Jeff Lester was born in St. Louis to Larry and Marie Lester while his dad was finishing up dental school at Washington University but spent most of his childhood growing up in Sikeston, Missouri. His childhood was typical of a middle child with an older brother and younger sister in an upper middle class family. Jeff’s younger years revolved around his family, The First United Methodist Church in Sikeston, friends, school and every activity he could involve himself in from scouting to music to multiple sports. It was in the Boy Scouts that Jeff first showed his future potential and drive to succeed as he precipitously moved through the ranks to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout in the minimum time allowable at the age of 15. He also achieved the God and Country achievement as a proclamation of his faith and he hiked 110 miles in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico at the Philmont Scout Ranch. Jeff learned to play the piano in his elementary years, played the trumpet in the school’s band in his middle and junior school years and performed vocally many times at church functions and school plays throughout his younger life. However, Jeff’s passion in his youth was any sport activity he could participate in particularly baseball, swimming, golf, bowling, basketball and wrestling which he was able to achieve some level of mastery and success in competitions but it was football that was his real love. From his earliest years, he would play in any pick-up game he could get involved starting with his older brother and his friends who were 7 to 8 years older than him. He then began to organize his friends into teams to play weekly games in the empty lot by his house and was thrilled when he began playing Little League football in the sixth grade.
When Jeff Lester entered his high school years, he came into his own establishing a desire and drive to achieve success in whatever he attempted in his life. Academically Jeff maintained high standards achieving admission into National Honor Society and having success in multiple academic competitions including being runner-up to go to nationals at the Regional Science Fair. At nearly 6’2” and 220 pounds, he also continued his athletic endeavors competing on the varsity level as a wrestler and a starting lineman in football. It was during his high school football years that he began to develop the characteristic of tenacity that would service him so well later in life as he played through a knee injury which required surgery his sophomore year and playing with a broken bone in his neck the rest of the season after the first game of his junior year. It was also these injuries that reminded Jeff that his career wasn’t going to be in the sports arena which is why he joined Future Business Leaders of America. It was in this organization that he began to refine his leadership skills first as the Missouri State Vice-President and then as the Missouri State President of FBLA. He also began building his skills and interest in business which culminated in him receiving 10th place in the comprehensive competition Mr. FBLA at the 1985 FBLA National Convention in Houston, Texas.
At this point in his life moving on after high school, Jeff Lester fully expected to be successful in whatever he planned to do in the rest of his life. The next 8 years which included plenty of highs and lows challenged Jeff’s confidence during his college and early professional years but he was still on his path to success after this period. He was admitted to the University of Mississippi on academic scholarship where he quickly acclimated himself to college life by joining the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi and participating in various university activities. Jeff even maintained a high GPA for his entire freshman year despite his dad becoming gravely ill from the effects of Pulmonary Fibrosis within one month of his going to college and his dad’s death in April just before his second semester finals. Even though he was able to complete his finals on the regular schedule this major event in his life impacted both his self confidence and caused an unexpected change in direction in his life’s journey since his dad’s presence and advice were central to his life compass. After taking the following fall semester to regain his balance, Jeff decided a change was needed to get a fresh start so he transferred to Southwest Missouri State University, now Missouri State University. He began to rebuild the momentum for his life goals although his academic standards suffered for a couple of semesters while he fought to regain his balance. Jeff quickly became deeply involved in the university through serving as a senator in the Student Government Association; serving as the student representative to the Faculty Senate, the university’s arena and on the College of Business Board. His academic performance recovered to the point where he barely missed graduating with honors. Jeff unsuccessfully ran for Student Body President and had to work the last year and a half of college to support himself when financial support from his dad was exhausted. These two events while difficult made Jeff even more determined to achieve his life’s professional goals of going to graduate school for a M.B.A. and a successful career in the corporate world after serving his country as an officer in the Navy like his father had and his brother who had attended the Naval Academy was currently serving. The summer after his graduation and before his 24th birthday, Jeff started his application for the Navy’s OCS program while at the same time experiencing some unusual physical weakness as he trained for the physical portion of the OCS application process. Now despite having the necessary grades, test scores and even a recommendation from an admiral, his application for OCS was denied. Even this was a unexpected setback to his planned goals, he was unaware that this was a sign of a much more ominous problem just on the horizon since his brother told him that the reason for the denial was that the Navy was in the process of trying to shrink and therefore were cutting back on accepting new officers through the OCS program.
While Jeff was disappointed by being denied this opportunity to serve his country, he knew he had to begin to get the required management experience for admission into graduate school. Over the next 3 years, he worked as a manager of a new computer software store which he opened and within the year had consistently performing in the top ten in sales in a company with 350+ stores. With his career goals seemingly on track at 26 he began taking the next step in his plan by applying to graduate schools after achieving a high score on the GMAT exam. However, at the same time he was excited at the very encouraging possibility of attending Washington University where his father graduated; his physical issues had advanced enough to where he was going to doctors to discover what was wrong. By the spring of 1993, it became apparent to Jeff that his physical problems could be serious enough that he would temporarily put his graduate school plans on hold since he couldn’t leave his job and the health insurance it provided. That summer things became more serious as he began falling for no reason and the doctors were talking about brain tumors to MS but still no definitive diagnosis. One night late in the summer, Jeff happened to watch Pride of the Yankees on a classic movie channel when he began to weep toward the end of it because somewhere in the back of his mind he knew this was his fate. Just before his 27th birthday in October of 1993 a new neurologist at St. John’s Hospital in St. Louis County gave him the news no one wants to hear, “You have ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a fatal neuromuscular disease without any treatment. It typically causes death in 3 to 5 years.” Unable to comprehend what he was just told and numb from the shock of it, Jeff left the doctor’s office and drove himself to his mom’s home. It wasn’t until he saw his mom and step-dad, Tom, and they asked him what was wrong that the reality and weight of what he was told hit him. He was barely able to utter the words “I have ALS” as he crumpled into a big sobbing heap on his mother’s floor. Ironically, his diagnosis was confirmed by an ALS specialist one floor below where he was born in Barnes Hospital when the doctor told him “To go home, enjoy what’s left of your life and start planning your funeral. You know a big party or something.” Thus ending Jeff Lester’s first life.