Read the script below which was read aloud by Jay Stassen, Helen Stassen, Jim Crary, and Gunnar Johnson at the Iditarod Hope Ceremony on March 22, 2021 on the Knik Arm.




Good afternoon. I am Jim Crary and I will MC the Iditarod Hope 2021 ceremony.

Gunnar, Family members and Guests, welcome to all and thank you for being here today.

Thank you also to the Reddington Family for allowing this ceremony to be held on your beautiful property.

Today we will use a Singing Bowl throughout the Ceremony. The purpose of the Singing Bowl is to help us focus on the need to end the silence around suicide and to honor the memory of individuals on the Iditarod Hope list of names as the bowl sings to us and them.

Iditarod Hope was Gunnar’s idea.  He envisioned this initiative as a way to address a difficult topic. Due to Gunnar’s positive COVID test out on the Iditarod trail, Gunnar and fellow musher and friend Nic Petit jointly covered many miles, literally and figuratively, to carry out the task of carrying the Iditarod Hope list of names every mile of the 2021 Iditarod and highlighting such a difficult subject with respect and compassion.  I believe I can speak for everyone here when I say that I am very proud of the great job Gunnar and Nic have done.

Nic offered a hand and compassion that we all need at times to help a friend or family member who is struggling.  Gunnar’s COVID infection and Nic’s willingness to step up and step in to support the project is a reflection of what Iditarod Hope is about.  Being aware of others who struggle and offering help and hope for the future is the cornerstone of this project.

For many people, suicide can be a difficult subject to talk about.  But having conversations about suicide, while difficult, and for some uncomfortable, is courageous and the right thing to do.  Today, we grieve, not alone but in the company of others.  Iditarod Hope reached out to others who unfortunately know the overwhelming grief of suicide and offered a path to healing and conversation.

Through Iditarod Hope Gunnar not only honored the memory of individuals who died by suicide, but he also offered hope for healing to those who mourn them.  He has provided the opportunity to speak about suicide for all who heard about and participated in the Iditarod Hope project.  The Iditarod Hope List consists of about 1,500 names submitted by people from many places including 45 states in the United States, 4 Canadian provinces, as well as Australia, Belgium, England, Kenya, New Zealand and Scotland.  Many people who submitted names included statements about their loved one or friend, the loss that they endure and the joy they feel knowing their name will travel the entire Iditarod race with Gunnar and Nic’s dog teams.  So, THANK YOU, Gunnar!

The three main purposes of Iditarod Hope are:

  • To remember and honor the memory of those who have died by suicide, their lives cut short, appreciating them as individuals, each one precious and dearly missed and to assist their families and friends by offering hope and kind support while we collectively add our words, spoken and written, to suicide awareness. 
  • To provide a method for others to communicate about the painful trauma and aftermath of suicide.  To not stay silent but to urge others to better understand and discuss suicide and its aftermath.
  • As a vehicle of hope and healing to the many who are touched by suicide. Gunnar, with Nic’s help, has allowed the spirit of many to ride along on his incredible Iditarod journey which provided a beam of light and hope to thousands of people

We grieve best in the company of others – Iditarod Hope reached out to others who know the overwhelming grief of suicide and offered a path to healing and conversation. We have been touched by the collective experiences and comments of those many people who submitted names of family members and friends.


I. The Burning of the Iditarod Hope list of names  (with singing bowl interludes)

II. Presentation of the Memorial Plaque

III. Comments by others

The readings of some messages received from others

Comments by those in attendance

IV. Jay and Helen Stassen Comments

Jim’s intro:  Helen Stassen is my youngest sister.  Sadly, her family has been personally impacted by the suicide death of her son Benjamin.  Helen, her husband Jay and son Peter all feel it is critical to not stay silent but to speak out about suicide, to share their story and offer hope and understanding to others who are affected by a suicide death.


When Gunnar explained his concept of highlighting suicide awareness and carrying names of people who have died by suicide on his Iditarod run, our family immediately embraced it.  

We know from personal experience that Suicide is a sudden death a traumatic death and on top of that a stigmatized one.  From our own personal experience, we know the first impulse for survivors often is to suffer in silence.  We also have learned that remaining silent complicates the healing that occurs through deliberate active and open mourning.  We believe we must break down the silence that engulfs this difficult death. We are so thankful that Gunnar has provided this opportunity to speak about suicide for all who participated in the Iditarod Hope project. 

We want to acknowledge the contributions of Benjamin’s cousin, Paul Crary, who created our web site and the tools to collect the Iditarod Hope list of names and provided other technical advice and assistance along the way.  We extend our thanks to Jim Lanier and Northern Whites Kennel for training these beautiful dogs and lending them to Gunnar for the Iditarod Hope 2021 project.

To each of you who traveled to be with us today we are so grateful for your presence and support. Thank you, Jim, David, Matt and Paul.

We think of Benjamin so often and we miss him every day.  If we collectively can do something positive and proactive to avoid other families having to endure this same loss and pain, we will have accomplished a wonderful thing.

Helen has created a personal mission statement acronym that is so appropriate to this project and for the future:  We can rely on HOPE – which is Help Other People Everyday

THANK YOU for sharing this day with us.

V. Closing Comments

The impact of suicide sadly extends to many, so we all need to play a role in preventing suicide and saving lives.  The Iditarod Hope Project amplified the unique voices of those affected by suicide to make it known that it is okay to reach out to help and, also to reach out for help.

Thank you for being with us today to remember and honor these names, and to heal and extend hope for suicide awareness and prevention.