Student Voice


May 25, 2024


UWRF student dies in horseback riding accident

December 10, 2009

A UW-River Falls junior died Dec. 4 after a horseback riding accident Nov. 21 in Prescott, Wis.

Cayla Ann Hankwitz-Jenss, 22, originally of Appleton, Wis., was flown immediately to Regions Hospital in St. Paul after a trail riding accident where she was thrown from her horse which then landed on her.

Hankwitz-Jenss was a pre-veterinary medicine major and chemistry minor. She earned straight A’s in high school and was on the Dean’s List at UWRF.

She joined the U.S. Army Reserves at age 17, and was deployed on a mission to Kuwait during the 2007-08 school year as a Supply Sergeant. She married her husband, Steven Jenss, on Jan. 2. Steven was also in the army, serving in Kuwait at the time of her accident.

Danelle Dernovsek, one of Hankwitz-Jenss’ good friends, said she was an extremely thoughtful, caring person.

“She touched so many people’s lives if even for a brief moment,” Dernovsek said. “She was always willing to help others out and she is going to be missed by so many.”

Steve Kelm, who was Hankwitz-Jenss’ academic advisor, said she had many great attributes.

“She had the ability to multi-task but in a very calm, focused manner,” he said. “She was not easily frazzled—she understood what needed to be done and set about accomplishing the task.”

Rellen Hardtke, an associate professor in the physics department, taught Hankwitz-Jenss in her Physics 151 course this semester. She said she was both an extraordinary person and student.

“Cayla was an extremely hard worker,” she said. “In a way, she was the prototypical UWRF student: one of the first in her family to go to college, handling multiple life demands simultaneously, bright,  extremely hard-working, dedicated, kind [and] likable.”

Hankwitz-Jenss’ superb academic achievements did not go unnoticed by her other professors either.

“She is one of the only people to get 100s on my zoology exams, and I used to tease her about being an overachiever,” Biology Professor Betsy Gerbec said. “She would laugh, but it made her determined to get high A’s on the rest of them.”

Hardtke said several members of the campus community met Monday to discuss the University’s response to Hankwitz-Jenss’ death. The meeting included a number of her professors, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Gregg Heinselmann, the UWRF Behavior Intervention Team, and Gretchen Link and Mark Huttemeier, both counselors from UWRF Counseling Services.

As of Tuesday night, a Facebook support group entitled “Prayers for Cayla Hankwitz-Jenss” had more than 680 members, many of which shared inspirational quotes and personal stories involving Hankwitz-Jenss. The group also contained a link to her Caring Bridge Web site.

“It is obvious that Cayla had a big heart, welcoming others into her life yet demanding nothing in return,” Kelm said. “For someone who was 22 years old, she had a clear view of the ‘big picture,’ [and] a very mature, grounded personality.”

Gerbec said losing Hankwitz-Jenss, her Zoology student assistant, has been a difficult experience for her to deal with.

“It was so easy to believe that she’d pull through, that eventually everything would be fine, and as the news got worse we had to swallow hard and admit that everything wasn’t going to be fine,” she said.

“It was hard to see such a young person, full of life and energy and promise, go through this and then not come out of it in the end.”

Hankwitz-Jenss’ funeral was held at 4 p.m. Thursday at Christ the Rock Community Church in Menasha, Wis. She received full military honors after the service. In lieu of flowers, a memorial fund was established in her name.

For UWRF students who were unable to attend the funeral, an on-campus memorial in her honor will be held at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday in Ballroom D of the University Center. UWRF Counselor Gretchen Link said counselors will be on hand at the event to talk with and help students who may be having a hard time dealing with Hankwitz-Jenss’ death. Additionally, Link said counselors are currently available—and will be during J-term and next semester—to assist students if needed.

Hankwitz-Jenss is survived by her husband, Steven Jenss; mother, Sherry Walker; father, Dennis Hankwitz; sisters, Cara and Candice Hankwitz; brother, Cory Hankwitz; and her in-laws and two grandmothers, Shirley Herbst and Lila Strong.

Dernovsek said donations are being accepted to help Steven Jenss pay for medical costs. Any donations are accepted, with $2 being the minimum donation amount. A ribbon in memory of Hankwitz-Jenss will be provided to those who donate, Dernovsek said.


joe young on 11 Dec 2009: Our heart goes out to Steve and all the family. There never seems to be the right words to say that can make everything ok again. After unexpectedly losing my mom on Easter morning 2008 I was in a daze. Numb with shock and disbelief. But God is kind and can help bring us through when we don't understand "why did this have to happen?" I am looking at a very happy, courageous, and fulfilled looking person in this picture. Steve, I will praying for you and all those with you. Anytime you need a friend just write or call. God Bless, Joe Young, 860-817-0181