Thinking back on her time growing up in Bastrop, Jolene Jaehne smiles one of those wide smiles that speaks for itself. Childhood in Bastrop was happy, but as a teenager, she began to wonder if there was something more. In the classrooms and halls of Bastrop ISD, she formed lasting friendships and developed a thirst for learning, yet surely life would really begin once she graduated and left the boundaries of Bastrop. To her surprise, it took coming back home to really find herself.
The second oldest in her family, Jaehne graduated from Bastrop High School in 1996. Her four siblings were also products of Bastrop ISD. “I remember that all of us had different school interests, different things we excelled at,” recalls Jolene. “Between our parents, our family, and this community, my brothers and sisters and I all felt like we fit in, like we had a place and a part.”
For Jaehne, her place was on the stage. Her love of the theatre and of acting led her to letter in theatre arts all four years of high school. Her achievement was certainly due to a passion for the stage, but it was also due to a teacher she mether freshman year who would shape her high school career, and ultimately, shape her life. That teacher was Jerry Wilhelm, for whom the Bastrop ISD Performing Arts Center (PAC) is dedicated.
“She was an incredible woman who laughed with, supported, and encouraged her students to no end,” Jaehne remembers. “She taught me creativity, how to make connections, how to never put limits on myself. And I love that her legacy lives on through the PAC that is dedicated to her life’s work.” The same year Jolene graduated high school, her beloved mentor retired. Although Wilhelm is no longer living, her inspiration left an indelible mark on Jaehne and countless others.
Despite Jolene’s involvement in the theatre arts program and other activities like National Honor Society and the future business student program, a nagging feeling inside her wouldn’t go away that she needed to leave town to experience what life had to offer. As a result, she moved to Austin after graduation, eventually becoming a licensed mortgage broker. She began to build a life in the Capital City, achieving success in business and earning accolades in her career.
Ms. Fowler's 1st Grade Class, Emile Elementary
But after nearly ten years away from the place she grew up, another feeling began to boil in the pit of her stomach. Was home calling her back? Indeed it was, and in 2005, she returned to Bastrop with her firstborn, Hunter, in tow. A little shyly she says, “Only after I moved away did I understand the real value of being back on home ground. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball that only home can help you get through.”
Not long after she returned to Bastrop, Jaehne yearned to give back to the community that had meant so much to her, so she got involved in the Bastrop Education Foundation. Her heart was in helping the teachers and the schools to promote the amazing things that were happening in the district. Sadly, she learned that the good stuff isn’t always what makes the headlines. But she’s a positive person, and she wanted the positive news to get out about Bastrop ISD. She also wanted teachers to know how much they were appreciated and valued.
That led her and a few others to form the organization We Believe in BISD with the sole purpose to tell the good news of what was happening throughout the district. “We wanted to say thank you to these hardworking educators and to show our appreciation,” said Jaehne. That was more than four years ago, and today, We Believe in BISD is a thriving organization made up of business leaders, civic leaders, pastors, and other committed individuals. In fact, it has become a model for other communities around the state looking to create and strengthen bonds between the business community, neighborhoods, and educators.
Just ask Becki Womble, Bastrop Chamber of Commerce president, and you’ll understand Jaehne’s true impact. “She is one of the most amazing young women I have ever met!” said Womble. “Her love, heart, and passion for Bastrop ISD is unmatched.”
Jaehne doesn’t want all that credit, however. Her humility is evident. “It’s not about me. It’s about giving back to the community that raised me,” she said. “I would encourage other alumni to get involved, even if it’s in a small way. If you’re in a position to share an impactful message, just know that these kids want to hear from you. They need to hear your story of success or your story of hardship. Life isn’t always pretty, and our kids need to know how to handle that too.”
In 2014, Jolene became branch manager of Sente Mortgage in Bastrop. Now she spends her days selling the community she once dreamed of escaping. She and her husband Patrick are raising two children and sending them to the schools that nurtured Jaehne and her siblings. She says there’s no place she’d rather be.
“Bastrop is my village. I can truly say that the people in this community care about its success. They care about all of our kids. And I love being surrounded by my friends, my family, and my clients.”
“Funny how life works out,” she says with a smile.
BISD News ~ Department of Communications & Community Services
Bastrop Independent School District, 906 Farm Street, Bastrop, TX 78602 ~ 512-772-7100