“I never really gave it much thought, before. I’ve known people in situations and people who have had issues like that. It’s just one of those things you don’t really talk about.”
Before July of 2008, Jana Mackey’s name was synonymous with a crusade for women’s rights and the pursuit of justice. In a cruel twist of fate, at the young age of 25, Jana’s life was taken in an instance of domestic violence with an ex-boyfriend. Grieving parents, Curt and Christie Brungardt felt like they could grieve or they could grieve and act. Thus began a mission to spread awareness and education of domestic violence prevention that has grown to reach tens of thousands of people, including middle school, high school and college aged students and working professionals since its inception.
To those that knew Jana well, her pursuit continuing in tribute only seems fitting. Though, to those that knew Jana well, her name is so much more than the mission created in her honor.
“I always thought she was kind of an edgy girl, but super sweet. She was really down to earth, but she had a real spunk to her,” recalled Sarah Fleenor, high school friend of Jana’s and co-owner of Rejuvenations. “We were in musicals together, so you get to know someone well, spending every day after school with them. Our freshman year, we did Big River, and once we wrapped the last show, we went to her house for an after party and sang Rocky Horror Picture Show songs.”
Sarah’s husband, Josh, was also a friend of Jana’s. “I think it was the end of my sophomore year. We dated. Not very long - 6 months. Which is forever in high school.”
But his memories were similar to those of his wife. “I was a little artsy, but she...she was definitely artsy. Anything that had drama, music...she loved it. And anytime she would talk about it, she would get that sparkle in her eye. I have those same memories of watching Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was her favorite movie (at the time), because it was always so out there. It fit her personality.”
There were mentions of a pink Cadillac. An experiment with jet black hair and bright red streaks, quickly vetoed by administration at the school. Her parents often speak of her love for the lake and their lake home, situated on Council Grove City Lake, an idyllic, private community, just outside of the quaint town of Council Grove, Kansas. A man-made lake, surrounded by privately owned homes with porch lights that glitter off of the still waters at night and private docks where families spend all hours of their day, soaking in the serene quiet of nature.
Jana’s death hit Josh and Sarah both hard. While they had known people who had been in situations of domestic violence previously in life, it was seemingly nothing compared to a loss of life, especially one with such promise and vivaciousness. “It was just one of those things you didn’t really talk about,” says Josh.
But that was quick to change. The Brungardts wasted little time to cement Jana’s legacy as an advocate. At her celebration of life on July 8, 2008, less than a week after her death, speakers urged a call to action from the 1,100 people in attendance. Days later, Jana’s friends created a website to document acts of service. Eleven Hundred Torches: Jana’s Call to Action campaign was born. In October of 2009, the group documented it’s 1,100th story, coming from 19 states and 4 foreign countries. Seeking to narrow their goal to work on Jana’s passion of reducing gender-based violence, Curt and Christie announced the creation of Jana’s Campaign during the International 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, on December 10, 2009.
As part of Jana’s Campaign, the organization holds an annual fundraiser, Empty Place at the Table, to recognize the empty place at the Mackey-Brungardt family table. The empty place that Jana’s death left in the life of her family and the many who loved her.
“I think it was four of us that talked about it as a collective, as people, as a business, and agreed this is something we could get behind, especially since we all knew Jana and Curt and Christie,” said Josh, referring to other owner of Rejuvenations, Sase Fleenor, and her husband, Mike. “We 100% agreed with their mission of educating future generations so that domestic violence is no longer a problem.”
Sase Fleenor, herself, was also a survivor of domestic violence, previously being in an five year marriage where she was beaten behind closed doors daily. Beaten, belittled, and broken. To her, the mission was equally personal. It had been written in stone, that Rejuvenations would unite with the team of Jana’s Campaign to continue and support their advocacy for prevention and awareness of domestic violence.
“With the spa, our whole mission is to raise other people up, so if you see people in that situation it’s your job to make them feel better about themselves, and present to them different options they have for themselves, without prying. I think Rejuvenations has always been that soft place to land since we opened,” said co-owner, Sarah.
Advocacy and education of the staff of signs of domestic violence are of primary importance. “First off, when people leave the house and they are in that situation, they automatically feel much safer. We try to make people feel as comfortable as possible, where they can open up without fear or judgment,” said Sarah. “They know they can tell us anything, and it’s not going anywhere. They trust our confidentiality.”
Josh, who now works in law enforcement and has been even further trained in areas of domestic violence added, “And historically, a spa, salon, what have you, has been a place where women can go and share things about themselves a little more freely. And being that you are massaging them and waxing them, you may notice things on them. You will see the red flags, even if they are not telling you”
“You can ask questions that are broad and indirect enough that can leave the door open,” said Sarah.
In addition to awareness, the Rejuvenations staff not only attends Empty Place at the Table annually as a team, but they also donate a 6 person spa package. Awarded to the highest bidder, the spa is open one Sunday a year, where staff donate their time to creating a relaxing and luxurious day complete with breakfast, mimosas, lunch, and more in addition to a day of massages, manicures, pedicures, facials, and a professional brow shaping and consultation.
“It really is such a fun day. Everyone comes in excited for a spa day. And the ambiance of the table presentations and fresh flowers, a candlelit, homemade lunch. It really is one of the best days of our year,” echoed 4 year staff member, Amber Lang. “I think we get just as much out of the day as the ladies that are participating. And we always make such amazing, personal connections.”
This year marks the 7th annual Empty Place at the Table event for Jana’s Campaign and the 7th year of participation for Rejuvenations, including the donation of the 6 person spa package. Despite the 7 years of attendance and the 11 years that have passed since Jana’s death, the event of remembrance and awareness always brings a tear to Sarah’s eye, as she works resolutely in her life to carry out Jana’s mission in what she does every day.
“I remember we had a lady run in the spa one day, and she was afraid of her husband. I was in a room doing a brazilian, and the manager knocks on my door and says ‘I need you right now.’ I come out, and this lady tells me she needs a $100. That she just needs to get away. I had no idea what was going on. She told me her story. I gave her the $100. She said she needed to disappear, and I think she did. I never saw her or heard from her again. I never got the $100. I don’t care. I hope she found her safe place.”