Remembering a visionary: ALS Ice Bucket Challenges honor late Doug Jaeger
As the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge continues to circulate around social media across the country, and in Dickinson, a familiar name keeps popping up in one video after another: Doug Jaeger, a businessman and former director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department whose work touched lives across the community.
Jaeger passed away on Aug. 17 after his own battle with ALS, a disease that causes paralyzation and, eventually death. He had been diagnosed last July, said his son, Brad Jaeger, after multiple visits to hospitals in Bismarck, Fargo and eventually Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The disease, often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, progressed quickly.
“It’s a truly horrible disease,” Brad said. “My dad was a very active person, going to games, basketball, hunting. That gets taken away from you in a very short time.”
The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, for the uninitiated, is a fundraising/awareness movement that went viral last month. Videos posted on social media show participants subjecting themselves to a bucket of ice water shower, after which they nominate the next person. Those who do not do the challenge within 24 hours are “required” to donate money toward research on the degenerative disease.
Since July 29, the challenge has raised $94 million, the ALS Association announced Wednesday.
In the days before and after Doug’s death, challenge videos in his honor appeared online from as far away as Illinois, where the Southern Illinois University football team took the plunge in Jaeger’s name. Southern Illinois head coach Dale Lennon, who started his coaching career at Dickinson State, was Jaeger’s high school friend.
In Dickinson, everyone from city officials to former co-workers dedicated their challenge to Jaeger — Mayor Dennis Johnson took on three buckets of ice water in honor of the man he called “a very respected member of Dickinson.”
Brad Jaeger said he has received more than 100 videos — sent to him by family, friends and near-strangers — who wanted to remember his father.
“I can’t thank, one, the community of Dickinson for the outreach, but just across the midwest and even nationally,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many countless calls I’ve gotten from different park directors throughout the Midwest.”
The entire Dickinson Parks and Recreation staff took part in the fundraiser for Doug Jaeger, who in his time with the department and 20 years with the Associated Pool Builders, helped shape the city’s entire park system.
“He was one of the founding fathers of Parks and Recreation in our community,” Director James Kramer said. “He was a visionary. He could kind of dream of a project and see it through.”
Kramer began working for the parks department at age 13, with a part-time job keeping score at sporting events. He said Doug Jaeger was the first person to give him a job with the department, which eventually lead to full-time work and, later, his role as director.
“Doug was my mentor,” Kramer said.
Doug Jaeger was active in everything from the city’s softball complexes, the Heart River Golf Course and art programs, among other activities. He played in the parks department’s recreation basketball league until a few years ago.
Kramer said Doug Jaeger was passionate about recreational opportunities for children, and started the low-income program to make sure everyone could participate, regardless of their ability to pay.
Even after he left the parks department, he remained active in its activities. One of Doug Jaeger’s last projects, the West River Community Center’s new outdoor pool, opened just weeks before his death. Because he was unable to go and see it for himself, Brad said, friends and family brought by pictures so he could see the results of his work.
Dedicating the Ice Bucket Challenge to Doug Jaeger was an obvious decision for the Parks and Recreation staff, Kramer said.
“I think the timing of it, with the national attention to ALS and the Ice Bucket Challenge, and the death of Doug, it all timed right and felt right,” Kramer said.
The outpouring of videos and donations has helped not only honor Doug, but also raise awareness about ALS, Brad said.
“I think it’s helped bring this disease to the forefront,” he said. “I have a personal connection to it, but obviously it needed a kickstart — and I think it’s definitely got it.”
Faulx is a reporter with The Press. Contact her at 701-456-1207 or tweet her at NadyaFaulx