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Ione Jasper

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,

Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,

Brown paper packages tied up with strings —

These are a few of my favorite things.

When the dog bites,

When the bee stings,

When I'm feeling sad,

I simply remember my favorite things

And then I don't feel so bad!

Julie Andrews sang these classic lyrics from Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein in "The Sound of Music." The song is a great anecdote to circumstances of life that can get you down.

But are these words too dated to sooth modern sadness? After all, when's the last time you brewed tea in a copper kettle or shipped something in brown paper tied up in string? Those images hearken back to a simpler era.

Ione Jasper was born in that simpler era. She was raised on a farm in Cache Valley, Utah, in the 1940s. As a girl, she milked a cow, swung from a hayloft on a rope, gathered eggs, and worked in the sugar beets and cornfields. Her father was a part-time farmer and a schoolteacher.

Today, Ione is a 75-year-old widow living alone in Smithfield, Utah. She looks back on her childhood as "good living." I know Ione because her son Bruce Jasper was one of my best friends.

I say "was" because Bruce died last year. His obituary simply says he passed away at his home on Jan. 15, 2010. That sounds like he slipped away peacefully from natural causes.

Hardly. Bruce was 44 and in excellent health. He ran marathons, biked and was a certified lifeguard. But he wasn't strong enough to endure what happened to him on Oct. 3, 2009.

He spent that day at Bear Lake in Idaho trying out a new archery set. That night he stopped near the Utah border in Montpelier at a place called Butch Cassidy's Bar and Grill. That's where police found him, shortly after midnight, face down and unconscious. Bruce's face looked like a shattered windshield.

A 23-year-old man was apprehended at the scene and charged with felony aggravated battery for causing "great bodily harm and/or permanent disability." Bruce had never seen this man in his life. He never saw the punch the man threw, either. Bruce later said that the last thing he remembered was speaking up for a woman who was being verbally harassed. Then he got blindsided with a blow that knocked him out.

Witnesses say Bruce fell forward and landed on his face. It's unclear what happened next. Witness accounts differ on whether the 23-year-old continued to beat on Bruce after he hit the deck. But police photographs of Bruce's injuries are too grisly to describe. Suffice it to say his face was as bloody as Apollo Creed's after being dismantled by Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV."

Bruce was airlifted to Logan Regional Hospital, where he underwent eight hours of emergency surgery. It was the first of numerous surgeries required to reconstruct his face and install metal plates.

But it was no use. Even after all that, one of his eyes never blinked again. He could barely see. Speaking was a chore. The excruciating pain never went away. Infections set in. Three months later, Bruce succumbed.

It was a brutal way to go for a guy who wasn't capable of killing a spider. Bruce is probably the most innocent person I ever knew. Maybe too innocent for this world.

The young man who assaulted him was already on probation for a previous felony burglary. Nonetheless, after pleading guilty to assaulting Bruce, he was permitted to enter a six-month program at a corrections facility that is analogous to a boot camp for first-time offenders. In order for him to be eligible for such a program, the state first had to expunge his previous conviction.

Believe it or not, Bruce endorsed this plan. By the time of the court proceeding, Bruce knew he was dying. He could feel it. And he didn't want to go out with vengeance in his heart. He insisted on mercy for his assailant.

"Bruce wanted to try and help this kid turn his life around," Ione told me.

Ione also told me it nearly killed her to see Bruce in such pain. But after Bruce's funeral, Ione sent me a letter. "Bruce looked so peaceful after his death," she wrote. "The metal plates were removed and he looked like his old happy self."

That's the Bruce I'll always remember — a guy who could smile while getting rained on. He must have inherited that trait from his mother. Consider that just six months before Bruce's funeral, Ione also lost her 19-year-old grandson under equally outrageous circumstances. The boy had just submitted paperwork to serve a two-year mission for the LDS Church when the car he was driving was struck by another car that had run a red light while traveling 80 miles per hour. The other car was driven by a teenage gang member who was being pursued by police. Ione's grandson died on impact.

Ione wept. Of course she did. But she didn't let either tragedy define the rest of her life.

"In life, it isn't what happens," she told me. "It's what we do with it."

So I asked her what she's doing after all that heartache. She laughed softly, almost to suggest I wouldn't believe what she was about to say. "I'm still the organist," she said.

Turns out Ione Jasper has been serving as a volunteer organist or music conductor in her church congregation for 55 years. That's not a misprint. She gets tremendous joy out of doing it. She's never received a penny for her efforts. But she gets peace of mind, something money can't buy.

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Now that Bruce is gone, I stay in touch with Ione. A couple weeks ago, I spent an evening with her in Salt Lake City. At the end of the night she handed me another letter. In it she said she's been finding great joy from reading Bruce's old journals. She also said she still plays the organ every Sunday at her church. "So I'm assuming I'm to go another 55 years, or until I get it right."

Ione is as reliable as raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. It's no surprise that one of her favorite films is "The Sound of Music."

"It's important that no matter what happens to us in life that we follow our dreams," she told me.

Her dream now is to see her son Bruce again. It's a dream that gives new meaning to life.

Jeff Benedict is the author of "Poisoned: The True Story of the Deadly E. Coli Outbreak That Changed the Way Americans Eat." For more information, visit www.jeffbenedict.com.