Tifton Gazette

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April 18, 2013

Ellis Ray Jensen

TIFTON — Ellis Ray Jensen, 95, died Wednesday, April 17, 2013, at his home in Tifton.  Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Ritchey Marbury will officiate and Dr. Eddie Seagle will deliver the eulogy. Interment will follow at Oakridge Cemetery. Grandsons, Chip Rainey, Travis Massey, Erick Willis, Jacob Hale and Grady Clark and nephew, Ernest Coulson will serve as pallbearers. Honorary pallbearers will be members of the Tifton Rotary Club, M. H. Allen, Emerson Hoffman and Mr. Jensen's exercise friends at Rehabilitation Services of Tifton. The family will receive friends one hour before the service at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Born on September 28, 1917 in Fountain Green, Utah, he was the son of Eliza Anderson Jensen and Cornelius Jensen.  Mr. Jensen's grandparents were Danish and English Mormon emigrants. After arriving in America in 1864, his grandfather James Jensen, at 10 years of age, walked 1,300 miles to Utah pulling a handcart. Mr. Jensen's parents and grandparents lived by faith, courage, resilience and self-reliance and he quickly learned these valuable traits.

At the age of nine, he took a summer job herding sheep in the rugged Utah wilderness. Always curious, he ran unbridled, risking life and limb, exploring the canyons of his beloved Utah and said of his youth: "Looking back, in spite of the trials and tribulations of a poverty-stricken and somewhat undisciplined childhood, I am proud of my beginnings. I appreciate the education from the harsh wilderness. No view is more beautiful or satisfying than the view from the next ridge."

When he was 14, he set his course on acquiring a good education. Although he was a good student, he almost did not graduate from high school because of frequent absences. He worked long days to help support his family. "We experienced several years of extreme poverty," he wrote in his journal.

In 1936, he joined FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps, building roads and earning $30 a month, which he saved for college. He hitch-hiked to Logan, Utah to attend Utah State Agricultural College and worked as a janitor while he was in college. On spring breaks, he returned home to work as a sheep shearer and, on one trip home, he met Louise Brothersen of Mount Pleasant, Utah. He married the love of his life August 24, 1938.

After graduating with a degree in agronomy, his first job was in Washington, D.C. with the Agricultural Census. Within a year, he was transferred to Mississippi to become a part of a mobile soil-surveying outfit. In 1943, he and Louise moved to Perry and it was there that he wrote the first set of land capability tables based on soil surveys. These tables are still used today.

He served in the U.S. Army 970th Counter Intelligence Corps in 1945. This unit cracked down on the black market and helped to root out the remaining vestiges of Nazism in Europe. He accepted a position in Tifton in 1946 as a soil scientist at the Georgia Coastal Plains Experiment Station.

In 1950, he borrowed money against the family car to start a small centipede grass seed company called Southern Turf Nurseries. By 1955, he left his position at the Experiment Station to devote full time to his grass business.

In the early years of the sod and seed industry, there was not adequate equipment for mass production. Mr. Jensen helped develop a machine with a blade to cut the sod and a combine that cut and cleaned the seed. He also made improvements to existing equipment. In 1957, the business developed to the point where time was his most important commodity, so he learned to fly an airplane and became known to his customers as "the flying grass man."

Southern Turf planted most of the golf courses in the region and enjoyed a long association with Augusta National Golf Course. Southern Turf became the largest producer of warm season turf grasses in the world, supplying grass for over 2,000 sports fields and well over 5,000 golf courses. He consulted with golf course architect Robert Trent Jones on several of his renowned courses and Southern Turf planted grass in at least 15 countries. In later years, he became a turf consultant in Portugal, Singapore, Brazil, Nigeria, Taiwan, Indonesia and many points in between.

Always generous with his knowledge, he encouraged his clients to ask questions. On September 15, 2006, he was inducted into the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Hall of Fame, citing him as the first to commercially produce and harvest centipede grass seed, making it the most popular lawn and landscaping grass available. It was also stated that, because of his innovation, turf is one of the largest agricultural commodities in Georgia and that his company was a key player in the development of turf into a multi-billion dollar business around the world.

Known for his humility and sense of humor, Mr. Jensen found the time to be of great service to his community and to his church. He and Louise were instrumental in establishing the first permanent home of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Tifton.

He served as a Boy Scout scoutmaster and president of the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.  He was an honorary alumnus of ABAC, and an honorary member of Future Farmers of America.  He served on the Board of Directors for First Community Bank and as Chairman of the Tifton Airport Authority and the Tifton Development Authority. He was president of Interstate Motor Hotels.

Also serving as a founding member of the Tift Regional Hospital Foundation, he established the Jensen Nursing Excellence Awards.  He was a trustee of the ABAC Foundation for 34 years and created the E. Ray Jensen Turf Grass Scholarship, the Larry "Buck" Wheeler Memorial Scholarship and the Louise B. Jensen Scholarship.  Active in the Tifton/Tift County Chamber of Commerce, he received both Wall of Fame and Stafford awards.

Mr. Jensen was an avid reader and enjoyed journaling his thoughts for his grandchildren's benefit.  "Beware of the ego and recognize your helpers and friends - the minute you get too proud of yourself is the minute you go downhill," and "Many times you can cover up stupidity with hard work" are among his many entries.  Once, while traveling in Italy, he quipped while pointing to the Leaning Tower of Pisa:  "If the builders had asked me, I could have told them it wouldn't work on that kind of soil - but they didn't ask me."

He loved these lines from the poem, "The House by the Side of the Road" by Sam Walter Foss:

"Let me live in my house by the side of the road,

Where the race of men go by

They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,

Wise, foolish - so am I.

Then why should I sit in the scorner's seat,

Or hurl the cynic's ban?

Let me live in my house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man."

Mr. Jensen's wife of 52 years, Louise, passed away in 1990.  Brothers Laurell, Vern and Dean Jensen and his sister, Cora Jensen Madsen, predeceased him. He is survived by two daughters and a son-in-law, Mary Rainey and Anna and Paul Massey, all of Tifton; grandchildren and their spouses, Angie and Erick Willis, Chip and Krista Rainey, Meg and Jacob Hale, Emily and Grady Clark, all of Tifton and Travis Massey of Hoschton; great-grandchildren, Rick Willis, Mitch Willis, Jensen Rainey, Joyanna Rainey, Alek Rainey, Jake Hale, Chloe Hale, Grady Clark, Gavin Clark, Ali Massey and Josie Kate Massey.

The family wishes to express their heartfelt thanks to Mr. Jensen's care-givers for their exceptional care, Laine Wood, Rudine Nixon, Sukoova Herring, Moritza Richardson, Michelle Willis, Takeira Deberry and Jana Alston.

Memorial gifts may be given to Hospice of Tiftarea, P. O. Box 747, Tifton, GA 31793 or to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 402 24th Street West, Tifton, GA 31794.

You may offer condolences to the family at the online guest registry at www.bowen-donaldson.com.  Services for the Jensen family are under the care and direction of Bowen-Donaldson Home for Funerals.

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