FRESNO, Calif. (KGPE) – World War II Veteran and Selma native Rodger Jensen not only had major contributions to his country during WWII’s “The Last Mission,” he also provided major contributions to his community through AG.
At 103 years old, he is changing the lives of young college students through philanthropy.
“It was an interesting experience! I was farming pistachios, almonds, avocados, citrus, all different kinds of citrus, figs,” Jensen said.
At one point Rodger was farming 25,000 acres in the Central Valley from Ventura County all the way to Merced County. For many years, Rodger was the largest producer of olives and found great success in pistachios.
“I was willing to take a gamble. I planted the first commercial planting of pistachios, and I built the first commercial processing plant of pistachios,” Jensen explained.
That gamble paid off in a big way, adding to his portfolio with other farming investments like his citrus ranch near Reedley and cattle ranch in the foothills that are still operating today.
“I’m still pretty active in our family’s business and there are some things on the drawing board that I sure would like to see concluded before I pass on,” Jensen expressed.
His business ventures brought in millions allowing him to give back to his community and his alma mater Fresno State through the founding of the AG One Foundation and an endowment that gives full-ride scholarships to eight AG students every year— students like brothers Armando and Rigo Guzman from Tulare.
“At first, I was like, did you guys get the right person? It was like wow! I was very surprised, and I remember Marlene Miyasaki was the one who reached out and I was just like, wow, I’ve never had anything like that happen to me so I was very grateful of it and will always be,” Fresno State Jensen Scholar Armando Guzman recalled.
Armando graduated in 2015 with a degree in plant science. Thanks to Rodger, after three years of driving back and forth from Tulare, Armando was able to move to campus where he could focus on his studies. He was able to get his pest control advisor license and after working for a company for eight years, he is now launching his own business.
“I’m lost for words at times just thinking about all he has done for me and I’m just thankful. It just goes to show a lot about who he is and all the contributions he’s made and so the way I see it is he helped me so now I want to be able to pay it forward,” Armando expressed.
“What you see is what you want to become and looking at my older brother Armando you know taking on Fresno State saying hey I can do that! So in terms of what role I wanted do that was a question still but first thing was obtaining a higher education,” Rigo Berto Guzman said.
Like his brother, Rigo was also selected as a Jensen Scholar.
“Rodger and the whole Jensen family put down the whole tuition. That’s what this scholarship is it’s giving you the chance to go to school, focus, and complete your school. The first day you go on campus they say there is a 50-percent chance you probably won’t make it and that can be financial issues and or other problems at home but given this opportunity is invaluable to students, it eliminates those problems and Rodger, and his family are able to help,” Rigo expressed.
Rodger’s gift to the university not only helps students, it also helps with research— especially when it comes to pistachio research.
“We study pistachio physiology basically it’s just like studying internal systems just like our family doctors study our systems, right? So, we particularly work on climate change issues and how increasing temperatures affect pistachios,” said Dr. Gurreet Brar.
Dr. Gurreet Brar is also on the receiving end of Rodger’s generosity.
“Every year through the endowment my lab receives some amount of funds that I can utilize to pay undergrad students even to graduate students or to pay for travel or any other item that I may not have budgeted in any other project funds. Those are the things that come in handy when you are running a research program,” Dr. Brar explained.
No doubt Rodger has touched a lot of lives and will continue to for decades to come. A life well lived, a life well admired, and a life full of love.
Love for his family, love for AG, love for his community— and perhaps this is the secret to his long life living to 103.
“I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and there’s not many days I don’t have a pistachio to eat,” Jensen joked.