Mother of UND alumna shares journey of commemorating daughter’s advocacy for those with disabilities.
On April 13, 1976, our daughter Jennifer Shelley Holth was born. She died on September 8, 2017, from an accidental overdose of prescription medications. Rod and I were present when this beautiful gift entered this world and we were present when she died, leaving us with pain and overwhelming grief.
Who was Jennifer? We knew she had a passion to advocate for those less fortunate or with disabilities. During her years at UND, she cared for adults with developmental disabilities and continued that work until her death. In 2007, Christian Scott Winkels was born to Jennifer and her husband, Joe. Christian was screened and determined to be on the autism spectrum at an early age. On hearing this diagnosis, the extreme sadness and grief for their small family felt overwhelming.
Jennifer and Joe soon put energy into learning all they could about autism, determining what interventions were available in our community and advocating for Christian’s needs by engaging services.
Jennifer was a passionate and a fierce advocate. That was a part of her that we loved. She led the way advocating for Christian. Joe says that he learned to advocate from her, never realizing he would need to carry the mantle as a single parent someday.
How could we remember Jennifer? Often, I would ask my sons and husband for ideas on how to memorialize Jennifer for years to come. I made calls, talked to agencies, and tried to find a place to direct my energy.
Our son, Jonathan, suggested talking to Dan Muus at the UND Alumni Association & Foundation. During some initial conversations, Dan brought up endowment funding. I remember feeling a lump in my throat, a need to advocate for Jennifer. I remember thinking, “I’m serious about establishing this endowment.”
Jennifer was a passionate and a fierce advocate. That was a part of her that we loved.
For the first time in four years, our family had a forum to tell Jennifer’s story of passion, advocacy, and love for others. Finally, something felt right when we thought of remembering her legacy. I could breathe without feeling pain, knowing this mission to remember our beautiful daughter would be a reality.
On April 2, 2021, the announcement of the Jennifer Holth Winkels Family Scholarship Endowment commemorating Jennifer’s birthday and Autism Awareness Month was released on social media. Family and friends responded with generous contributions. Today, this endowment is fully funded and directed to the UND College of Education & Human Development for the purpose of assisting students who are advancing their education to teach students on the autism spectrum.
This endowment will forever share Jennifer’s legacy and life work of advocating for those with disabilities.
For the first time in four years, our family had a forum to tell Jennifer’s story of passion, advocacy, and love for others.Janelle Holth, ’73
Our hearts are full of gratitude for family and friends, the University of North Dakota, the Alumni Association & Foundation, and the College of Education & Human Development for supporting us and believing in all that Jennifer’s life had been. Thank you for helping our family move forward, begin to heal and, most importantly, celebrate Jennifer.