Ten years ago today, a fatal auto accident claimed the lives of two pro-life heroes and a sweet baby girl.
The evening of October 8, 2011, Jon Scharfenberger and a pregnant Kortney Blythe Gordon were traveling back from a Students for Life of America conference in Georgia. Kortney was SFLA’s Field Director, and she worked to activate, train, and mobilize pro-life groups on college campuses, building up the Pro-Life Generation. Jon Scharfenberger was SFLA’s Pregnant on Campus Coordinator – a project Jon started which flourished into what is now known as SFLA’s Standing With You Initiative.
A drunk driver struck the car with Kortney in the driver’s seat. Kortney and her preborn baby, Sophy, died on the scene. Jon died ten days later as a result of the injuries sustained that night.
I did not know Kortney as I did Jon, as I was privileged to witness Jon’s passion for protecting life during the years we ran Ave Maria University Students for Life together as college students. Looking back, I can envision Jon’s enthusiasm during his last presentation at that Georgia event. Sharing the truth about anything made Jon come alive. And the truth that the preborn child is a human who is made in the image of God and worthy of protection… that was a reality that particularly set Jon ablaze and moved him to act.
Jon was as vivacious as he was lighthearted and mischievous. A recent graduate of our shared alma mater, Jon was the kind of guy you knew would accomplish whatever he set his mind to. And he sure set his mind to big things
In college, Jon embraced his academic studies, digesting every thought experiment his AMU philosophy professors threw at him. My head spun the one time I made the mistake of asking Jon what his thesis was about. All I understood was that it was something about human nature and John Paul II and… glory? But he knew what he was talking about, and that’s what mattered.
Jon’s relationship with God was deep. You didn’t just know this because of the well-worn breviary (Catholic prayer book) that seemed to be an extra appendage, attached to his hand at all times. Jon had struggles just like the rest of us, but his trust in the providence and goodness of God prevented his crosses from crushing him, and the joy of this radical surrender was evident — and contagious — in his demeanor.
Yet Jon’s smarts and his faith did not make him hard to relate to. Jon seemed to make friends effortlessly and, even more impressively, he maintained those friendships like each one was a precious gift. Once, after Jon and I had had a falling out, I went to our campus coffee shop to get a coffee and the cashier told me my drink was already paid for by a gift card Jon had left on my account (the gift paid for my coffees for weeks). He did that even though, as I later learned, I was worked up over a situation that I had misunderstood – Jon had not actually done anything hurtful. Though I didn’t deserve it, Jon still went out of his way to repair our relationship. That was the kind of person he was.
When you spoke to Jon, he made you feel like you were the only person in the room. That’s one reason I wish Jon were here today: He would relish the opportunity to change hearts and minds in this season, with the Dobbs v. Jackson case on the horizon and Roe v. Wade’s fate in the hands of a possible pro-life majority on the Supreme Court bench. I imagine Jon would be ecstatic about SFLA’s Campaign for Abortion Free Cities. I can envision his energy and see him knocking on doors in communities all over, persuading every person he encountered to embrace the pro-life message.
In some ways, it is because of Jon that Students for Life was able to launch the Campaign for Abortion Free Cities at all. You see, Jon wasn’t just passionate and persuasive; he was also visionary. Jon created the Pregnant on Campus Initiative which SFLA spent the last decade scaling — the initiative, now known as Standing With You, empowered Students for Life of America to deploy the Campaign for Abortion Free Cities in 20 cities this year. Standing With You is the powerful centerpiece of the Campaign, equipping our team and volunteers with the resources and tools they need as we work to make those cities abortion free.
This is the original video released in 2011, with Jon as the spokesperson, to launch The Pregnant on Campus Initiative…
It’s hard to believe now, but the truth is that after Jon died, SFLA considered retiring Jon’s Pregnant on Campus / Standing With You initiative. SFLA president Kristan Hawkins wrote about this painful time in a letter to Jon on the third anniversary of his death:
When you died, we were devastated. We had lost our teammate and friend, and we considered letting your Pregnant on Campus Initiative go. We no longer had a leader nor the time to fundraise the money we needed. And I had to deal with the painful fact that I asked you to join our team and take this leadership position. That I had recruited you to a position that placed you on that road to be hit by that drunk driver.
But I decided I couldn’t do that to your legacy, that your work was much too important. That you were too important to us.
And today, almost 3 years later, I want you to know that your legacy carries on, that your work to transform college campuses and support pregnant and parenting students has continued and is thriving.
Jon’s vision became tangible in the resources that pregnant and parenting students would receive on campuses nationwide thanks to the initiative. These resources, in turn, empowered pregnant mothers to reject abortion and embrace life. In fact, hundreds of children are alive today because of the initiative he started. In a sense, they are alive today because of him.
Jon was only 22 years old when he died, yet he accomplished more than most of us could in 80, 90, or 100 years of life. Jon imbibed every ounce of the life God gave him, and he gave it all back to God to multiply and carry on. And he selflessly showed those around him how to do the same.
We will continue to fight to abolish abortion knowing that this is the greatest act of honor we can offer to the enduring legacies of Kortney Blythe Gordon, Sophy Gordon, and Jon Scharfenberger.