An infectious grin. Headbands. A sharp wit. Pink. Some things about a person stay with you long after they are gone. After a long struggle, Jenny Hodes passed away on Nov. 15 surrounded by her family. She was 20 years old.
Jenny was considered a miracle child from the moment she was born. According to her CaringBridge site, Jenny was born with “a congenital left diaphragmatic hernia and severe scoliosis” which, even after 40 surgeries, only left her with 30 percent of her lung capacity.
Jenny had beaten the odds and survived longer than anyone with her condition.
“She wanted to have lots of friends. She wanted to be involved in social activities and she had some difficulties in high school, because people can be pretty crummy sometimes when we’re younger,” Dr. Marcie Pospichal, associate vice president for student support, said. “We can all be a little less sensitive than when we grow and mature, so she was a little more timid.”
Jenny came to Florida Southern College in 2011 as an education major, where she met Dr. Pospichal.
“She knew that she wanted to be a child life professional, and she knew that she was a person of faith, and all the decisions that she made were really based around those two essential elements,” Dr. Pospichal said.
Jenny dedicated herself to her schoolwork and getting her teaching certifications.
“We would always go to Tutu’s together and study our butts off,” Amy Scroggin, one of Jenny’s friends, said.
That did not mean it was all work and no play. Jenny was involved in the Women’s Advocacy Club and several Campus Ministries, such as Beyond and Sandwich Ministries. She even spoke at Beyond.
“Something so beautiful about Jenny was her incredible faithfulness to God,” Amy said.
Another student, Amber Boyles, first met Jenny during one of their education classes. Amber wore different wigs and scarves over her short hair, since she was recovering from Leukemia, which some of the girls in their class laughed at.
“We just connected. She understood what I was going through,” Amber said.
Jenny was also known for her “dry” sense of humor and wit.
“We were having lunch up in Wynee’s one day and she was sharing her idea of what it meant to be a team player,” Dr. Pospichal said. “And her idea of being a team player was telling everybody else what to do. And I said, ‘Did you hear what you just said?’ and she said ‘Yeah, but it really is my idea of being a team player.’ And we just laughed.”
During fall 2013, Jenny suspended her schooling to undergo another surgery which was meant to expand her chest wall.
“We figured, you know, the surgery, oh, she’d only be out half the fall, she’d be back in January with no problem,” Amber said.
Jenny’s site on CaringBridge updated frequently, allowing her family and friends to receive updates.
“I went to go visit her in the hospital, and it was nice to just color with her and watch ‘Mean Girls’ and laugh with her,” Amy said.
After her surgery, Jenny was readmitted to the hospital. Soon after she went into cardiac arrest.
That night, a friend told Amy to check CaringBridge. She did so, surrounded by her residents.
“That night was really hard,” Amy said. “It was the hardest two hours of my life, but those residents were with me.”
Doctors managed to resuscitate Jenny, but her condition continued to fluctuate. Her family stayed with her, posting continuous updates.
“It was definitely hard, waking up every morning and thinking ‘Okay, I’m going to check my phone, check my email, texts from CaringBridge and what’s going to happen, what am I going to wake up to?’” Amy said.
As time went by, Jenny’s condition deteriorated until she passed on Nov. 15.
On Nov. 23, Real Life Church in Clermont hosted her memorial service. The church was bathed in pink, Jenny’s favorite color.
Dr. Pospichal was one of the speakers. “As a person of faith myself, [I] believe she is 5”7, 130 lbs, and does have all these kids just clambering for her attention and meeting the destiny she always believed in on earth. But who knew she wouldn’t attain it here?” Dr. Pospichal said the day before the service, a belief she later recounted at the service.
The next day, students gathered on Mr. George’s Green for a candlelight vigil to honor her memory. Candles and pink wristbands were handed out, and students, as well as Jenny’s family, talked about their memories of Jenny.
Amber, along with Kristina Scott and help from the school, organized the service.
“A lot of us had mentioned, when we talk about Jenny, we talk about the light she had on campus,” Amber said. “And, so we thought it would be perfect to see the light open up on campus and join together as a community.”
A scholarship is currently being established in her name for students to go to the Passion Conference, which Jenny attended, by the Chapel based on donations. Jenny’s family is currently trying to create a Child Life major.
Amy is part of a group that is creating pink t-shirts to raise money for the Jenny Hodes Miracle Fund, which pays for Jenny’s medical expenses. Any extra money will go to others in need.
Shirts can be ordered through the Facebook Page, “T-Shirts for Jenny Hodes.”
“They’re grieving right now, they shouldn’t have to worry about money on top of that,” Amy said.
Jenny leaves behind a legacy of faith and courage.
“We don’t use the word suffer in our society very often, because it’s such a strong word,” Dr. Pospichal said. “But she overcame suffering every day and she did not wear it like a banner.”
Above all, Jenny is remembered for the joy that she brought to others.
“I would describe Jenny as, against all odds, always joyful,” Amy said. “She was joyful, and would radiate that joy.”
A poem by an unknown author, simply called “I’m Free,” was printed on the programs for Jenny’s memorial service. The last stanza reads:
“Perhaps my time seemed all too brief;
Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.
Lift up your heart and share with me.
God wanted me now, He set me free.”
Featured photo courtesy of Lisa Hodes. A special thanks to the Hodes family.
Candlelight Service photos by Leah Schwarting