From The Crittenden Press newspaper, June 2008

Family and friends say there is no more fitting way to remember Jake Hodge than through a memorial scholarship fund and an inspirational book because he always lifted up his peers and helped them become better at whatever they were doing.

Hodge, the 12-year-old son of Denis and Shannon Hodge of Marion, died in his sleep early Saturday morning. An autopsy found no medical issues to explain his death, according to Crittenden County Coroner Joe Myers. The autopsy was performed by Dr. Deirdre A. Schluckebier of the Western Kentucky State Medical Examiner's office in Madisonville. Tissue and fluid samples have been sent off for further analysis, the results of which will not be available for six to eight weeks. Myers said every attempt is being taken to expedite the process.

In excellent physical condition, Jake was each year among the top 15 percentile of students in the country who participated in the school-sponsored Presidential Fitness Program.

About 2,500 attended visitation at Gilbert Funeral Home in Marion between 3 p.m., and midnight Monday. The funeral home said it was by far the largest number of callers to attend a visitation. Hundreds more were at the funeral Tuesday at Rocket Arena, a place where Jake earned the affectionate moniker, "Gym Rat." His parents are both high school coaches and Jake grew up around sports. It was through athletics that he became known far and wide and touched the lives of so many people.

"Jake always brought out the best in everybody around him," said Tony James, whose son, Paxton, played on the Crittenden County 12-under baseball team with Jake.

"Everyone kept wondering what we could do for his family because they always have done so much for us and for the community," James continued as tears flushed down his cheek. "We thought a scholarship would be a way to pay tribute to Jake."

The fund has been set up at Fifth Third Bank where James is the local branch manager (see obituary on page 7 for details).

Jimmy Croft, a former Crittenden County basketball coach, watched Jake grow up in the gym because his father helped Croft with the ball team. He said Jake was destined to be a collegiate athlete.

"Opportunities knock for some kids, but not for others," Croft said. "Jake was going to have many opportunities and I think that's why a scholarship is so fitting. It will allow some kid who wants to go to college to be able to go."

The ball players with whom Jake spent so much time met as a team Saturday afternoon and Jake's father, Denis, went to them and asked them to continue on with their dreams, James said.

The boys Jake played sports with were like one big family. They traveled together with their parents to games many weekends a year, staying together in hotels and playing games during the day.

Jake had just hit his first grand slam home run – a homer with three runners on base – to help keep his Rockets in contention for first place during a tournament at Paducah the weekend before he died.
Jake's father says he is beginning the initial phases of gathering information for an inspirational book that will help others deal with grief during the loss of a child. It will also focus on leading children to Christ. It's going to be called "The Legacy of Jake Hodge: It's not what you take, it's what you leave behind."

"I always tried to instill that in my son, and in other children as a coach," Denis Hodge said. "Right now, God has my undivided attention and this is what he wants me to do. This is what I have to do. The only way to justify this is if we help win more children to Christ."

Vicky Collins, who was Jake's sixth-grade Science teacher and Sunday school teacher, said sports wasn't the only thing on the boy's mind.

"Several times I had looked at Jake's locker. You can tell a lot about a kid from his locker. What hangs on the inside of a locker usually represents something important to that child. For many athletes it's their favorite team's logo or some NFL or NBA player. It might even be a pop star, but it wasn't any of those for Jake," Collins said.

"The inside of his locker was covered with pictures of his family – even from the time he was small. Family pictures with him and his sister Jessi snuggled up next to his dad and mom, and another one was of him and his mom playing in the water.

"It was obvious what was truly important to Jake, and it definitely wasn't some female pop star, it was mom, dad and Jessi," said Collins.

Diana Dodson, principal at the middle school where Jake was to begin seventh grade this fall, said he was an excellent student who was always courteous and respectful to everyone.

"Jake was a strong leader among his peers, always encouraging them to do what was right. He was well-respected and well-liked among everyone at CCMS," said Dodson.

Some of his closest friends and even casual observers remember that Jake was mature beyond his years.

"You never really thought of him as a kid," said Payton Croft, who despite being nine years older than Jake always thought of him as a contemporary.

The two boys grew up together, the sons of basketball coaches, following behind their fathers to games and on scouting trips.

Croft's father, the former head basketball coach at Crittenden County, said Jake was "a kid when with other kids, but he acted more like an adult when around older people. He had great things ahead of him," Jimmy Croft said.

His school principal recognized the very same traits.

"Perhaps the most important characteristic Jake possessed was that he was such a person of strong character, even at his young age. Crittenden County Middle School has suffered a huge loss with the passing of Jake Hodge," Dodson said.

Mike Jones, minister at Marion Baptist Church where Jake was a member, calls him a "a truly remarkable young man."

"I am so thankful to have known him," said Rev. Jones. "His family is an amazing family. Jake was gifted in so many ways but what was extra-special about Jake was his faith in Jesus Christ. It is this faith in Jesus Christ that provides the strength for Jake’s family to endure this tragic time in their lives.

The pastor said the Bible speaks of a “peace that passes all understanding” and it is that “peace” that enables those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ to have comfort, knowing they will see Jake again in Heaven.