‘Put on this earth to love:’ Ipswich and Leola communities mourn the loss of teenage girls Jayna and Kylee Sanborn
Ipswich and Leola communities mourn the loss of teenage girls
The Sanborn family of Leola, South Dakota, lived a nightmare late last year. Ryan and Sarah Sanborn’s eldest daughters Jayna, 18, and Kylee, 15, passed away in an accident Nov. 24, 2019.
The Christmas holiday offered Jayna and Kylee’s younger siblings, Anyka, 9, Gavin, 6, and Rylan, 5, a slight distraction from life without their oldest sisters, and, now, after having quieted down once more, the Sanborn family is working to adjust together, day by day.
“Since everything happened so quickly right before the holidays, we’ve had a lot of people around, and their minds have been preoccupied by fun things,” Sarah said of her “littles”, as she fondly calls them. “We’re getting ready to go back to school and have some down time with just family, and I think they’re finally starting to realize this is our new normal.”
“The girls,” as they were known to so many, were integral to their family’s farming operation. Jayna and Kylee often chose to help on the operation rather than live life on the wild side, but that doesn’t mean the sisters lived a life without passion. Far from it, in fact.
Jayna loved farming, especially the livestock and animals involved. She was always eager to do chores and viewed them as a “get-to” opportunity instead of a “have-to.” Time with her siblings was relished, especially if that time could be spent helping them teach a show steer or lamb to lead.
“They weren’t just daughters when they were on the farm; they were the farm hands, mothers, parents, and everything when we weren’t around,” Ryan said.
“Jayna absolutely loved the bucket calves,” Sarah added. “Jayna was really a nurturer, helping the younger kids with the farm animals. She viewed it as, ‘This is the work we have to do, but this is the reward we get from it.’”
She acted as a South Dakota 4-H Ambassador in 2018 and 4-H Performing Arts Liaison last year. Jayna planned to attend Northern State University in Aberdeen to double major in instrumental education and vocal education and minor in theatre education.
Kylee was an equally kind but more diverse individual, delighting in the idea of traveling to other countries and cultures. She had a hand in welcoming the foreign exchange students facilitated by her aunt Stacey Schmidt, who works for the international department at Northern State University.
“Kylee had such an opportunity to learn about Asian cultures and loved everything about the world and the values the world could bring to anybody,” Sarah said. “She wanted, with all her heart, to travel the world.”
Upon Jayna and Kylee’s passing, the Sanborn family received condolences from people in Korea, China, Argentina, Jamaica, and Australia who knew of the girls through Kylee’s rich contributions from her little hometown in South Dakota.
The girls competed in the Snow Queen Pageant in Ipswich last fall and won the talent portion for singing. Kylee performed half of her song in Italian, a nod to her love of cultures.
Ryan and Sarah recall Kylee’s depth, especially in the way she viewed individuals. To her, each person was a building, and the way in which people presented themselves was their lobby. From there, each part of themselves that they would present was another room. Some people, such as Jayna, only had one bright, open room, whereas others, like Kylee, had “story upon story, hallway upon hallway,” Sarah said. “She had a way of thinking uniquely, a complex, deep way of thinking about things. I learned so much from her about the way she saw things.”
Jayna was real, her dad said, “She wore everything on her sleeve and genuinely liked people. She just knew everyone was good.”
The Sanborns fostered a way to find joy in their children, so even though they grew up with hard times, they were able to find happiness in the small and large.
“Family meals were always very important to us, and one thing we did for discussion was ‘good, bad, good’,” Sarah said. “We would start with one kid, and they would tell us one good thing, there’s always something bad, tell us how you reacted to it then dealt with it, then one good thing. It was amazing to hear some of the things the girls would say.”
Sarah said they haven’t done “good, bad, good” every day since the girls passed away, but the littles request it as a way to share their feelings during this troubling, difficult time.
From the time the girls each turned 9-years-old, Ryan and Sarah began to further develop in them the ability to think, while also being proficient help. Jayna and Kylee were often asked their opinions regarding big decisions regarding custom haying or livestock raising.
“They were a critical part of our life as far as our family and part of our operation,” Ryan said of his daughters. “When we would visit with them, they helped us realize that taking their information would help us learn to deal with the other three. They weren’t just kids, they were teachers of their parents and mothers of their siblings.”
The girls would also treat other children in the community in this regard, giving each special attention while mentoring in music class, 4-H, and CCD at their church.
“I feel that you’re put on this earth to love, and, oh my gosh, did they,” Sarah said.
The girls grew up knowing a childhood filled with work, but the value it provides. They were spoken to, at times, as adults, therefore, they knew how to respectfully converse with people of any age. They were free to pursue passions, so there was no time or desire to get into trouble teenagers often seek. Jayna and Kylee were regarded with deep love, instilling in them the ability to love deeply in return.
Jayna and Kylee were laid to rest Dec. 2, 2019.
The crown jewel of the Nebraska 4-H camp program is gone.