The whitewater rapids of life: In memoriam, Orionite Juniper Rose Prete

Chico State alumna Juniper Rose Prete

Chico State alumna Juniper Rose Prete

In the spring of 2013, Chico State students Ben Mullin and Quinn LeMelle were faced with the white foam of the river’s wild rapids. They tried to swallow their nerves as they sat in the raft. 

“I was really nervous and had never done it before,” Mullin recalled.  

It wasn’t long into their trip before the rapids flipped their raft. LeMelle was thrown into the frigid water, hurting her ankle. Mullin also fell in and felt trapped under the raft, unable to get enough air. 

As his head finally broke through the surface, Mullin spotted a familiar face — their friend Juniper Rose, running along the riverbank, throwing herself into the freezing cold water. She swam to the raft, pulled it right side up and held it steady while helping her friends into the raft. 

That was Juniper Rose, a brave soul unwavering in her kindness and love for wild things. The Chico State alumna died of cancer in September 2020, but her adventurous life will remain an inspiration to Chico State students for years to come — thanks to a new scholarship created by her friends and dedicated to her memory.  

Born on the South Fork of Trinity River in a small cabin, Juniper developed her fearless spirit at a young age. Her father, David She’om Rose, took her on river-rafting trips to the Pacific Ocean at 13 years old. As an adult, she became a Class 5 raft guide and avid kayaker, traveling through dangerous waters across the globe. She wrote for outdoor magazines and worked as a rafting guide in California and West Virginia. 

Juniper was a talented journalist. Her career started in 2011 when she wrote for The Orion. In the newsroom, she became friends with fellow staff members Mullin and LeMelle. 

“What astonished me about Juniper when I first met her was she was getting stories and all this sort of information and managed to be a bulldog reporter,” Mullin said, “but had this great attitude and was kind to everyone around her and had a great reputation.” 

Juniper was a driven journalist, but also a loyal friend. 

“She was my best friend,” LeMelle said. “We met on The Orion. We always used to joke that when we were old ladies we would trick our kids into falling in love.”

A month into their friendship, sitting in LeMelle’s dorm room, Juniper sat up, asking LeMelle to make a list of all her friends that she wanted to be in her wedding. Juniper declared that she would make it to the top of the list. On LeMelle’s wedding day, Juniper pulled out the list they had made years earlier. 

Juniper’s journalism career led her to Washington, D.C., where she covered President Barack Obama’s White House. On her blog, she recalled covering an event in the East Room featuring Michelle Obama

Juniper was unapologetic about her job. “I make it my mission to capture photos of genuine laughter, but I’m not afraid to take a photo of someone while they cry,” she wrote

Juniper Rose Prete on assignment

Juniper wrote for The Orion, The Eureka Times-Standard, NorCal Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, Hispanic Link News and various outdoor magazines. For the last several years, she was a traveling freelance journalist. 

Her passion for nature was reflected in every aspect of her life, even her marriage. 

“She really embodied the idea of live every day to its fullest,” her husband Nick Prete said. 

Their life was an adventure. Together they guided whitewater rafting tours across the globe. 

“We faced everything and did everything together,” Prete said. 

On the road, Juniper worked as a freelancer, often huddling around a coffee shop’s wifi to submit her stories. They married in May 2019. 

“When you’re in the depths of a canyon at the mercy of high winds, cold rains, blazing sun and sand storms, it’s a fine line between a majestic adventure and miserable slog,” Juniper wrote in one of her final articles.  

In January 2020, her intense stomach pains got worse. 

“She started feeling sick, complaining about stomach aches, and nobody could figure it out, and in January the pain got really bad,” LeMelle said. “She got so sick. … I remember her calling me, and saying she had stage 4 cancer.” 

After months of fighting colorectal cancer, Juniper Rose Prete passed away on Sept. 29, 2020, in Sacramento. 

In honor of her life, Chico State has established the The Juniper (Rose) Prete Memorial Scholarship. Qualifying students must major in journalism, recreation, hospitality or outdoor education. Preference will be given to those involved in The Orion or Adventure Outings at Chico State. 

The goal is to raise $25,000 by Juniper’s birthday on March 28. Those interested can donate at this link.

Mary Cron can be reached at [email protected]