Barden’s friends recall a big heart, big love for trucks

By Christina Killion Valdez

Jesse Barden dreamt big — monster truck big.

Enthralled by the giant trucks at a young age, Barden, who grew up in Rochester and Mazeppa, turned his passion into a career as a crew chief for Monster Jam, the international motor sports company.

His love, which also encompassed his family, friends and fishing, was remembered this week during a visitation and funeral for Barden, 23, who died as the result of an accident June 29 in North Carolina.


Parked in front of Pax Christi Church in Rochester for the wake and funeral was the U.S. Air Force monster truck that Barden worked on for the past several years.

Helping get the truck there was Alex Blackwell, the driver of Captain Curse and Barden’s roommate in North Carolina.

"I didn’t know how people would react," he said of bringing in the truck, "But it was a big part of his life."

Pallbearers, including Damon Bradshaw, driver of the Air Force Afterburner, also wore monster truck mechanic shirts in remembrance of Barden’s commitment to the sport.

Thinking back to when Barden’s love for monster trucks began, his long-time friend Nathan Severson, of Zumbrota, said, "I got him into monster trucks. I took him to his first show."

The two also got into remote control cars, with Barden becoming a talented designer, and took a road trip to St. Louis, the home of Big Foot, a famous monster truck, Severson said.

"He was living his dream," he said.

Barden started with Monster Jam as a mechanic, later becoming a crew leader. He was honored as Crew Leader of the Year this year and Most Valuable Player in 2008.


"He was an ambassador for

Monster Jam," said Bill Easterly, senior director of operations, noting that Barden was always the first person to volunteer for any duty.

"I spend too much time in the shop," Blackwell said, "But Jesse was always there an extra hour or so."

Barden’s job also took him to about 18 countries for events and display tours, Blackwell said.

"Most people want to do in a

lifetime, what he did in two years," Blackwell said.

Yet, Barden remained humble, and chose to use his position to help others.

Among the many stories of his


generosity that his friends shared was when he met a family with a child with autism, and he invited them to visit him at the World Finals. There he showed them around backstage. He also gave out T-shirts and hats to kids interested in monster trucks, they said.

"As a parent he was probably the best role model for your kids that you could ever ask for," said family friend Shelly Roberts, of Mazeppa. "He was kind and considerate and very trustworthy."

Barden also put 100 percent into everything he did, she said.

Every year he set up a haunted house in the basement of the

Ponderosa Supper Club for the neighbor kids to tour on Halloween, she said. Two years ago, he brought the U.S. Air Force monster truck to a neighborhood night in Mazeppa, she said.

"All the kids, even the old guys, got pictures up in that truck," Roberts said. "He went out of his way to do that."

Barden also helped friend Mike Albers, of Mazeppa, get even closer to the monster trucks by bringing him on a display tour to Chicago, Omaha and Houston last year.

"He was the best friend a guy could have," Albers said.

Even amid all of his travels, Barden also made a point of coming home, including a surprise trip to Mazeppa for Father’s Day. He also came home every year for a Memorial Day fishing trip to Pelican Lake, said longtime friend Steve Hill.

That showed how he held family and friends in his heart, which is remembered as being big — monster-truck big.

Remembrance, which runs on Saturdays, details the lives of area residents.

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