reported by Bill Breckenfeld '65
Jay Guertin (1965)
So very sad Jeff’s untimely passing. Jeff was a good person and I enjoyed our high school friendship. I was impressed with Jeff’s outstanding law enforcement career. The world is a better place because of Jeff Ashley. Condolences to the family.
Marcia Johnson (Skelton) (1965)
Jeff was a WONDERFUL person. He was kind and fun. I remeber him as being a hard worker. He worked hard even as a child. He was a BLESSING to Okemos.
David Gustafson (1965)
I spent a lot my youth tagging along with Jeff on Bill Frye’s farm, helping out, geting in everyone’s way as well as following along to the county fairs to watch Jeff show his latest prize Angus steer. He won several blue ribbons statewide.
Bill’s father had helped develop chrome plating for Oldsmobile so he was financially secure, but a family was out of the question since he had been severely wounded in Egypt during WWII by covering a land mine with his body to protect his men. They operated on him without an anesthetic because they never thought he would make it.
When Jeff showed up looking for some work years later, Bill eventually gathered him in as a loaner-son.
Beside the registered Angus that Bill bred from stock that he had acquired in Scotland before the days of artificial insemination, they also raised Cheviot sheep and a couple of thoroughbred horses. A Colonel representing President Eishenhower’s Gettysburg farm would drop by occasionally and check out the latest calves for Ike.
Bill was an avid collector of antiques who owned one of George Washington’s writing desks made by America’s foremost cabinet maker, Duncan Phyfe, among many other prizes. He interested Jeff in a passion for collecting Currier and Ives prints. I would guess that by the time we graduated from Okemos, Jeff had at least 30 or 40 in his collection. He also had an over-flowing gun cabinet that I drooled over since I was an avid reader of Field and Stream, Outdoor Life and Sports Afield.
Although my father was reluctant to let me acquire my first shotgun, he never minded that I was hunting on the farm with a gun borrowed from Jeff. One day, Jeff knocked down a rooster I also had in my sights, pulling the trigger right behind him, filling the bird full of another load of shot. Jeff suggested that I take the spoiled bird home to show Dad my (worthless) prize. On seeing my trophy, Dad finally agreed that I could buy my first gun with my own money. I skipped our 35 cent school lunches until I had enough for a .410.
The farm was an unforgettable playground with deer, rabbits, squirrels and ducks. In the woods in back of the hay field, Jeff had discovered an Indian burial mound that he never tampered with.
Jeff always got a kick out of suckering me into picking up the electrified sheep strand by saying it had just been turned off.
My final and favorite farm story with Jeff Ashley:
There was a rain barrel next to the cow barn, just before the big haybarn where we built our forts and tunnels. It abutted the newly inaugurated highway.
After unloading the heavy alfalfa on a partiuculary hot and humid day, Jeff and I raced around the corner to reach the rain barrel for a cool dip, stripping off our clothes as we went, oblivious to the newly opened interstate. Jeff won the race to the room-for-only-one rain barrel. I was left stranded outside, completely naked, with cars honking their horns and strangers waving at me. Oh well, who has much to hide at that age?
Good times. Thanks, Jeff
Gary Weeber (1965)
One never knows what the next click on a computer will do to affect your life. This click obviously produced a sad result.
Although I did not know Jeff well in school, we did reconnect during the past few reunions and the pleasure was all mine. Our similar fields in criminal justice helped to cement this new friendship and knowing him has been one of the pleasures of this stage in my life. Jeff always brought a smile to my face and that is one of the best things any human can do for another. To have contributed positively and to be missed upon passing...what better acheivement can one make? I will truly miss the interaction at our next reunion. Adios my friend.
Dave Gustafson...thanks for sharing those memories of Jeff and for checking in. I hope we have the chance to connect at a future reunion. I would love to catch up with you.
Bev Smith (Holt) (1965)
Jeff worked and was self reliant at a young age, qualities I admire. We talked at the reunion sharing work interests. So sad to hear of his death, a loss to all of us. My sympathy and good wishes to his family. Bev Smith Holt
Wally Schrubkowski (1964)
Jeff was the first friend my age that I made after arriving in the United States. As a refugee from Europe, our family crossed the Atlantic in 1950. We lived on Okemos Haslett Road (March Road) for about five years, which at that time, was out in the country. Until I started school, I didn’t have contact with any American children; Jeff, along with the rest of the kindergarten class were my first.
I can’t remember why, but Jeff and I became good friends quickly. Unfortunately, Jeff was a sickly child back then and missed weeks upon weeks of school. Due to his excessive absences from class, Mrs. McKinley, our teacher, wouldn’t allow Jeff to pass on to the First Grade. By today’s standards, that seems like a grave error, but times were different back then.
Once we separated into different grades, we had limited contact with each other until High School. Due to lunch periods coinciding and physical sports activities, we continued to remain friends. After high school, we went to Lansing Community College together. Many mornings we rode together from Okemos. We were in many of the same classes and usually had lunch together. We both went to Western Michigan University, but we went at different times.
