A true sense of community

Last Friday morning I was about 15 miles into my 35-mile commute to DMU when my cell phone rang. The caller ID showed me it was someone here at the University. I answered the phone and right away knew something was not right. The caller asked me where I was, what I was doing, had anyone called me yet this morning, and could I pull my car over for a minute so we could talk. I answered her questions and pulled my car off at the closest exit.

The caller proceeded to tell me that her department had just been informed of the passing of Sally Wallin, a longtime DMU employee. My heart sank, my head became fuzzy, and I just knew that this couldn’t be right. I’m having a bad dream, I thought, even though I knew subconsciously that it had to be true. I felt numb. I thanked her for calling, hung up and drove, through tears, the rest of the way to DMU.

Sally was the first person I became friends with when I started at DMU almost six years ago. I was a bit intimidated by the powerhouse group of ladies I met; they kept their departments running, they were all older and more experienced than I was, and they had worked here for a combined time of well over 60 years. Sally made me feel comfortable, answered all my dumb questions, and encouraged me each time something negative stood in my way. She was my biggest supporter when I made the decision to apply for my current position.

But I was not special; I was no exception. That was just how Sally was. She loved her family, she loved her friends and she loved DMU.

After I heard the news Friday, I wanted to turn my car around, go home and crawl back in bed. But I didn’t. And once I stepped foot on campus, I knew I had made the right decision. As corny as it sounds, I felt like I was being enveloped in a giant invisible hug. DMU is a busy place, but on Friday I felt as if time had stopped. Students, faculty and staff all took time out of their day to comfort me and each other over the loss of Sally. Students asked what they could do to help and offered shoulders to those faculty members whom they so often lean on. Faculty and staff juggled their schedules to help out where needed and to cover for those who needed time to grieve. Sally would have done the same for them.

Today I am sad for Sally’s family as well as for the loss of my friend. However, I will not soon forget the sense of love and compassion I felt, and continue to feel, from everyone here at DMU. My job may be community relations, but to me, the real definition of ‘community’ is all the little ways each of you responded to the loss of one of our DMU family members. You have reinforced my pride in the University!

Finally, although it’s completely out of my comfort zone, I will wear fuchsia today and tomorrow – who knows, maybe all week, because it was Sally’s favorite color and because it would make her smile. She will be missed.

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