Jaffrey community mourns late teenager

  • A celebration of life for 15-year-old Alejandro Menjivar of Jaffrey was held Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/20/2019 2:42:54 PM

When you see a smiling face, think of Alejandro Menjivar.

Hundreds turned out to pay their respects to the late Jaffrey teenager on Saturday, and dozens stepped to the microphone to share stories at his celebration of life at Conant High School, Alejandro’s radiant grin flashing on the projector screen and beaming down from the walls full of photographs. 

Alejandro, 15, was a sophomore at Conant High School, where classmates remembered him as smart, thoughtful, caring and funny, always looking for ways to make people laugh. 

“He was so smart and he thought of all these intelligent things,” Karel Wolterbeek, one of Alejandro’s close friends, said. Wolterbeek started at Jaffrey-Rindge Middle School in seventh grade and found it initially difficult to make his way, but Alejandro welcomed him with open arms.

“He helped groom me, not just for school, but for the world,” Wolterbeek said. “I’m just so thankful for him. You know you have a real best friend when you can drive around town and it seems like on every corner, I have a memory of him.”

The Menjivar family moved from Nashua to Jaffrey in 2004, searching for a quieter, country life, and they found happiness there raising Alejandro, older sister Nahomy and younger brother Diego. Nahomy, now at Plymouth State, said she lived for those moments where he’d call her at college and launch into two hours’ worth of stories from home.

Alejandro’s abuela, Maria Luz Iraheta of El Salvador, said that she sometimes struggled to communicate with her grandchild, as he spoke only a little Spanish. But, they had a special connection.

“He understood something beautiful that grandmothers want every grandchild to feel –  when grandma cooks and waits for you with food,” she said. “When kids say they don’t want to gain weight and then there’s pupusas on the table. That’s something I always loved about Alejandro, he would say ‘Grandma, only two!’ But then he’d lose control and eat all of them, even the last one.”

Alejandro loved music, video games, and, like any Jaffrey teen, basketball. He played for the JRMS school team and as a freshman last year, the Conant junior varsity team, as a speedy three-point shooter. He’d attend summer Pure Shot basketball camps, where coach Dave Springfield dubbed him with a nickname that stuck – “The Microwave,” because he heated up so quickly.

“Every time Alejandro stepped on the court, he was 100 miles an hour, full speed,” Springfield said. 

Friends and teachers shared stories of Alejandro’s ability to break up a classroom into laughter, stuffing balloons down his shirt and pants, ripping his shirt off after losing a game in computer class, or, upon a teacher leaving the classroom, standing on top of his desk and shouting ‘Everybody shut up!’ until the teacher returned.

A video shown during the celebration of life showed Alejandro – adorned with a necktie made of paper – giving a dramatic reading in his fifth-grade class, adding asides to the text to make his classmates laugh.

“He made everything better with his jokes,” said classmate and lifelong friend Bella Hayes. “He always found things funny. It was good, joy all the time.”

“So much laughter and joy that Alejandro brought me,” said Regan Despres. “He always made me feel so loved.”

As funny as he could be in the classroom, he was a serious student, too. He joined English teacher Grant Love’s honors class a couple weeks into this school year, completing a summer-long program of daunting reading and writing assignments in just a week.

“That just showed me what kind of person he was. When he put his mind to something, nothing was going to stop him,” Love said. 

Alejandro died on Oct. 11, and the ensuing week was an emotional one in the Jaffrey community. On the evening of Oct. 14, Wolterbeek and the rest of the Conant cross-country team held a vigil at the track, where around 1,000 people gathered as the Orioles ran 15 laps to commemorate his 15 years of life, lights bobbing around the track and nothing but the sound of footfalls in the air.

Throughout the week, Hayes helped organize the celebration of life, making posters and plastering the walls of the Pratt gymnasium in advance of Saturday’s remembrance, and spearheaded a fundraising effort to pay for the funeral costs. “I knew so many people loved Alejandro,” Hayes said. “I knew it, and I didn’t know if everybody else knew that. People knew for themselves that they loved Alejandro, but the amount of people added together was just crazy. I just really wanted to show that to his family that he wasn’t alone, ever. They might have thought that, but no, he had people that loved him, and I wanted him to know that, too.”

The Conant community has come together in the wake of Alejandro’s death, closer now than ever, the love he showed on earth evident in the gym on Saturday.

“He was one amazing guy,” Despres said. “He was nothing less than perfect in my eyes, and I’m going to miss him.”

At one point, Wolterbeek called for everyone in the room to come to the microphone and share one thing they’ll change going forward in Alejandro’s memory. People stepped up, one by one, and proposed things like checking in on friends more often, being kind, and hugging loved ones tight.

“He was a really good kid,” said Jackson Bartlett, “and it makes me think about how precious life is and how much time we’ve really got, so love the people that you have.”

Wolterbeek returned to the microphone to share his own idea: smile more.

“The world’s really going to need more smiles without Alejandro,” he said.

To donate to the memorial fund, visit www.cournoyerfh.com.


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