Seeley Lake senior put family first on road to his future
SEELEY LAKE - Gene Jovin couldn't help but get a little sentimental when he played his last home football game for Seeley-Swan High School last fall.
It was a tough game to get through, and he wasn't alone with that feeling.
"It was so hard, knowing that you're never going to play here again, that you won't ever put on your set of pads again," he said. "All the seniors were pretty much in tears."
Football was one of the highlights to Jovin's four years at Seeley-Swan High School. Football, getting together with friends and the prom, the 18-year-old senior said.
But he is looking to the future these days. Four years in the Air Force, followed by a career in computer technology, he hopes.
His teachers describe him as a good-natured, good-humored young man who also has been a good student and a good problem solver.
"He's friendly, outgoing, intelligent, a bit of a procrastinator, but a lot of fun to work with, both for kids and staff," said Bruce Bourne, a Seeley-Swan physics teacher who was Jovin's senior project adviser.
The honor roll student will graduate at 1 p.m., Saturday with 33 classmates during commencement exercises at the Seeley-Swan High School gymnasium.
Jovin described Seeley-Swan high as a place where everyone pretty much knows everyone. Class sizes are small - 15 to 20 students - compared to the other high schools in Missoula County Public Schools.
"Students kind of all intermingle and there aren't a whole lot of new faces," he said.
One person who Jovin said played an important role as a mentor in his life was John Fisher, a former social studies teacher at Seeley-Swan who now teaches at Big Sky High School.
"He always seemed to have a great time with the kids," Jovin said. "He had a carefree attitude and made it fun to learn."
Fisher, who also knew Jovin as his weightlifting partner, is scheduled to speak at Saturday's ceremonies.
His first year teaching at Seeley-Swan, Fisher remembers meeting Jovin, then a sophomore, in his world history class. Jovin did well in the class of about 14 students, only five of whom were boys.
"He wasn't intimidated," Fisher said. "He did a great job. We had a lot of fun."
Gene was a model kid, he said.
"He's one of the nicest young men that I've known," Fisher said. "He works hard both academically and as far as sports go. He also has helped out with his family a lot."
Jovin was raised in a single-parent household. His mother and father divorced when he was 2. He is the oldest of four children. His sister is 14 and his two brothers are 12 and 7.
His mom works full time at Pyramid Lumber, strapping and wrapping lumber and driving a forklift.
"It keeps you running," said Marie Minjares, Jovin's mom.
"She works so hard," said Jovin. "It's the only job high paying enough to keep our family going."
Minjares knows her son wants her to have an easier life.
"He wants me spoiled and pampered," she said with a laugh.
Minjares, 39, expects Saturday to be a happy but tough day.
"He's been a joy to raise," she said. "I don't want to see him go."
"I'm sure there will be a lot of tears. He's my first," she said. "This one is going to be really tough. I'm extremely proud of him. He's an exceptional kid."
Six year ago, when Minjares got her job at Pyramid, she worked the night shift, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Jovin took care of his siblings in the evenings.
"He was only 12. That's a lot of responsibility for a little guy, but he pulled through like a champ," she said.
When Minjares needed to have back surgery, Jovin stepped up again and helped care for his brothers and sister. And when his little brother became seriously ill with a high fever and infection that required Minjares to stay home and miss work, Jovin took a few days out of school so she could get back on the job and earn a full paycheck.
"He's been there for me," she said. "He's just an amazing kid."
In high school, Minjares went out of her way to make sure her son had more of a teen-ager's life. If he had plans to go out on a Friday night and she had to work, she would get a baby sitter.
"His life hasn't been all responsibility," she said.
In addition to football, he was on the track team. He served as class secretary his sophomore year and prom king his junior year.
Minjares didn't have to coerce her son too much to maintain good grades, she said, with a chuckle. If she noticed them starting to slip, she'd have a talk with him and remind him that his car was in her name and he wouldn't be using it anymore if the downward trend continued.
Jovin's father, Robert Jovin, a house painter who lives in Missoula, also remains active in his son's life.
"I'm still tight with my dad," he said.
"His dad has been wonderful," added Minjares.
Jovin has painted on-and-off with his dad since he was 6. He also worked at a local steakhouse and a burger spot on Seeley Lake. For the last two years, he's worked as a checker, night stocker and box boy at Wold's Valley Market.
This summer he may take a job in construction or painting to make more money. He'll hang around long enough in the fall to help out at the start of his alma-mater's football season, but by the end of October he plans to start his stint with the Air Force and study computer technology.
He decided to pursue that route because he didn't have the funds for college, he said.
"And I don't want to be in debt the rest of my life," he said. "This way I'm being paid for being in there and learning what I want to do."
After four years, he expects to have his associate degree and about $36,000 to pursue more schooling without having to take out loans.
He hopes he won't see combat, since he'll work in computer technology. He doesn't have experience with firearms, he said, noting he doesn't even deer hunt.
"I don't want to be stuck in a small town, working at a mill or construction" he said. "I'd like to find a nice job where I can make some good money. I think it would be a nice change."
Someday, after he makes a career for himself, he said he might like to return to Seeley Lake.
"It's a great place to live - especially if you've got lots of toys," he said, with a smile.
Reporter Jane Rider can be reached at 523-5298 or at email@example.com