Dec 18 2023
Kelsey Goodwin | The Columns
On a recent sunny afternoon, Jaden Keuhner ’24, a biochemistry major from Aldie, Virginia, paid a visit to Rockbridge County’s new Gold Star Memorial, a monument to veterans killed in the line of duty and the families they left behind, located at Jordan’s Point in Lexington. The memorial, which was dedicated in September, was a labor of love for Keuhner, who is proud to leave a legacy in Rockbridge County through his efforts to honor local Gold Star families.
Keuhner, a member of W&L and VMI’s ROTC program, spent countless hours over the course of this year working to plan and execute the memorial, assembling a committee along the way that included a member of one of the county’s Gold Star families, fellow students and his father, David. The memorial was officially dedicated on Sept. 24, in honor of Gold Star Family Day. In attendance were members of the committee, local officials, a representative from the Woody Williams Foundation, which provided guidance for the project, and the families of Chase Prasnicki and Andrew “Drew” Ross, Rockbridge County veterans killed in the line of duty. Prasnicki was a first lieutenant Army Ranger who was killed in action on June 27, 2012, in Afghanistan. Ross, an Army captain and Green Beret, was also killed in action in Afghanistan on Nov. 27, 2018. Keuhner said working on this tribute to their service has been a deeply personal mission for him.
“W&L and VMI have given me so much and I thought this memorial would be something I could give back to the community,” Keuhner said. “I’ve been incredibly honored to lead the efforts to bring this memorial to Lexington — a memorial that will be here forever.”
Keuhner credits his father for inspiring him to bring a Gold Star Memorial to Rockbridge County. The family has volunteered together at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for many years, beginning early in Keuhner’s childhood, and David has helped erect three other Gold Star memorials. When Keuhner approached his father about the idea of bringing one to Rockbridge County in support of two local Gold Star families, David encouraged his son to take the lead.
“At the beginning of this year, I asked my dad about bringing a Gold Star memorial to Lexington. He told me it’s a lot of work — and that he would gladly help!” Keuhner said at the dedication. “We took our first donation of $100 from my Aunt Helene on March 14, and 194 days later the memorial is standing here in Lexington.”
“Not everyone knows what a Gold Star family is,” David said, “so I’m happy for this community — and for my son — that this memorial now has a home in Lexington. Jaden was able to be the conduit for something that is ultimately for the community, and when he comes back to visit, it will always be there.”
Barrett Bourgeios ’25, a business administration and computer science major from Chesapeake, Virginia, appreciated the opportunity to serve the community through joining the project.
“My dad was killed in a training accident during my freshman year, which unfortunately made our family a Gold Star family,” Bourgeios said. “Jaden was one of the people who reached out at that time and has maintained a steady stream of support and friendship since. When I saw him tabling for the Gold Star memorial last spring, I stopped by to ask about it and buy a T-shirt, and when I asked if there was a way for me to be more involved in a cause that was so close to my heart, he immediately included me.”
Keuhner’s friend Jon Torre ’25, a business administration major from Ashburn, Virginia, who, like Keuhner, is also a catcher on W&L’s baseball team, soon joined the effort, and the three organized T-shirt sales and attended a Lexington city council meeting as the project advanced and approval was secured for the memorial’s location at Jordan’s Point.
“Seeing the memorial for the first time was a very rewarding experience for all of those involved,” Torre said. “The raw emotion of both the speakers and audience was intense, as many had an immediate connection to Gold Star veterans and their families. This project really taught me the empathy others should possess toward Gold Star families. I feel more passionate toward community engagement, as I learned going out of your way to do things can make a huge impact on others.”
Sarah Geisen, the sister of local veteran Ross, serves as president of the Drew Ross Memorial Foundation, established in 2021 in her brother’s memory. She said it was an honor to get to know Jaden and his family through joining the committee for the memorial.
“They are a family who are committed to elevating whatever community they are a part of,” Geisen said. “I’m excited to see what Jaden does next, and I’m certain that our paths will cross again.”
Keuhner’s time at W&L has been marked by a commitment to making time for those around him despite the lab-heavy schedule typical of his major. Keuhner’s career plan is to become an Army doctor, and he has been involved in ROTC since arriving at Washington and Lee. Keuhner is also a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, and he volunteers with Campus Kitchen and Habitat for Humanity, in addition to his other commitments as a student-athlete and member of ROTC. He also said he has been inspired to mentor teammates on the baseball team, classmates in pre-health and other students on campus interested in pursuing ROTC because others did so for him earlier in his W&L career.
“I spent my first year and a half getting adjusted to all that I had on my plate,” Keuhner said, “and I really had to figure out how to plan it all out. Now I can tell people that it’s tough but possible.”
Lisa Alty, John T. Herwick, M.D. Professor of Chemistry and Keuhner’s faculty adviser, said Keuhner applied his customary discipline and stellar time management to studying for his MCAT during his junior year.
“Jaden’s time management skills are really off the charts compared to most folks his age,” Alty said, “and his academic record and his performance on the MCAT both show that it’s paid off.”
Keuhner has interviewed with multiple medical schools and looks forward to the next phase of his career plan being solidified. Wherever he goes, Keuhner said he knows he has had experiences at W&L that he would not have had at other schools.
“I love the community here,” he said. “I’ve met so many incredible people who want to help me, and vice versa.”