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Part of getting old is feeling proud of much younger friends as they excel

J. H. Osborne • Oct 20, 2019 at 12:30 PM

(As you read this, please try not to hear Forrest Gump’s voice in your head).

When I first met Jenni, she already was much wiser than her years would have led you, perhaps, to expect. A bit pixieish in looks and actions, Jenni was nonetheless serious and determined. I think even then we all knew she was going places. Recently we were reminded just how far she did go, once she got going, when she popped into Kingsport for a short visit.

Jenni has lived in Alaska for 15 years. She moved to the small town of Bethel to take a job in her chosen field: environmental health science. My going away present: The Rocky Horror Picture Show on DVD. I’m not sure why that’s what I gave her, but at the time it made her happy.

By the way, when I say “we” I mean me, Vicki Cooper Trammel, Rick Barger, Curtis Powell, and too many others to list who knew Jenni during her time working at Skoby’s. She started there as a junior in high school and stayed until she completed her degree at East Tennessee State University.

On her recent trip to Northeast Tennessee, Jenni really reached a professional milestone, in my opinion: She was asked to visit her alma mater, ETSU’s environmental health science program, as a guest lecturer.

She met a small group of us the next day for lunch at our favored “laying up” spot: Riverfront Seafood. (It was Jenni, her beautiful daughter Astrid, Vicki, Rick and I. Officially. But once we were seated we were joined for a bit by Riverfront owner Russell Burdine and manager Frank Underwood (both former Skoby’s employees). Curtis works at Riverfront, too, but by day he’s a stylist at Pixie Salon downtown. Jenni and Astrid arrived at lunch with a fresh cut from Curtis.

Talking about her hair immediately brought up the first of many funny memories. Rick once took her flying in his plane, and it wasn’t until they were well in the air that she realized she’d closed the door on her long flowing hair. leaving it to flap in the wind. Lots more memories followed as we enjoyed a delightful Riverfront meal. Astrid tired of the old folks, however, and moved one table over to do “homework” and then a spontaneous craft project (a handcrafted, hand-colored paper bracelet for he mom).

And then, as our too-short visit was about to end, Jenni had to go get all serious. She told us that on her visit to ETSU, the environmental health science program chair had eloquently described the “culture of excellence” they’ve created among students.

“It made me think. Prior to my time at ETSU, I first encountered the ‘culture of excellence’ when I started working at Skoby’s. As a teenager, I was younger than most of the staff and decades younger than our clientele. I would describe myself as more naive than I liked to think, teachable, and hungry to learn, to achieve. Enter the Skoby’s (Pal’s) business model with their core values (quality, consistency, service…) and leadership philosophy. I eagerly absorbed it all. Fifteen years later and 4,000 miles away, I’ve settled into a very different life than my Skoby’s days. And still, not a week goes by that I don’t reflect upon those values, the lessons on customer service — which you can apply to daily life and ordinary interaction with others. I am forever indebted to the Bargers, staff and customers for the mere existence of such a place. I count myself lucky for encountering teachers and mentors such as you, Rick Barger and Vicki Cooper.”

So, what does Jenni do now?

I asked Jenni for a copy of her Curriculum Vitae. It’s 15 pages long. There are lots of letters before and after her name: “CDR Jennifer D. Dobson, MPH, REHS, HHS.” I settled on an easy-to-read attachment at the conclusion of her emails:

“Jennifer Dobson manages an environmental health program that serves fifty remote and underserved communities in Alaska. Much of her work focuses on rural water & sanitation and designing innovative programs for unique populations. Her educational background includes an undergraduate environmental health science degree, a graduate degree in public health, and a graduate global health certificate. In her free time, Jennifer enthusiastically participates in alternative sports, runs, gardens atop the frozen tundra, cooks/eats yummy food, and raises two young public health advocates.”

So, Jenni ... or Jennifer ... has in fact gone places. We all wish she were closer. But we’re also so proud of her we could just pop. 

Jenni is married to Leif Albertson and  Astrid’s older brother is Atlas.

Note: The phrase “laying up” is derived from “laid up,” or “all laid up.” That’s how some of us used to describe parties who clearly had settled in for the duration. I do not use it derogatorily — as I often said it of myself. Examples: “I laid up in the Back Room until closing last night because Sybil (not her real name) didn’t want to flip my table (get more customers if I left).” “Ooo-eee! The (fill in a prominent couple’s last name) are all laid up at table 10. They’re not goin’ anywhere.” “I want to go lay up at the Chop House and just eat french fries.Wanna come?”

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