The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity will hold a memorial 5K run through the Cornell Plantations on Sunday to commemorate the life and legacy of brother Jeremy Ojalehto ’14, who passed away in January.
Steven Gluck ’17 and Jesse Van Genugten ’16, the primary organizers of the event, said they believed the event would be the best way to keep Ojalehto’s memory alive, citing Ojalehto’s passion for the outdoors and physical wellness.
“He was always a big presence in the house,” Van Genugten said. “He was very into physical fitness — he would help us a lot with running and planning workouts. He always ran through [Cornell] Plantations, which is why we figured a 5K would be fitting. It also allows us to expand his legacy beyond our house.”
In October 2013, Ojalehto sustained a traumatic brain injury in a jogging accident that initiated a long-term battle with mental illness, The Sun previously reported. His injury eventually forced him to take a leave of absence from Cornell. Ojalehto passed away on Jan. 26 at age 23 in Monroe, Washington.
Ojalehto is remembered by many as a great friend and natural leader, according to Van Genugten.
“He was a vocal leader who led from behind the scenes,” Van Genugten said. “He was always the one pushing change in the right direction. He also loved to have fun; [he] joked a lot. He was a great person to be around.”
Gluck said Ojalehto’s struggle with mental illness makes mental health awareness a particularly personal and important cause for the Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers.
Proceeds from ticket sales, as well as contributions made on an online giving platform, will be donated to support the local Ithaca chapter of National Association of Mental Illness, according to Gluck.
Gluck stressed the importance of supporting organizations like NAMI, saying that while Cornell has a lot of resources geared toward helping those with mental illnesses, people in the general Ithaca community “don’t really have the resources that we do.”
Given the positive reaction from alumni and the community and the growing number of ticket sales and contributions, Gluck and Van Genugten said they hope the 5K run will become an annual event.
“I foresee [the 5K run] being an annual event. It’s a great way to remember Jeremy for his values and passion, year after year,” Van Genugten said. “He meant a lot to all of us personally. He will always have a small part of our hearts.”
The event will open with remarks from those who personally knew Ojalehto followed by the 5K run and a barbeque at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house where individuals from NAMI will present on the importance of mental health awareness, according to Gluck.
Gluck also said tickets are available online, and donations can be made on the online non-profit giving platform, GiveGab.
“I didn’t know Jeremy personally but I know that when he passed, people were telling stories about him and how much he meant to them,” Gluck said. “I just felt like we can do more for someone who made such a huge impact on the house.”