By Mary Ann Inman


Robert Jensen passed away about a year and a half ago, but his memory lives on through many cards, books and paintings he created over the years. His artistic, one-of-a-kind, stylized artwork made his cards very special for sick children, elderly, and others celebrating events.

A survey of locals’ revealed other admirable qualities about Jensen. He always had a warm smile, was active and involved in visual and performing arts, taught origami, and made a lot of bulletin boards for the Presbyterian Church.

Many remembered Bob Jensen as an art teacher, principal, and superintendent at Community School District. Even after he retired he remained active and continued to serve the community.

I met Jan Jensen and her husband Mark Davis at the library while they were researching the Clinton Topper archives in search of documentation about her father, Robert. They were interested in the newspaper binders from 1987 to 1997 and high school yearbooks. Both have worked in advertising and are planning to transition into film making.

They live in New York, and are working to produce a documentary and hope to get it accepted by the film festival. Regardless of the outcome, they have already made plans to show it at Copper Falls.

Jan and Mark, of Tin Boat Productions, have been scouting for more information for their documentary: “The Bear and the Owl,” a name inspired by a little girl’s love of bears and her father’s love of owls.

Jan Jensen explained, “This all started 30 years ago because a teacher, Mrs. Schroeder, thought it would be great if people reached out to help seven year old Joni Lillard. Joni was very sick and in the hospital

“My father read the teacher’s request in the newspaper. Over a period of 10 years, he sent her creative and expressive cards and she saved them all. Joni kept nearly 1,000 of my Dad’s hand-crafted cards, literally boxes and boxes of cards!”

Robert’s cards were about making a young child feel special and he definitely gave Joni something to look forward to daily in the beginning. Then Joni received his cards frequently during numerous medical tests and surgeries that followed.

Today Joni is 36 years old and serious health and financial issues continue. Expect a follow-up article specifically about her lifelong struggles.

Although she can’t say for sure, Jan said she has her suspicions that perhaps her father’s letters were inspired by his experience. Robert was stricken with polio as a child and spent a great deal of time alone in a hospital.

Perhaps it was within his character to make someone feel special. Jan, hopes that sharing his story, will inspire people.

Jan admits, “Today, it’s rare for an older stranger to make cards for a young girl. Back then their relationship was well-received and accepted as it was intended…a sincere act of kindness.”

The couple continue to research archives and hunt for artwork for the documentary, they are searching for connections within the community, including trying to track down the Beloit postal worker who delivered Joni’s cards regularly, and often remarked on them to her.

Jan Jensen explained, “Here’s why I love Clinton, WI…Mark and I were out shooting footage of a farmer’s field. Because there was nowhere to pull over, we stopped at the nearest house, which happened to be the home of one of my childhood friends, Heidi Douglas.

“Her mom, Rhonda, was not only interested in the documentary we are filming about my dad but immediately ushered me inside to show me something.”

Jensen added, “There hanging on the wall of Rhonda’s sun porch was a Robert Jensen owl painting created for her in 1975! She told me that she felt honored to have the painting. Just one of the hundreds my dad painted for friends and family over the course of his lifetime. It was a wonderful serendipitous moment.”

Jan and Mark would love to hear from you if you have any of her dad’s owl paintings or photographs of him. Select photos and paintings may appear in the film documentary. Visit The Bear and the Owl on Facebook or contact Jan Jensen at Jensen I

Mary Ann Inman photos

Rhonda Douglas shows off her owl painting painted in 1975.