By Dan Bettenhausen
The men of Iowa Beta at the University of Iowa are once again in mourning. Our beloved brother, Jay Burger, passed away on June 25 at the age of 24 after a 21-month battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma. This comes just less than one month after our brother Nik Jiruska was taken by the same horrible disease. Though the hearts of his friends, family, and brothers are heavy with loss, it is through reflecting on the amazing impact Jay had on all of our lives that will lighten the load.
Jay was initiated into the Iowa Beta Chapter of Phi Delta Theta in the fall of 2010 and easily established himself as a leader both among his close friends and on the Executive Board as the Social Chairman. He lived and breathed Phi Delt. Jay loved to organize activities and events to get his brothers together to simply have fun, both on a whim and as a part of his executive duties. Whether it was socials, group trips over breaks, intramurals, or random pick-up games, Jay was always more concerned that everyone else was having fun and being included.
Continuing to highlight that desire for inclusiveness, Jay possessed a special ability to bridge the gap among the brothers from different grades. If it were not for Jay bringing guys together at these events or while just hanging out, many of the close friendships that still exist among his brothers today may have never happened. Jay was at his best when fostering relationships among those who he cherished, and he truly cherished all of his Phi Delt brothers. So much so that he made you feel like the best friend anyone could have, and everyone had something unique over which they could bond with him.
Once that bond was forged, you were sure to hang out with him, and pretty soon you’d figure out that Jay loved being a 90’s kid. He was always good for an obscure 90’s TV or movie reference. His go-to sources were Legends of the Hidden Temple and The Mighty Ducks. If he had say over the music, it usually consisted of 80’s and early 90’s jams. Jay also used his quick wit and sharp one-liners to make funny conversations even funnier. Furthermore, whenever he made a jab or joke about another brother, it always reached a level that made the person on the other end of the joke laugh along hysterically. It was not in Jay’s nature to be hurtful.
One of the many things that brothers connected over with Jay was his passion for sports. While many of us think ourselves a sports aficionado, one would be hard pressed to find someone more passionate and knowledgeable – especially when it came to the Denver Broncos, Dallas Mavericks, Chicago Blackhawks and Cubs. Jay was also very opinionated and usually pulled out some fact or statistic to prove why one of his teams was going all the way that year or why Marian Hossa and Dirk Nowitzki are the best players in their respective sports. Even though he was in the midst of his treatment, Jay was overjoyed and got to see opinion become reality when he witnessed in person the Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50.
As a student at the University of Iowa, Jay earned a degree in Business Marketing and an Entrepreneurship certificate. He used the skills learned from these classes during an internship with the Chicago Bulls where he had first hand input on many of the team’s in game promotional efforts.
Jay didn’t just like to watch though. He was extremely competitive and loved to play basketball and pond hockey. It would not have been a normal day around the Phi Delt house if you didn’t hear Jay trying to convince people to head to the rec center for a pick-up game. After he was diagnosed, Jay took to golf, and the game quickly became an escape from any sort of fears and worries he was facing at the time. That joy and escapism was then amplified this past April when he attended the Masters tournament and got to walk the most sacred golf course on the planet.
All of this is just further proof that Jay lived in the now and for the moment. He strived to experience life to the fullest with those he loved and never wanted anyone to think he was not himself. He was a man of character and the personification of friendship.
Jay is survived by his mother Kelly Jo Golson, his step-father of more than 20 years Mark Golson, his loving siblings Luke and Sophie Golson and his beloved grandparents Joe and Rae-Jean Young and Tom Golson. He is also survived by his father James Burger and his wife Beth Burger and siblings Mehgan, Matthew and Peyton “Nico” Burger and grandparents Royce and Betty Burger and Bob and Marjorie Adams. Finally, Jay is survived by all of his Iowa Beta Brothers in the Bond.
Two symbols of Phi Delta Theta are a shield and a sword. Though it may be an appropriate time to put up our guard or our “shield” in mourning over the loss of our brother, that is not how Jay lived nor how he would want us to live. As Psalm 27:17 states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one friend sharpens another.” And while we may be a duller blade today without him, he would want us to rise up and sharpen each other with our proverbial “sword” and attack life. That is who Jay was: a fighter all the way until the end.
We would be so lucky to live as Jay did. We are so lucky to have called him a friend and brother – and to call him such still, since he is and always will be in our hearts.
In coelo quies est.