(Webster Groves, MO, April 27, 2011) A professional football player, a military officer, a poet and a professional golfer were among the 11 deceased students honored at the end-of-semester memorial service in the University Center on April 25.
In the 2010-2011 school year, four students from the Webster University campus in Webster Groves died, making it an “unusually tragic year,” said Patrick Stack, director of counseling.
Mason Gaddis, a freshman, committed suicide last fall. Andrew Holmes, a senior psychology major, and Autumn Hepburn, a freshmen art major, both died as a result of persistent health complications. Thomas Carter Flueckiger, a freshman lighting design major, died after he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare tumor affecting his chest and lungs.
Each death, though tragic, affected the campus in different ways, Stack said.
“It’s contrary to what you imagine college is for,” Stack said. “It is supposed to be a time of expansion and growth. If a student dies it is a tragedy almost by definition.”
In years past, the UC has organized an end-of-semester memorial to honor the untimely deaths of any students enrolled in Webster worldwide. Jen Violett, assistant director of the UC, said the purpose is to “emphasize that we are a global community and university — all students are part of the student body.”
The service was small and marginally attended. Faculty and staff came and went to give one last goodbye to the students they knew. Ann Brophy, the director of student health services, came to bid respects to Flueckiger, whom she knew and liked a lot.
“I actually rearranged my schedule to come today,” Brophy said. “It’s the least I could do.”
Other students, like former pro-football player Richard Bell, 36, were remembered with a photograph and their campus location. Bell, who attended Webster in Columbia, South Carolina, was a defensive back for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Chicago Bears before playing in the Canadian Football League and eventually returning to school.
Captain Peter Howard Tice attended the Webster campus in Fort Gordon, Georgia. Tice was killed in action. No further details were available.
Also among those honored were Jessica Muller from Orlando, Florida, and William Miller of South Carolina. Faculty remembered Tyrone Thompson, who attended Webster at the Old Post Office campus in downtown St. Louis. Adarsh Neil Mukherjee from the Cha-am campus in Thailand, was a professional golfer remembered by a photo showing him in full swing. Hemayel Martina, from Curaçao, was attending school in Leiden and was a published poet and author before he passed.
Because Webster is a global university, student deaths far from home often go unnoticed. But this year, with four local student deaths, Stack said the memorial seems all the more appropriate.
“Grieving is a process,” Stack said. “We have to associate a process with time and you can’t speed up time.”
Candles were lit in the UC presentation room, each illuminating the name of one of those students who had gone. Multi-colored markers and blank envelopes and cards were left on the table. All those who attended were encouraged to write something to the families of the students.
Some words, like those of Martina’s book “Worried Ancestors,” which features a poem on the back cover, speak volumes.
“Guide us — the ripening mortals — to fortify the trees that bore nourishing fruit. “