WILMINGTON — Our daughter, Jenna Lynn Martin, 21, passed away unexpectedly Tuesday, May 4, 2021. My Sweet Pickle was born Nov. 9, 1999, and remained my Sunshine until the end. She was our light and our love for her 21 years with us. Her smile lit up our lives and her belly laugh made us all laugh. Our lives are forever changed with her passing, and we will remember her with love and laughter forever.
Throughout her life, Jenna was always the advocate. At night, she said prayers for kids in elementary school who bullied others stating, “God, they must really be hurting to hurt others. Please help them.” In high school, she would call out kids publicly who were mimicking or making fun of the students with disabilities saying she would rather have a disability then be small-minded like the bullies. She had an advocate’s heart.
When she was younger, she wanted a sister. We weren’t able to have any more children, so we adopted a daughter. Jenna said she wanted her sister to look just like her. Unfortunately, adopting in Russia, that was the only thing we absolutely couldn’t give her. I told Jenna to pray for that and she did. Amazingly, God gave her a sister who did indeed looked just like her! Her little sister, Laina, had the same hair and eye color and their faces were amazingly similar as well. Laina has autism and we know that God gave her Jenna as a big sister because of Jenna’s compassion and fierce love for kids with disabilities.
Jenna always called Laina “bug” short for Love Bug because Laina wanted a nickname too. Jenna’s favorite movie as a little kid was Dumbo. Our favorite part was when the mother elephant swung Dumbo from her trunk and sang “Baby Mine.” When this part came on, Jenna would always climb into my lap so we could sway and sing the song. We continued this tradition of love throughout her life even when she grew taller than her Mama!
Jenna was also an avid reader and loved to learn everything. You could always find her with her nose in a book or on the computer researching things she wanted to know. In elementary school, we laughed because she liked to research and write reports that were not assigned in school! She said it was fun. In middle school, her principal, Mike Metcalf, always saw her with a book and they had discussions about what she was reading. She read a lot of non-fiction and books about people who struggled. Again, that was her advocate heart because she always wanted to do something to help people.
Her 7th grade social studies teacher, Beth Hurley, encouraged her to join the National History Day competition. Jenna did because Ms. Hurley was the facilitator. Together, with Hannah Gellert as a partner, they created an anti-smoking presentation under the theme: Revolution, Reaction, Reform in History. They placed 2nd in regionals, 1st in state, and went all the way to the national competition in Maryland placing 5th. We were so proud of their effort, achievement, and mostly, their perseverance.
Jenna was able to spend a great amount of time with her grandparents, Linda “Ama” and Bill “Papa,” in her life. She called, visited, spent the night, went on vacations and loved more than anything to do things with them. She loved to swim in their neighbor’s pool and was a born fish always calling out, “watch me!” She took cooking classes from time to time and always loved to recreate her dishes by preparing them for her grandparents.
Jenna was a Brownie and a Girl Scout from first grade through fifth grade in the same troop in Southern Pines. I was a co-leader with Monica Zimmerman whose daughter, Elyssa, was also in the troop. Jenna, Elyssa Zimmerman, Sydney Dye and Stacy McDearmon became the cookie queens each selling hundreds of boxes annually! Jenna also competed in volleyball and track and field. In the Sandhills Track Club under Coach Carter, Jenna learned how to run hurdles, throw the javelin and shot put, do long jump and high jump. She played volleyball at Southern Middle School, Pinecrest High School and Laney High School as well as playing club volleyball. She was a libero and dove at every ball until her knee cap split in half and surgery ended this.
She continued to find and pursue things that intrigued her, including the Global Medical Brigade at UNC Charlotte, which raised money and donations for people in need. She also loved learning about how the brain functioned and did her high school senior project on how literally the brain and neurotransmitters were affected by addiction.
Jenna had many friends and I always loved hearing them laughing and talking at our house and when I was driving them around in the car. Christina R., Alexa C., Elyssa Z., Sydney D., Hannah B., Hannah G., Hannah M., Clare R., Savanna K. and Marie F., thank you for loving Jenna.
Jenna had two emotional support animals in her life. The first was Beth Hurley’s dog, Rheena Jo, who came to Jenna after Beth passed away in Jenna’s 8th grade year. Jenna trained Rheena and was able to take her with her to classes at UNC Charlotte. Jenna’s second dog was Maia. She trained Maia to be able to also go with her to classes and on campus at Ohio State University, where she was studying psychology. Maia is now being loved and cared for by Jenna’s sister Laina, who is doing a remarkable job keeping her training up to date.
Jenna struggled with mental health issues, PTSD and alcohol use. She made valiant efforts to learn about, manage and maintain her mental health. She had also become comfortable with her identity and being gay. Our family supported Jenna always and loved her unconditionally. Jenna’s advocate heart once again rose to the challenge with these issues and for the LGBTQ community. She was a keen observer and understood and discussed her concerns and thoughts about how to make things better. Jenna was opinionated, assertive, vocal, stubborn and downright argumentative about her beliefs and values. She also had the most beautiful, intelligent, compassionate mind and heart I’ve ever met. Her advocacy and heart for people with mental health concerns and for the LGBTQ community will not end with her passing. We are working on different avenues to pursue to honor Jenna, her life and legacy. We will reach out and unfold these pursuits as we move forward in our new normal.
As Jenna used to say to me, “I’m always in your heart. I’m always with you.” We will always keep Jenna in our hearts as we move forward honoring her life. We thank you for loving Jenna, seeing her light shine, and honoring her life.
Jenna is survived by her mom, Tracy Martin-Lee; sister, Laina Martin; father, Wes Martin; grandparents, Bill and Linda Mott; and her stepdad, Bobby Lee. She also is remembered by her aunts and uncles, Jeff and Brenda Mott, and Julie (Mott) and Tim Elkinton; cousins, Carly, Griffin and Peyton Mott and T.J. and Noelle Elkinton; grand-uncle and aunt, Dave and Janet Farlee; second cousins, Steven Farlee, Susan and Richard Cole and Karen and Paul Van Dorn; uncle and aunt, Evan and Janet (Martin) Newmark; cousin, Jordan Newmark; and grand-godfather Michael Bruner. Jenna’s grandmother, Cecilia Martin; great-grandparents, Thomas and Lorna Wright; and her beloved teacher, Beth Hurley, welcomed Jenna in heaven with hugs, smiles and love. Jenna is also remembered by countless friends, teachers, coworkers and so many other dear people in all our lives.
A celebration of life memorial for Jenna will be held from 3 to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 12, at Port City Community Church in Studio 3. Please join us to share Jenna’s life, laugh and cry together. Dress is very casual and that means jeans are appropriate. Jenna hated dressing up, so please come casual for her. Please send in advance or bring photos of Jenna (the more the better) to the celebration. They will be hung up for all to see and enjoy. The family will have decorative paper and pens available to write favorite memories, stories, funny times about Jenna (and you) to be hung on the wall with photos as well. Time will be provided at the beginning of the service to write and place your memories on the wall. All photos and memories will be placed together in a memory book for the family.
In lieu of flowers, we ask that you make a donation in Jenna’s name to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Wilmington whose purpose is to educate, advocate, listen and lead to end the stigma of mental illness. Also, the Frank Harr Foundation in Wilmington which supports and advocates for the LGBTQ community as well as educating the community about social issues.
Share online condolences with the family at Andrews Mortuary & Crematory.