The College’s rugby team started off the season on a somber note this year, dedicating a moment of silence before its first game in honor of former teammate Ken Johnsen Jr., a mechanical engineering major who passed away on Sept. 9 after a long battle with lymphoma cancer.
It has been nearly two years since Johnsen graduated from the College but it was his attitude on and off the field that his teammates continue to remember.
“I will remember Kenny as one of the most humble kids I ever met, who took to our sport like a natural,” former teammate Joe Maringola said. “I argue that he is the most complete and skilled fullback this school ever produced. Beyond that, he had a good heart.”
Johnsen continued to work hard after graduation, where he began graduate school and hiked half of the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. Only then was he first diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer resulting from a malignant change in the lymphocytes, a certain type of white blood cell.
Throughout the next two years, Johnsen continued to push himself in his fight against the cancer.
“The guy was such a tough man,” former teammate Joe Millard said. “Old-school guy in my book, tough as nails.”
Johnsen came to the College from Parsippany, N.J., and almost immediately began playing rugby. Instantly, he was recognized for his hard work and drive, as well as his ability to make anyone laugh. Off the field, he earned the nickname of “Flamer” following an incident with a flaming shot of alcohol.
In his final season playing rugby, Johnsen and the rest of the team came home winners of the Division II Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union Championship – a first for the club sport. His intensity for the game and distinct style of play was one that was admired by his teammates.
Johnsen passed away 13 days after he turned 25, but his legacy continues to be remembered by his former teammates, current rugby players and friends. The team has dedicated the 2007 season to Johnsen, remembering the intense player and unique person he was.
The team will also be fundraising for the “Light the Night” walk on Oct. 13. All proceeds will be going toward the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Johnsen’s honor.
For more information on the walk, or how to donate, visit lightthenight.org.