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Today@Sam Article

Raven's Call Remembers Fallen Bearkats, Works To Provide Closure On Campus

March 18, 2013
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt
Story By: Kim Kyle Morgan

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Momument on campus lit at night
SHSU's newest tradition, Raven's Call was inaugurated last year to ceremonially remember students, faculty and staff who have passed away. The idea for the ceremony came from a parent whose child, a former SHSU student, died. Believing this would be a great tradition for SHSU, the parent contacted the Dean of Students' Office, which began researching and planning the event with the Orange Keys. —Photo by Brian Blalock


A dance professor whose final curtain call was way too soon. A Criminal Justice student whose dream of being a parole officer was cut short on Interstate 45. A devoted gentleman who took such pride in his daughter's career that he rarely missed an event or game.

They are among 28 souls to be honored at noon on April 12 during Raven's Call, a Sam Houston State University memorial service at the Ron and Ruth Blatchley Bell Tower.

Raven's Call is in remembrance of students, staff and faculty who passed away during the previous year.

Andrew Colarusso, orientation team leader in the Division of Enrollment Management, said he attended the Raven's Call inaugural event last year and witnessed firsthand the impact it had on families and students. That's why, this year, he's chair of the event.

"I wanted to make sure I did the best I could to carry on the tradition," Colarusso said. "I figured the way to do that would be to jump in and make sure it got taken care of. It shows families and the entire Sam Houston community an appreciation for the time we had them as Bearkats."

Averitt and Cline
Smith sitting in a dance chair
(Top) Brittany Averitt (right), with her sister, Kristle Cline; (below) Jonathan Charles Smith, in the Gaertner Performing Arts Center Dance Theater. —Submitted photos

The event will feature portraits of the deceased—including eight students, four faculty and staff who were employed when they passed, and nine retirees—a performance by the SHSU Soul Lifters Gospel Choir, a balloon release and the ringing of the Blatchley bell.

"If Raven's Call keeps my sister's memory alive, we are all for it," said Kristle Cline, an SHSU alumna and the sister of Brittany Lynn Averitt, who died in a single-vehicle car accident Feb. 4. "I know she would be so honored by any recognition and completely humbled. She loved SHSU. She was really excited about how far the football team went this year. She went to the games and cheered them on often."

Averitt, 22, was due to graduate from the College of Criminal Justice in May.

"This will help give closure to so many," Cline said. "It's been very hard on everyone to accept. Her sudden death left an empty place in the hearts of all who loved her."

The shockwave of Averitt's sudden death was felt across campus, as was the sudden death of Jonathan Charles Smith, an assistant professor in the department of dance. Smith, 64, passed away Feb. 14 after a brief illness.

"The first time I met him was when I came and auditioned to get in the dance program," said Sarah Hammonds, a junior dance student. "My first thought was he's the cutest little thing just sitting like there looking like a total diva watching the audition. It's devastating to know that he's now gone."

Several dance students gathered immediately after hearing the news of Smith's death, sharing their grief the best way they knew how.

"We put on his music and just danced," Hammonds said.

Raven's Call, she said, will provide further closure.

University-based memorial events have long been tradition at campuses across the state, and the idea for one at SHSU had been brought up a few times over the years. Dean of Students John Yarabeck said it wasn't until last year that all the pieces came together to make it a reality.

Lee presents the monument
Meagan Lee, Orange Key member, presented the Raven's Call monument last year during the inaugural ceremony (above), which was followed by a balloon release (below).
Dozens of baloons released

Student and faculty-based committees came together to create a program infused with SHSU spirit. Titling it "Raven's Call," for example, refers to Sam Houston's Indian name. The event's official hosts are the Orange Keys, a group of elite students who represent, among others, the Office of the President and the Texas State University System Board of Regents. And a dedicated Raven's Call monument was created by Jimmy Williams, SHSU student body treasurer and marketing coordinator for dining services.

Williams, who is also an Orange Key, said the monument is made of the same stone as the benches sprinkled across campus, some of which have been donated in honor of previous students, staff and faculty. The monument, simple and elegant, stands near the bell tower.

"We wanted it to symbolize life," Williams said. "Yes, they have passed away, but this is a living monument to remind people today that those who were here yesterday will always be a Bearkat."

Or, an honorary Bearkat. This year, SHSU will pay tribute to Fred Gibson, the father of university President Dana Gibson. Fred, 74, passed away July 3, 2012, after a brief illness.

"He truly loved this university and made a connection with everyone he encountered," said Chelsea Smith, assistant dean of students. "He was at almost every sporting event and would come to support different events the President's Office would hold. He loved SHSU."

Although Raven's Call will take place at high noon, its significance won't fade with the setting sun. The monument at the Blatchley Bell Tower lights up with a soft, orange glow. An eternal message etched into the glass speaks for all: "In Memory of Those Who Touched Our Lives for the Briefest of Moments, Yet Will Stay With Us Forever."



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