Life in a nonprofit can be challenging. Resources are usually stretched thin and the work is generally more than people can handle in a normal working day. People who devote themselves to the nonprofit sector have to believe that the work they are doing matters – to themselves, their colleagues, the community, and to the other nonprofits with whom they work.
Such is the case at our Foundation with its small staff. And no one has exemplified that dedication to the greater good more than our office and finance manager, Jelena Jurkovic, who retires this month after 18 years of service to the Jackson legacy. Jelena is one of those unsung heroes who make organizations work well. When sifting through photos in advance of honoring her, I couldn’t help but be struck by how few photos there were of her – instead, others are at the podium, giving the talks, leading the crowd. Yet Jelena’s quiet and critical role resulted in full lecture halls; well-prepped and organized board meetings; and thoughtful, accurate briefing materials. While this does not always make for headlines or glory, in the nearly two decades that I have worked with Jelena, her spirit, warmth, dedication to mission, commitment to her colleagues, and professionalism have meant the world to all of us. When I sent out emails to former colleagues about Jelena’s decision to retire, responses were quick and heartfelt. Board members have been equally effusive about Jelena and the role that she has played here at the Foundation. While we will hire other staff, her shoes will be hard to fill.
At a farewell event for Jelena last night, Anna Marie Laurence, Board member and daughter of Senator Jackson, praised Jelena and said, “My father liked to say, ‘Whatever you do in life, always do it with excellence.’ This is what Jelena did.” Board member Joel Merkel expressed that he was honored to call Jelena a friend and emphasized, as did other speakers, the genuine and heartfelt nature of Jelena’s relationships with others. He concluded, “Thank you, Jelena, for your friendship and your service to the Jackson Foundation. We will miss your daily presence but we will never forget you and we all hope to maintain the relationship.”
When you work together, day after day, you come to be a family. Such it has been, to our great good fortune, to work together with Jelena at the Jackson Foundation. With Jelena’s retirement to sunnier climes and the pull of her loved ones, we lose an essential part of our extended Jackson Foundation family. As Foundation President John Hempelmann said last night, “while we will miss her, whenever we think of Jelena, we will smile.”
We wish Jelena the best of luck in her retirement and we will retain fond memories of our many laughs and shared concerns over the years together.
Lara Iglitzin, Executive Director