie Kunz-Pfeiffer, one of Badinger’s friends.
“He would beat the staff here,” said booster club member Suzy Orth.
This past school year, Badinger’s friends took up the job of welcoming students.
“They all took a turn,” said Jen Badinger, his mother.
Jansen Badinger inspired not only this sign, but a memorial bench and a scholarship fund run by the Bear Booster Club called Jansen’s Door.
The leadership class at CV took up the challenge of getting a plaque for the front door. Drew Keeve and Molly Tabish, who graduated in June, came up with the sign’s message.
“We spent days trying to figure out what the perfect one would be,” Keeve said. He hopes that students 10 years from now can relate to what it says.
Tanner Davis, another recent graduate, led the fundraising.
Keeve said the sign weighs 100 pounds and the wall needed to be re-enforced before the sign could be installed. It went up over the summer; some of Badinger’s family and friends came by to take a look at it and the bench.
“I don’t even know what to say,” his mother said as she looked up at the sign. She said Badinger waited until he was 18 to get his driver’s license and told her it was because he liked spending time with her as she drove him to school. Every morning, she dropped him off at 6:30 a.m. with his boom box so he could greet the students. He turned on the music and often danced in the foyer.
“He knew everybody in this school,” Jen Badinger said. “He was just an amazing person.”
She said she loves the sign’s message.
“He always believed that life will be better,” she said, describing him as an amazing, positive boy. “I think he’d think it (the sign) was awesome.”
“I love it,” said Brian Badinger, Jansen’s father. “I always wondered why we had to bring him to school every day at 6:30.”
Jen Badinger also brought along a bag of items for Kunz-Pfeiffer that she found among Jansen’s things. There was a T-shirt he wore to cheer her on during her soccer games. There was a pair of socks, some cologne and Christmas ornaments, one of which was a match to one he had given her, telling her that as long as each of them has their ornament, they would be friends.
Orth said the Jansen’s Door fund has helped students pay activity fees, purchase shoes for sports or even help students who may have damaged a school book.
“It’s limitless,” Orth said of the ways students are helped through the fund.
There have been softball games and car washes, and As You Wish Design jewelry sold a memorial necklace and donated the proceeds to the fund.
The new bench is outside the door. Bryan Vanhoff has known Jen Badinger since the fifth grade. She told him she wanted to find a bench and place it by the river to memorialize her son.
Vanhoff, through his work at Atlas Systems, knew people who worked in steel fabrication. He called his friend Mike Bolton at Tri-State Metal Fabrication who made one from leftover material.
Getting approval to place the bench at the river proved to be challenging, with three different jurisdictions to work with and concerns about vandals. Vanhoff said Jen Badinger called the school to see if they had a place for it and they said yes.
The sign on the bench reads, “Jansen S. Badinger, Mr. Spirit. Smile on.”
“It’s heartwarming to know that he touched that many people,” Brian Badinger said.