Commemorating the life and legacy of their fraternity brother Jeremy Ojalehto ’14, who passed away in January 2016, Sigma Phi Epsilon held a memorial 5K run through the Cornell Botanical Gardens on Saturday and donated the proceeds to a mental health organization.
Citing Ojalehto’s passion for the outdoors and physical wellness, Peter Sanderson ’20, one of the primary organizers of the event, said the 5K run allowed the fraternity to “continue to keep Ojalehto’s memory alive.”
“This is something that we had to do, in order to honor him,” Sanderson said. “That was due to both the intellectual and physical drive that he gave to everyone else here.”
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. After taking a leave of absence from Cornell, Ojalehto passed away at the age of 23 in Monroe, Washington.
The third annual 5K was attended by over 150 people. The event generated more than $15,600 in revenue, which was more than two times the amount raised last year, according to Sanderson.
One-hundred percent of the proceeds from ticket sales and contributions from past fraternity brothers and friends will be donated to support the National Association of Mental Illness’ local Ithaca chapter.
“For us to see someone so driven, so incredible and so strong, succumb to [mental illness] was a sign that it doesn’t really matter who you are or how strong you are,” Sanderson said. “Mental health is really something that can affect anyone in any circumstance and for us that was a really important thing to address through this 5K.”
Sanderson also said that one of the main goals of the event was to extend Ojalehto’s legacy beyond the fraternity.
“We didn’t want this to just be a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity 5K, where we do a little bit, and people forget about it,” Sanderson said. “I think that making this an event that is known by the greater community and one that everyone looks forward to and respects is something that we’re hoping to do.”
After the race, the Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers hosted a dinner for Ojalehto’s family and close friends at the fraternity house.
Hoping to host the 5K run on an annual basis, Sanderson added that the fraternity’s brothers felt personally compelled to honor Ojalehto’s legacy and address mental health within the Ithaca community.
“Jeremy was one of the most valued and respected brothers that we’ve had in our chapter in a long time,” Sanderson said. “Within the brotherhood itself, we want to make it clear to everyone that this is one of the most important things we do as an organization.”