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Kin, paramedics mourn Tucson nurse

Citizen Staff Writer



Jennifer Van Kirk was able not only to turn her passion into a way of life, she also was able to pass it on to others.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of paramedics were touched by her care, compassion and emergency training.

Mrs. Van Kirk’s life was cut short when she died Dec. 8 in a crash during a hailstorm on a road south of Benson.

She lost control of her pickup truck and ran into a concrete culvert. The state Department of Public Safety reported she had not been wearing a seat belt.

“She was the unsung hero of emergency medicine in southern Arizona,” said her husband of 35 years, Stewart Van Kirk, 58. “She was never big into getting any praise, although she touched so many people’s lives.

“One of her students credits her teaching with his decision to go on to becoming a neurosurgeon.”

Van Kirk, who is retired from law enforcement, said his wife’s memorial service Saturday will include a tribute by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department Honor Guard and, because she was also trained to work on emergency helicopters, a medevac flying overhead.

Jennifer Van Kirk’s career kicked off with a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Arizona with minors in biology, zoology, chemistry and psychiatry.

She was a registered nurse for 36 years, working in the education and emergency departments at Tucson Medical Center for 23 years and earning licensure or certification in a handful of fields ranging from disaster services to trauma life support.

“Jenni taught me everything I needed to know in order to do what I love and I am forever grateful to her,” said Dana Barnes, a firefighter and paramedic for Rural/Metro Fire Department.

“There’s not a fire station in town that doesn’t know her or have medics trained by her. Her death is a blow to the entire EMS community. She was a remarkable lady.”

“We were shocked to hear of her untimely death,” said Mike Nervik, who was a student of Mrs. Van Kirk in 1985. “She was well-loved and respected by many.”

She was even following her passion when she and her husband met.

It was at the scene of a fatal accident, he said.

Stewart Van Kirk was cruising around with his friend, both new to law enforcement, when they heard about a crash on the radio.

They arrived at the site, near Interstate 10 and Cortaro Road, to find that his friend knew the nurse working the scene. That nurse was Jennifer.

“It was a cold January night and she was in the back of the ambulance,” he recalled. All three got in the ambulance to warm up and his friend introduced the two.

“That’s how I met her,” Stewart Van Kirk said. “Three months later, I proposed in the break room of the emergency room at St. Mary’s (Hospital).”

While her main passions were nursing and teaching, her husband said she also had a deep love of animals.

“We kind of called it Jenni’s zoo,” he said of the household’s menagerie of four dogs, three cats, three parrots and two ferrets.

One of Mrs. Van Kirk’s children preceded her in death. In addition to her husband, she is survived by three sons, one daughter, two daughters-in-law, three grandchildren and a sister.

The service is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Saint John on the Desert Presbyterian Church, 2695 N. Houghton Road.

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