1999 Austin graduate, linguist, soldier, dies at 36

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Jacob Collins died last week at 36, but packed a large life into that seemingly short span.

“He was incredible,” said his mom, Bonnie.

The 1999 Austin High School graduate was a cryptologist and linguist in Chinese, who had worked in Army intelligence. He graduated from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., and spent time in China as part of his training. He also worked in Washington, D.C., and in Afghanistan. He was working on his doctorate in cyber security. He was good at sports and loved to travel.

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Collins, a sergeant in the Army Reserves in Fort Meade, Maryland, died in his sleep while at his parents house in Longville, Minnesota. He was spending time with his parents while waiting for a visa needed for an assignment overseas.

Bonnie said his accomplishments came from a combination of dedication and a true “love of learning.”

“He loved going to school, every day,” Bonnie said.

She added that when he took a test to determine where he should be placed in a particular language study, “he scored 98 percent on the Army test … they couldn’t believe it.”

He also had a good heart. During one of his college internships, he taught English to Serbian children and helped rebuild homes in the region.

Jacob Collins, a 1999 Austin High School graduate, works with students in Sarajevo where he taught English. He is covered in stickers, placed there by the little girls who were in his class. Photo provided

His friends said Collins was accomplished — but more than that, just a good guy.

Fellow 1999 AHS graduate David Handeland, who lives in Bloomington, Minnesota, played soccer with Collins.

“There were about five of us who were really tight,” said Handeland, who works in account management and also is a statistician for the Minnesota Timberwolves professional basketball team. “Jake was a great soccer player and a really good friend,” adding it was hard to believe that someone so vibrant could be gone.

Handeland recalled a soccer practice that has become something of a hallmark story among that generation.

“Jake had a really dry sense of humor,” said Handeland, the goalie for the team. “He was so good at the sport — and with this one exercise, we just had to kick the balls into the corners. So Jake decides to make up his own practice called ‘Kick the Ball at the Goalie.’ I think it was my worst day of ever playing soccer.

“I think he even made up his own point system,” Handeland added with a laugh.

“Jake was a really smart guy, but kind of quiet otherwise. Always interesting — and always learning. If you drilled down deep, you realized he had a special way of thinking about things, a different level of intelligence,” Handeland said.

Fellow 1999 AHS graduate Jim Linderman, said Collins was “the best friend I ever had … a really smart guy; a good guy.”

Linderman and Collins shared an apartment while Collins was studying for his master’s degree in international affairs at the University of Denver.

“He loved the outdoors, loved sports,” Linderman said. They got together when they could, he added, but it was sometimes difficult, given Collins’ travels.

“But I always knew I could count on him; he was a great guy,” he said.

Handeland said one outstanding memory was of Collins on the soccer field.

“He loved to play soccer and he loved to make goals,” Handeland said. “But he loved it more when one of his teammates made a goal — he just loved that.”