Jennifer “Jenna” Stambaugh has lived in Knoxville or surrounding communities most of her life although she was actually born in Oakland, California. Although she has previously dabbled in journalism and has been published, up until now Jenna never really considered journalism as a career option.
Her parents, Robert and Shirley Koff, met while they were idealistic college students in California in the early 1970s.
Robert Koff eventually went to work for RJR Tobacco and relocated the family from Oakland to the Knoxville area as a career move when Jenna was a young child.
Shirley Koff (who tragically passed away in 2019) was a writer who also taught English at several community colleges in East Tennessee, including Pellissippi State. Jenna’s younger sister, Katherine Koff Dollar, is a research psychologist for the Veteran’s Administration who now lives in New York.
Jenna attended her first college-level English courses while still in elementary school, tagging along to the classes that her mother taught. The more traditional college students were amused and impressed when they noticed that Jenna was taking notes and following along with the readings and writing assignments.
Jenna briefly attended Northwest Middle School in Knoxville before her parents decided to move to a more rural area, which meant that Jenna ended up graduating from Sevier County High School in 1993. Jenna was blessed with extremely talented teachers who guided a statistically improbable number of her classmates into successful careers in journalism and writing, but Jenna intentionally avoided both subjects in college because that was exactly what everyone expected her to do. She instead decided to follow her passion for making the world a better place and eventually received her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Tennessee.
She worked for several years as a victim’s advocate in area courtrooms and domestic violence programs. Jenna and her future husband, J.J., first became aware of each other while she was working for a domestic violence shelter in Cocke County and he was investigating whether local cops were trafficking drugs (they were, as it turned out). Jenna and J.J. eventually got married and began raising a family. It soon became clear, however, that the on-call hours of a social worker were no longer compatible with her role as a mother. She decided to switch career paths to go in another direction where she could still be helping others — education. Accordingly, she returned to graduate school and received her master’s degree in teaching in 2007. She has been teaching in area schools since then, with most of her experience in special education settings.
In her spare time, Jenna has been deeply involved in both volunteer work and political activism due to her conviction that people should leave the world a better place than they found it. Despite her lifelong determination to not be a writer, she frequently found herself doing exactly that. When a classroom needed a newsletter published or an activist group needed an article for their website, Jenna was usually the one who ended up being drafted to write them.
Jenna sometimes thinks it was her destiny to become involved in the newspaper business. She married J.J. Stambaugh, an award-winning reporter, in 2004 and often accompanied him on assignments or stayed up late into the night helping him with research and editing. After being literally married to the press for more than 15 years, she says that she’s resigned herself to her fate and has therefore stepped up to work on Hard Knox Wire. The knowledge she picked up over the years from her husband along with the skills she gained in other roles has made her a quick study, and she looks forward to bringing what J.J. describes as “her highly idiosyncratic take on journalism” to East Tennessee.
Jenna and J.J. are the parents of one teenager and Jenna also has an adult stepson. Jenna, J.J., and their teen live in Fountain City along with a menagerie of pets.