Letter to students from the late Jenny Bell Jones

Maggie King
Sept. 23, 2022

Jenny Bell Jones sits with her head tilted towards the sky. She is wearing dark sunglasses and a dark jacket with a beaded necklace.
Photo provided by Jennifer Carroll
Jenny Bell Jones enjoying the sunshine at the UAF Georgeson Botanical Garden in July 2020.

UAF emeritus professor Jenny Bell Jones recently passed away. In her final days, she wrote a letter to students. This letter was originally published in the UAF Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development blog. 

Greetings to you all! By the time you read this my journey on our beautiful planet will be over and I will have taken my last walk into the forest. I want you all to know what a huge honor it has been to be a part of your lives. You, and in many cases your families as well, have brought great joy to me through the years that we worked together, and especially during my last years when illness made me homebound. It is not the Native way to say goodbye, and this isn’t a goodbye, it is a “I’ll see you later” or “hágoónee’”.

No more grading papers late into the night for me, no more sending out just one more email trying to make sure that everybody got their assignments in on time. No more developing those quizzes and writing those lecture notes that I’m sure some of you groaned about when you found how much reading they would require. Those things I will not take with me. The things I will carry along are the wonderful memories I have from each time I saw one or another of you have another success. Sometimes those successes were small, sometimes they were large, it never mattered to me, just seeing them was what counted. Nobody was happier about your good grades than I was!

Sometimes I was aware that you were struggling with incredible challenges in your lives. Some of you came to me and talked to me in confidence about those challenges and that confidence has never been shared. Sometimes I sat up all night like a worried grandma trying to figure out how best I could help you. Sometimes there were things I could do, and other times all I could do was pray but I want you to know that I was always there doing it.

Know that you can succeed. Do your best work and then try to make it just a tiny little bit better. You don’t have to be perfect just do your best. Take what you have learned in our classes and programs and use it wisely. Be proud of your successes, and forgive yourselves when you do not do as well as you had hoped … you are often your own worst critics, chances are the rest of us think you did pretty well!

When I was diagnosed with ALS in 2010 I was told I had just a year or two. I had a choice. I could have resigned my position, filed for disability and let the illness take over. Or I could continue working for as long as I was able. I chose the second option because of all of you. And those of you who I have worked with through these last 12 years they had told me I would not have, have given me a gift that I cannot repay. You gave me a purpose and reason to keep fighting. A reason to keep loving life for as long as I possibly could.

So, now it is time for you to pick up that fight. Sing for me, dance for me, eat some Native food for me, spend some time out on the land with me, but please do not be too sad for me. I have been blessed with many good years and especially the ones I have spent with you. I am at peace now, please be at peace with me. Remember when we walk on, we do not walk away. If you want to talk to me, go sit outside somewhere and be very quiet and listen … I’ll be there.


If you or someone you know is struggling with this loss, please don’t struggle alone.  Free help is available. All UAF students are eligible for free counseling through the UAF Health and Counseling Center. Please call 907-474-7043 to make an appointment, or visit the SHCC website to learn about counseling services.