Ren Jensen was just 18 years old – a wide-eyed farm kid from tiny Malad, Idaho – when he first set foot on the campus of Colorado A&M in 1954. A talented basketball player, he had accepted an invitation from the Aggies’ new coach, Jim Williams, to play in Fort Collins.
It was the beginning of a 64-year love affair with the school – now known as Colorado State University – for Jensen (BS Physical Education ’58) and his wife, Sharon.
“Honestly, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without CSU,” Ren said. “I owe pretty much everything – my education, my career, even my wife – to CSU.”
As the country celebrates National Philanthropy Day, the Jensens stand as a shining example of what “giving back” means. Records indicate that they have been donating to CSU for 45 years, but Ren said he started giving what money he could to his alma mater in the 1950s.
“I felt like it was only right for me to give back after I was given a scholarship to play basketball,” he said. “That scholarship meant the world to me, and I wanted to repay CSU for what they had done for me.”
Decades of love, decades of support
Ren and Sharon had known each other growing up in Milad but didn’t date until the summer after his freshman year at CSU, when Sharon was getting ready for her senior year in high school. They got married the following summer and have been together 62 years.
While they have been consistent, generous donors to CSU, their impact goes way beyond money. The Jensens have been highly visible and highly impactful volunteers for 50 plus years, working across campus to improve CSU.
Ren served on the original Alumni Foundation board, and was Alumni Association board president in 1985. He and Sharon helped put together the Ram Good Time Auction, and they were the driving force behind the creation of the annual 1870 Dinner.
They also sponsor the annual homecoming 5K, have established scholarships in athletics and two colleges, and made significant donations to the Canvas Stadium and Iris & Michael Smith Alumni Center projects.
“I think I’ve been on every possible CSU committee,” Ren said with a laugh.
Ren’s counsel has been so valued that every CSU president since Phil Austin in the 1980s called him to seek his advice on how to improve the university.
Mostly, though, the Jensens do everything they can to help CSU. No story better defines that than the tale of the mink coat at a Ram Good Time Auction several years ago.
Jensen vs. Jensen
Sharon, who – of course – was on the auction committee, managed to talk a local businessman into donating a mink coat to the auction. She immediately fell in love with the garment and informed her husband that she would love to take it home that night.
Well, the two of them got separated when the coat – valued at $500 – went up for auction. Sharon couldn’t find Ren, so she took matters into her own hands and started to bid on the coat. Sure enough, she found herself in a bidding war, and the cost soon climbed to $1,000 before she gave up. Unbeknownst to either of them, they were bidding against each other, with Ren submitting the winning bid.
“The whole room burst into laughter,” Sharon said. “We still had to pay the $1,000, but I did get my coat!”
Ren, 82, finally retired two years ago after working 50-plus years at Valley Steel and Wire in Fort Collins. They still live in Fort Collins and enjoy their three children, 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
And they have some advice for anyone thinking philanthropically.
“We donate to causes we believe in,” Ren said. “And we definitely believe in CSU.”