Rays of sunshine popped in and out of a cloudy sky as the memory of Jeffrey Rosen hung over Daisy Field like a comforting breeze healing old wounds. Down on the baseball diamond scores of his friends and their families played softball as part of a fund-raiser for a scholarship endowment set up shortly after he was killed July 14, 2001, in a head-on auto crash in Arizona during a cross-country trip with his girlfriend, Sonia Erlich.
It was not really Rosen’s death months before his senior year in college that brought so many people together for the 7th year in a row on Aug 18-19. It was his life. Folks described the popular 20-year-old as a fun-loving loyal friend, avid sportsman, accomplished musician, a person who followed current events and wanted to make a difference in the world.
“Jeff is with me all the time, and I continue to learn from him,” said Erlich, 26, who is still recovering from serious injuries she had in the crash. “Now he continues to provide a space in the community for friends to connect with each other.”
The couple grew up together in JP since kindergarten and started dating two years before the accident. For the past two years, Erlich said, she has been an instructor in a wilderness therapy program, but is currently looking for a teaching job in Boston.
She said she’s learning how to “live with a certain amount of pain,” adding, “I don’t take anything for granted. I’m so grateful to have a place like JP to come back to, a place where people know each other holistically.”
“Jeffrey loved sports. That’s why Sonia and others decided on start and run these tournaments,” Rita Dunipace said softly as she watched a game on the field through the bittersweet eyes of a mother who lost her only child, but is embraced by her community.
“It’s wonderful to see all these young people progressing through their lives, maintaining friendships and willing to give back. They’re amazingly generous,” said the 30-year JP resident, “especially Sonia’s family. Some people can talk the talk, but they do it. They really cared about Jeff.”
“It’s good for us to follow what’s going on in the lives of Jeff’s friends,” agreed Jeffrey’s father, David Rosen, a consultant for adult education and literacy programs all over the world.
Both parents praised JP for all the support they’ve received. David described a recent program on National Public Radio, where his son interned years earlier. He said the subject of the show was a research book that discussed problems communities were having with diversity.
“The findings of the book seemed to indicate people of different cultures hid behind their shells. Then a woman named Maria called in to say she was from Jamaica Plain and said diversity here was not like that. The moderator said he knew JP and called it the exception. I’m very pleased to be part of that exception,” he said.
“He was my main man,” said Warren Salley, 29, who met Jeffrey Rosen when they were about 13. “We hung out all the time as kids and always got together even when Jeff was living in New York.”
Warren called his friend “a very good musician and writer…who had the talent to make a name in music.
“We don’t really talk about how Jeff has affected us,” Warren, also a musician, said of Rosen’s friends. “There’s still some pain. But we feel it when we get together. I know he still influences me.”
Nancy Kohn from JP said she was a “huge fan of Rosen.” She recalled a trip to Washington, D.C. in January of 2001 to protest the George Bush inauguration. Jeff and Sonia were living there at the time and joined Kohn in the protest.
“To me, he was very engaged, wanting to intervene, but with a sense of humor and intellectual curiosity beyond his years,” she said
Tim McKenna, Rosen’s junior soccer coach, said he was there representing two of his three sons who usually attend the annual event.
“I’m pleased to see all these kids growing up. It brings up a lot of memories.”
The Jeffrey Dunipace Rosen Memorial Fund is administrated by the city through its general scholarship program. The fund gives out about $1,500 a year to deserving Boston Public School graduates. So far the fund has assisted two students, Maria Gomez, who graduated from UMass Amherst in engineering, and Jessica Pierre Francois, in her second year at Boston College.
“Hopefully, this endowment will go on past our lives,” said Dunipace. “It’s comforting to know we can help some kids who didn’t have all the opportunities Jeff had in his life.”