"Jackson's for Josh" looks to bring emotion, happiness

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – A day had yet to pass, and friends, family and community members alike immediately offered any assistance they could to Joshua Wentz.  

This weekend, the public will once again get their opportunity to lend a hand as “Jackson’s for Josh” will take place at Peterson Arena on Oct. 2. The event will take shape in the form of a fun run, evening meal and silent auction put together by the Spirit Lake Riders, a North Dakota-based motorcycle club. 

Wentz, the son of Justin and Candace Lommen, was quickly flighted to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo after the 22-year-old attempted suicide during the early morning hours of Mar. 10. After nine hours of reconstructive jaw surgery and 26 total days spent in Fargo, Wentz returned home. 

Joshua (left), Candace (middle) and Justin (right) pose during a 4th of July party in 2020.

The return, however, did not last long as eye socket swelling forced Wentz and his family to trek back to Fargo once more. Tests revealed that spinal cord fluid was leaking into his right eye socket. And so, another lengthy surgery – this time to remove the abscess and replace infected hardware – was needed.

Once the dust settled, a titanium mesh was placed in Wentz’s forehead to protect his brain. A PICC line and trach were also placed. 

Like clockwork, community members continued to reach in any way they could, whether from text messaging to Facebook commenting.  

Tanner Nygaard, the vice president of the Spirit Lake Riders, believes his organization’s coordination will help allow the public to reach out. 

“We have done benefits in the past,” Spirit Lake Riders Vice President Tanner Nygaard said. “We have a guideline we go by…really organized. I know they have done many benefits in the past for people.”  

Nygaard’s connection to the event goes far beyond his involvement with the organization, though. 

He is also Candace’s brother and Wentz’s uncle. 

“Even from the day it happened up until now, there has been nothing but support,” Nygaard said. “The day it happened, I had people contact me about if they needed a babysitter or their lawn mowed. The sense of community really comes together in tragedies like this around. That is one of the biggest things about Devils Lake. I have lost quite a few friends to suicide around here and in the area. I have noticed that whenever that does happen, the Devils Lake community really does come around to help. There have been people we do not even know who have reached out and donated to the silent auction...cash donations. I have gotten donations from other cities in North Dakota, too. It is really heartwarming that the whole community comes together to help out for a good cause.”

Candace, the owner of Plaza Nutrition, echoed her brother's statements. After all, Candace did not work for five months after the incident. Yet, from back-and-forth hospital trips to personally caring for her son, the sense of community has still blossomed in more ways than one. 

To prepare for “Jackson’s for Josh,” businesses have stepped up to the plate. Jerome Wholesale Inc. helped distribute posters. Creative Impressions even decided to help bring a logo Wentz was in the process of designing to life. 

Creative Impressions helped put Wentz'z logo on shirts and jackets.

Although Wentz has communicated verbally since the incident, it is with very few people. Even still, Wentz has been taken away at how much the community cares for him. 

“You can tell he is blown away by all of the love and support and the people that have reached out to him and how many people truly care about him,” Candace said. “I had to start updating on Facebook...when he was coherent enough, I said, ‘buddy, go look at your Facebook. It is going to overwhelm you.’ It was overwhelming, and he felt grateful and blown away. He was just blown away that so many people cared about him. He did not know that many people cared.” 

As summer has transitioned into fall, Wentz has made steady progressions. He was able to return home on June 2. His trach and PICC line have since been removed. On July 2, he made his first trip to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. 

Nygaard has been overwhelmed at the support the event has received throughout the entire process in Wentz’s name. Donations to the silent auction have even come from outside Devils Lake – donations have found their way from Minot, Fargo and Bismarck. 

“When I was very little, we always went and helped people,” Nygaard said. “We never asked for anything back. That was how we were raised. It is just really overwhelming to see the support and compassion from other people in the community.” 

Although Wentz will require several more surgeries in the future, all signs point to a positive resolution. The pinnacle of this positivity will make itself aware once more during "Jackson's for Josh" this weekend.

To Candace, the event will bring many tears of joy. 

“It is going to be a very emotional and happy day,” Candace said. “That is the best way to describe it. There is going to be so much love and support.”

To donate silent auction items, contact “Jackson’s for Josh” on Facebook or send an email to jacksonsforjosh@yahoo.com.