Students honor Bertha-Hewitt school cook after abrupt passing

When the students of Bertha-Hewitt Public School got the news their much loved head cook had suddenly died, it was devastating, but the teenagers stepped up in a big way.

Mark Jennissen, head cook at Bertha-Hewitt Public Schools, died of a heart attack while pulling up to work. The school's students created more than 25 floral arrangements for his funeral.
Contributed / Bertha-Hewitt Public School

BERTHA, Minn. — Bertha-Hewitt Public School has a program called Next Gen-Bears, a program that helps students learn skills and operate real business, one being a flower shop.

On Monday, April 3, students went to work, planning the funeral for their favorite cook Mark Jennissen, who passed away a few weeks ago.

Jennissen grew up a Minnesota farm boy, but just ask the students and staff at Bertha-Hewitt school, where he was head cook.

"Mark and our cooks and our custodians, they are the heart of the school. They are what keep the school running on a daily basis," said Bertha-Hewitt Public School District Superintendent Eric Koep.

"It was clear that he really impacted a lot of people over his life," said Bertha-Hewitt teacher Michelle Olson.


Jennissen came to the school on March 17, just like any another work day, but there was an unexpected tragedy.

"Mark was pulling into school like he does every morning at 5:30 (a.m.), and he had a massive heart attack in his car, right in front of the school," Koep said.

That's when the students of Bertha-Hewitt stepped up.

As part of their entrepreneur program, their student-run business Bears Blossoms designed and arranged the flowers for Jennissen's funeral. The students helped with the casket and family arrangements with more than 25 floral displays. The students worked hours.

"These kids stayed after school for six (or) seven hours to make this happen," Koep said.

"This was really a way for them to put a lot of effort and emotion into helping a family out," Olson said.

"I see him every day so like, it's a bit of an honor being approached for that. It's like, 'Oh, I would love to make (something) for him,' give back a little bit, (for) how nice he was to everyone," said Bertha-Hewitt student Alayna Barthel.

The students learn a lot in their classrooms, from lectures and projects, but this lesson is a life lesson. Here was the school's head cook, they all loved him. And so they worked with the Jennissen family to create flower arrangements for his funeral.


"I thought it was kind of cool that we got to help with that because it meant a lot to his wife, so I thought it was pretty awesome," said Bertha-Hewitt student Katie Kern.

"And just sitting there, doing it knowing you are helping someone, it's very therapeutic," said Bertha-Hewitt student April Snook.

The students won't forget their head cook. After all during the COVID-19 pandemic, he made sure hot meals were dropped off at the homes of students. This was a chance for the kids to say thanks once again, as they also said goodbye.

"When something happens, you all step up to do what you can to make something special happen," Koep said.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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