By Matthew Abrey
Tae kwon do master Michael Smith, along with his wife Glenna, first met Jake Fehr when he walked through the doors of their school in West Kelowna nearly 10 years ago.
Jake was a quiet boy, who had lost his father a year prior. He had no martial arts experience, Smith said, but a tremendous desire to learn and work hard.
“Jake was always very quiet and reserved,” said Smith. “But when he was praised for his efforts you knew that the smile was real, and meant something. He was well liked by his fellow students, and widely admired for his incredible work ethic.”
Jake rarely missed a class during the next eight years, and worked his way through the ranks to the level of black stripe, which in tae kwon do, is the step below black belt.
The Smiths’ school, Westside Tae Kwon Do, holds its black belt testing once a year in the month of June, in an all-day showcase of strength, endurance and mental composure.
2018 would have been Jake’s year to test, but sadly, that day never came.
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Jake took his own life on July 13, 2017, at age 17. He left behind his mother, Nettie, three sisters and friends.
The Smiths took Jake’s passing hard.
“Not one of us saw the inner battle that must have been tearing through him,” said Smith. “And so we lost a great student and a fine young man much too early.”
But they didn’t want to let Fehr’s memory fade. At their annual black belt testing on June 9, they made the decision to invite Fehr’s mother, Nettie, to come and accept her son’s honourary black belt.
“They phoned me about a week before the testing, and wanted to know if this presentation would be OK with me, and I said ‘Oh, yes. Absolutely, it would be such an honour,’” said Nettie. “…Jake did two things. He went to high school, and he did tae kwon do, so for them to honour him like that was just amazing… It meant the world to me. I was speechless.”
However, even with the black belt in hand, Nettie wants to make it clear that she simply cannot thank the Smiths enough for all that they’ve done for her family.
“You see, nine years ago, Jake’s father passed away when Jake was nine years old,” said Fehr. “And I went up to Master Smith and asked him if he could take Jake under his wing and be a father-figure type, which he agreed to do and did so much for Jake… In fact, when we had the celebration of life, Master Smith offered to hold it in their training hall, for no charge. They asked absolutely nothing in return.”
As for the memory of her son, Nettie simply wants people to remember Jake for the gentle, unique soul he was.
“I hope people remember his sense of humour and his great respect for everyone from his peers, to me, to Master and Mrs. Smith, to his teachers. He was just an amazing young man who I’m so sad I won’t be able to see be a part of the community.”
And while Fehr won’t be able to bring her son back, she asks that any other young people struggling with their mental health seek help.
“To the kids who are struggling, I say reach out and just speak to somebody, whether it be friends or family, because you’re not alone.”
As for the black belt, Fehr is making sure that Jake’s dream is displayed prominently in her home.
“I’m having it framed.”
If you or someone you know are struggling, contact the Kelowna Crisis Line at 1-888-353-2273.