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Queen Creek couple endows scholarship

August 20, 2002

Jason Carlson of Queen Creek died of cancer July 19, 1999, at the age of 22, but the legacy of his determination and stalwart attitude will live on thanks to a $40,000 endowment scholarship made by his family to ASU.

The endowment will provide financial assistance to a select student attending ASU's Polytechnic campus or ASU Main who has accumulated 24 or more credit hours toward a bachelor's or master's degree. There are no restrictions as to the course of studies, but only students from Queen Creek can receive the scholarship.

"The funds came from our community and we wanted to give back to the community," said his mother, Jeanie Carlson. "Jason believed in education and thought people should always move forward with that. Giving back to the community is something he would have wanted."

Carlson was attending Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1997. He was working toward degrees in communications and business finance and was preparing to pledge with the Alpha Delta Epsilon fraternity, which he finalized in spring of 1998.

Joseph Balat, one of Carlson's fraternity brothers, memorialized his lost friend, saying "Jason's attitude never changed when he got sick. He didn't want to talk about being sick, he just wanted to talk about how things were going, how they had been, and how they will be. It was never denial -- denial was what a few of us had for him -- it was reality. He knew more than any of us, and he did it his way."

Carlson grew up working in his father's TrueValue Hardware store in the small town of Queen Creek, just east of Phoenix, and graduated from Chandler High School in 1995.

"A lot of people knew Jason," his father, Russ Carlson, said stumbling emotionally over the words. "He worked in the store since he was four."

"When he was really young, he would stand at the cash register on a box," his mother said with a smile. "He loved counting the money, and people enjoyed being around him."

His good-hearted nature and positive outlook on life did, indeed, endear him to most everyone he met, so much so that when the people of Queen Creek heard of his illness and his need for an expensive bone marrow transplant, the entire community rallied support to pay for the procedure. Through organized fund-raisers by the local Kiwanis Club and other groups, and retail outlet counter jars, some $123,000 in donations were gathered, more than enough to cover the $83,000 in medical expenses the family incurred.

Unfortunately, the treatment failed and Carlson succumbed to the cancer in the summer of 1999. Once the bills had all been paid, Carlson's parents were faced with the quandary of what to do with $40,000 that was left from the community donations. Their decision to establish an endowment in their son's name came after participating in a local cancer walk.

"We were thinking of giving the money to research," Russ Carlson said. "But we sat there and watched all those young people walking for the cause and thought 'these people are all Jason's age.'"

The Carlsons finally decided a scholarship fund in Jason's name would promote the aspirations they envisioned for their son by helping other people with similar goals.

"This will repay the community that gave so much to our family," Russ Carlson said, adding the fund will also support local youths and extend their son's strong belief in education and self-improvement.