The following story appeared in the April 7 Idaho Catholic Register.
Jen Laubhan with her children before the Easter Vigil Mass at St. Mark’s in Boise. Her husband, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Geoff Laubhan, right, was a pilot instructor for the Idaho Army National Guard. He died on Feb. 2, 2021, while piloting his helicopter in a military training exercise. (Courtesy photos/Jen Laubhan)
By Emily Woodham
When Coach Tim Brennan, then the football coach at Bishop Kelly High School, heard about the helicopter crash that killed Officer Geoff Laubhan, a pilot instructor in the Idaho Army National Guard, his mind reverted to more than 20 years ago when he taught Jen Mykelgard and her sister, Annie, at the Boise school.
Jen Mykelgard, a 1999 graduate of BK, was to later marry Geoff Laubhan, whose Blackhawk crashed during a night training exercise on Feb. 2, 2021.
Wanting to help his former student, Brennan worked with the school and campus ministry team to raise funds to donate to the family. Coach Brennan and campus ministry students went to Jen’s house to present gifts for her and her children.
Because Jen had not been in much contact with the school since her graduation, the support from BK came as a surprise.
The support provided by Brennan and BK had a ripple effect. It was a factor in Jen’s decision to enroll her children at St. Mark’s Catholic School for the 2021-22 school year and, eventually, her children getting baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2022.
And now, Jen Laubhan works at Bishop Kelly High School, hired in January as the development and events coordinator.
Even though a lot has happened since she graduated from BK nearly a quarter-century ago, returning to the school is like coming home, she said.
“You walk in here, and you feel like you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself,” she said.
Her work at BK comes after taking a sabbatical from her former career to regroup and heal following her husband’s death. She needed the time off, she said, to focus on healing for her children and herself.
“If I had kept going to work, I wouldn’t have been able to find that healing. I really got to focus on my kids and myself. Healing doesn’t just come; you have to do the work to feel better, to find peace and move forward. And I know my husband would’ve wanted that,” she said.
Laubhan grew up in Sacred Heart Parish and went to Sacred Heart School from kindergarten through 8th grade. After graduating from Bishop Kelly, she went to Carroll College and then transferred to Boise State, where she met Geoff.
They quickly fell in love and married.
While starting a family, she worked for several different Boise companies including Happy Family Organics and Bliss Events. In 2010, he decided to pursue a military career with the Idaho Army National Guard to become a helicopter pilot. (He later became a Black Hawk pilot instructor.)
On Feb. 1, 2021, Geoff went on a training exercise in the mountains east of Boise.
At around 11 p.m., Laubhan had a knock on her front door. “One of Geoff’s best buddies, who is also a pilot, came to the door to tell me in person that his helicopter went missing. Poor man, he already knew that Geoff had crashed,” she said.
With the weather conditions that night, it took a while for the military to verify what had happened before they could notify her officially. “It was just like out of the movies,” she said, describing the fateful formal notification. “A white minivan shows up across the street, and a few uniformed men get out of their car.” They gave her the news that Geoff had died. “My husband’s birthday was Feb. 13. He missed his birthday by days. Instead of celebrating his birthday, we had his funeral.”
At the time of Geoff’s death, Laubhan had just started a new position at work. The company gave her the time off she needed. However, when she tried to get back into her career, she felt it wasn’t right.
“It just was not my calling at that time with my two little ones, who were 9 and 4 at the time. I needed to just focus on them and figure out our life,” she said. To help them heal, she and her children went to counseling and took time to grieve.
When facing a tragedy, a person questions every-thing, she said. “You question God. You ask, ‘Why is this happening to a good family and a good man? You lose a lot of faith at that time because you’re watching your kids hurt, you’re watching his parents hurt, and you’re hurting,” she said.
Family, friends and the military community stepped up to help her and her family. Although it was hard to believe in God at the time, the outpouring of help from so many sources pointed to something bigger, she said.
“It rocked us. It took us a year to really kind of regroup. We knew we needed something bigger than us to help us through this,” she said.
She and her husband had been a part of Protestant churches, but she began to feel a pull back to the Catholic Church. Her parents’ continued faithfulness at Sacred Heart and her sister’s involvement with St. Mark’s Parish in Boise helped her come back to the faith of her childhood.
“I decided that faith needed to be a part of our family to move forward and to be stronger,” she said.
It was also at this time that the Bishop Kelly community stepped up to support her.
When Laubhan saw the job opening for a development and events coordinator at Bishop Kelly, it seemed the perfect time and opportunity. “I was a little timid, but I put in my resume. Next thing I knew, I was coming in for an interview, and I got it,” she said.
Laubhan hit the ground running with some of BK’s big yearly events like the Pasta Festa, Mardi Gras, Irish Fest and, soon, the President’s Table Dinner.
“It’s amazing working here. I have an amazing team, and we have a great connection,” she said.
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