I remember buying a Pontiac LeMans from him. He lived in Shaftsburg with Bill, his non-legal father. I traded a motorcycle—in a box—and some cash for the car. Before buying the car, I suggested we drive it to Flint and back, to make sure everything was working properly. It had an exhaust leak, but hey, we were young, and a noisy car was cool. When we got back to Jeff’s house, we exchanged the money, the motorcycle, and the title. I proceeded to drive the car out of the driveway. When the two front wheels were on the road, but the back wheels were in the driveway, the exhaust system fell from the car onto the driveway.
The situation couldn’t have been timed better. Although disappointed, and desperately poor back then, the timing made both of us laugh hysterically. After a few minutes of laughing, I backed the car into the driveway so that we could remove the muffler and associated pipes; threw it all in the trunk and had a noisy ride home.
There was a Labor Day, three-day weekend that proved to be fun and interesting. Jeff was more law-abiding and God-fearing than I was in our early years. On the first day of the holiday, Jeff was saying things like, “We better not do that.” On the second day, he quit admonishing our other friend and me. By the third day, he was the instigator of some of our stunts.
On another weekend, the three of us went to Torch Lake to go scuba diving. Jeff brought his small Jon boat, which we strapped to the top of a station wagon. When we arrived at the lake, the three of us put our gear into the boat and rowed out to an appropriate spot; threw a diving flag into the water, and asked Jeff to stay near the flag so that no one motored over our location. There wasn’t much wind on the lake as we rowed out, so we stayed down until our tanks were low. When we came up, the wind had increased, and Jeff was having a challenging time keeping water out of the boat. We felt terrible that he didn’t understand we could have swum to shore as we were buoyant in our wetsuits and diving vests. Jeff didn’t have any flotation equipment in the boat, but he stayed to protect his friends. That was Jeff.
I know Jeff had many guns, but I don’t remember any stories about hunting, but fishing stories, those were plentiful. I’ve never been an avid angler, but going to the Canadian bush and flying into an isolated lake; ya, I’m all in. Although we took many trips, I remember one trip where three of us went for a week to an Ontario lake. Outfitters flew us in and left us with our supplies. They were coming back on Wednesday to check on us, then fly us out the following Saturday morning.
We were there some time in May. If you’ve ever been to the Canadian bush, you’ll be more familiar with Black Flies and mosquitos than you care to be. During the day, we fought the black flies; at night, we fought the mosquitos. While fishing out in the middle of the lake, you were mostly safe, by nightfall, the black flies left, and the mosquitos moved in.
Usually, if it is windy out, mosquitos stay low in the grass and don’t bother you. But in Ontario, at least that year, the mosquitos had what looked like three-foot wingspans, and apparently could hit 0 to 60 mph within 2-seconds. You couldn’t outrun them to the outhouse. On windy nights, they would stay on the lee-side of the tent waiting for our nightly pilgrimage. None of us risked the trip. Our cooking pots and pans had to serve as substitutes; ya, I know . . . But you had to be there.
There were other trips to the bush. I seem to remember something about an outhouse catching on fire. Not sure how that happened as the details are rather fuzzy now.
While Jeff was still on patrol in Lansing Township, before he became the Chief, I spent many an evening riding with him. I was managing a sales force at the time and would leave work at 10 pm. On many nights I drove over to Lansing township looking for one of their cruisers so that they could locate Jeff. Those were good times. We solved many of the world’s problems during those rides.
Jeff was shy when meeting people as a civilian, but I marveled at the difference in him when he put on his uniform. Although polite when dealing with the public, he was businesslike and in charge while on duty.
Working in a public position as the Chief was taxing on Jeff. He didn’t like the politics and was looking forward to his retirement. From everything than I could gather from him, his time working for the United Nations was exciting and gratifying. What a wonderful way to end your working life.
Sadly, as happens so often, when I moved from the Lansing area, we had little contact with each other. Of course, for many years, he was in other parts of the world. We had some telephone contact and made promises to get together, but they never happened.
Well, my good friend, I’m missing our times together already. You did well in life. We should all endeavor to emulate your kindness and goodwill.
Claudia Coohon (Nightengale) (1965)
So sorry to hear about Jeff - deepest condolences to his family. He was a very kind person, a true gentleman. And a fun Sr. Prom date.
Gus, really enjoyed your comments! I knew that everything Jeff did, he did very well, but I wasn't aware of his level of excellence with his livestock, only knew he raised champions.
Laurel Winkel (1968)
The measure of a person can be found in the memories of his friends. Thank you for sharing your rich tales with your friend. I'm sorry I missed knowing Jeff and offer my condolences to his family and friends.
Rilla Haga (Thedford) (1965)
Have great memories of Jeff.
My family actually lived on the Fry farm while our house was being built on "Cavanaugh Road" now Jolly Road.
Blessings to the family members.
Rilla Haga Thedford
Marion Burch (LaClear) (1965)