One of Lake County’s fallen veterans in combat, forever remembered on the Lakeview war memorial in a plaque dedicated on Veteran’s Day in 2015, is also remembered with the dedication of a portion of Hwy 140 known as the Jessica Ellis Memorial Highway.
Officially dedicated in 2017, complete with a ceremony and motorcycle escort by the Klamath County Combat Veterans Association, the sign sits near a beautiful pastoral area west of Lakeview that, according to her former track coach Bobbie Steninger, is the perfect place to recall a life well-lived, albeit tragically shortened.
“Jessica was a cross country runner, and it is close to Cottonwood, which was a very special place for her,” said Steninger, who coordinates an annual cross country event at Cottonwood Meadows – the Lakeview Invitational. “She was the girl that in my mind would have enjoyed looking in that area.”
According to Steninger, credit for the sign dedication belongs to Ellis’ father, Steve, the former Deputy Director for the Bureau of Land Management, now retired. Site selection came largely from Steninger, with input from several sources.
“They went out and got a second opinion on the site I chose, and said ‘that’s where all the cops hang out to tag speeders, so maybe this isn’t the best spot,’” laughed Steninger.
In addition to the highway dedication, a memorial was established near the entrance of Lakeview High School. Contained therein are articles and images documenting Ellis’ life, a flag, and her letterman’s jacket, which Steve presented to Steninger at a ceremony at the Lakeview Interagency Office in 2016.
A 2002 graduate of Lakeview High School, Ellis died on May 11, 2008 on a patrol northwest of Baghdad when the Buffalo armored vehicle she was traveling in was hit by an explosive. Ellis, a combat medic with the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division, was buried at Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. with full military honors. She had been injured in another attack one month prior, after which time she declined an offer to be moved to the Riva Ridge Clinic at Camp Liberty so that she could return to duty accompanying “her guys” into combat.
Steninger has also started an annual scholarship, handed out at the end of each school year. The Jessica Ellis memorial scholarship is not given based on grades or extra-curriculars, but rather on individual merit and personality.
“We try to select it totally based on people who are most like Jessica herself,” explained Steninger. “She was a young lady who never expected anything big in her life, she was a friend to everybody. She would do anything for everybody, she was the kind of kid who worked hard, but wasn’t a straight A student. I don’t look at grades as much as a kid’s effort. I look at kids, and sometimes kids are suggested that I don’t even know. These are the people who usually don’t get a lot of hype about anything, they are in the shadows but doing more of the hard work, but everybody’s friend and the first person to jump in to do something.”
The scholarship began with a $500 donation from a fellow teacher to Steninger, with the request to give out at least $100 per year. Since then, others have donated, including the brother of a former Round-Up queen who gave Steninger $300 earlier this year and promised to continue doing so annually as long as he could afford it. The scholarship has grown to have a deeper meaning beyond the cash award, but as an exemplification of the character traits personified by current students in Ellis’ memory.
“Jessica was a unique person,” added Steninger. “It is not hard to see it in other people. I have never given it to somebody that gets all the other awards, because that wouldn’t be Jessica – it wouldn’t be her. She was always in the background, letting everyone else get the credit.”