Lauren Jones leaves lasting mark at University of Oregon
As Valentine’s Day approached, Lauren Jones had an idea.
The freshman loved chemistry, and was known for always including her hallmates in the Barnhart residence hall. She integrated the two and posted a variety of Valentine’s messages on her dormitory door.
“I’ve got my Ion you,” read one. “Let’s take things slow,” with the Internet Explorer logo attached, said another.
The gesture from Jones was expected, though. Jones, a Georgia native and student-athlete on the Oregon acrobatics and tumbling team, showed that caring nature almost every day. Her door was always open at Barnhart. When new residents moved in, Jones was the first person to knock on their door and greet them. She was also known to wait in the Barnhart lobby when she knew a teammate would be returning home. She’d greet that teammate, and simply ask about her day.
Jones spent her Valentine’s Day watching Fifty Shades of Grey and having dinner with her friends. But just two days later, she fell ill from meningococcemia, a disease that is caused by the same bacteria as meningitis.
Lauren was admitted to a local emergency room early Tuesday morning, before being sent home to recover.
But her condition quickly worsened and she was hospitalized again that afternoon. By Tuesday night, the Oregon Athletic Department released a statement confirming the 18-year-old’s death.
Suddenly, the seventh-floor of Barnhart Hall lost its source of energy.
Jones had only been a student at Oregon since September. She was halfway through her second term as a freshman. But her impact had already stemmed deep. Her acrobatics and tumbling coach Chelsea Shaw remembers her selfless and caring personality. Jones’ chemistry teacher, Diane Hawley, described her as outgoing and someone who strived to make the most of her opportunities.
Her hall mates at Barnhart knew her by the simple gestures she always made.
“I still keep thinking that she’s going to be back there,” Edmy Vega, Jones’ roommate, said.
For those who knew Jones, she is cherished for her unwavering energy, inclusive love and a certain quirkiness. She’ll be remembered for her sporadic dance moves and bubbly personality.
“She went over the top to make everyone feel like they were included,” said Izzy Fasheh, one of her closest friends.
Most nights at Barnhart, Jones would put in a special request for a strawberry milkshake, and became friends with the barista, who knew her by her order. One night, he was having a bad day, so Lauren stayed with him in the dining hall.
“She wouldn’t leave him alone until he was like, ‘Okay, I feel better now,’” Vega said.
Jones enjoyed staying up late even if she had an 8 a.m. class the following day.
“She didn’t want to miss anything,” Vega said.
During the first few of weeks of school, Jones and Vega pushed their beds together and talked for hours on end.
“People were like, ‘That’s so weird. Are you guys going to cuddle at night?’ And we were like, ‘No, it’s just more homey,’” Vega said.
Jones, who her friends said couldn’t be negative if she tried, was once challenged to be mean. She lasted two minutes before breaking out in laughter.
After all, her computer password was keep-smiling.
“She was always thinking about other people,” Shaw said. “She never talked bad about anybody.”
Jones and her mother had a close relationship, often talking during the day between classes and practice. Jones would show her friends photographs of her family and talk extensively about them.
“(Her mother) said Lauren always spoke very highly of her experience here,” Shaw said. “Her family was great, and I think that’s exactly why they had a great daughter.”
Freshman Interest Group leader Lindsey Forde held one-on-one meetings with all 20 students in the “Science in the News” FIG during the first week of fall term. The conversations typically consisted of basics: “Where are you from?” “What’s your major?”
However, when she met with Jones, the two had a conversation unlike any Forde had experienced with her students.
“She comes up to me and she goes ‘I had the weirdest dream last night,’” Forde said. “And she spends like two hours telling me about all these dreams she’s ever had in her life.”
The randomness of Jones and Forde’s first conversation carried on through the rest of the term. Jones continued to update her FIG leader on all of her crazy dreams, one of which included her trying to save the world while at an amusement park – the only problem was that she was stuck on a roller coaster.
Jones had a deep interest in chemistry, and she had a periodic table of elements hanging on her wall. That enthusiasm was on full display in the FIG. Despite her hectic schedule as a student-athlete, she attended every study session or social event that Forde organized. And at every event, Jones served as a conversational spark.
“She made the events worth it,” Forde said. “It was my role to get people to talk to each other and be involved but she was so helpful in that because she was so willing to participate.”
Forde’s last memory of Jones was when Jones had hurt her knee after a bicycle accident and could barely walk. But she was still smiling and laughing as if it was any other day.
Perhaps nobody at Oregon knew Jones like Sydnee Walton, a junior base on the acrobatics and tumbling team.
Walton and Jones both attended Southwest DeKalb High School in Decatur, Georgia and had been friends since the two attended a cheer camp when Jones was 7.
During the acrobatics and tumbling team’s first home meet on Saturday, Walton wore Jones’ No. 51 jersey to honor her friend.
The contest was punctuated by the massive showing of support for the freshman student-athlete who lost her life.
Parking attendants wore “Ducks fly together” T-shirts with the No. 51 on the back in bright yellow, Jones’ favorite color. “LJ” patches were sewed on the right side of Oregon’s jerseys and a record attendance of 2,007 saw the Ducks defeat Concordia.
Before the match began, the entire team – besides Walton, who was wearing Jones’ jersey – ran onto the mat wearing neon yellow shirts with “Jones” and “51” emblazoned across the front.
Walton said after the competition that she felt Jones was right alongside her in spirit on Saturday. She, like the rest of the team, have dedicated this season to Jones’ memory.
“She deserves to have this done for her,” Walton said. “Every little thing, every little detail – she deserved all that we could do for her.”
Those close to Jones will remember her by the small gestures she made for others.
But there was one Jones couldn’t carry out. Before Saturday’s meet, Shaw found a handcrafted sign with Walton’s name and number. Jones had made it to be on display for Walton to see at the meet.
It reaffirmed the type of person she was, and the type of person that many will remember her as.
“Lauren was simply a great person,” Walton said. “She was truly my idol, because she did everything she could for other people.”
Jonathan Hawthorne is also an author of this post.
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