Every day she walked in and there he sat: a “rough and gruff” employee without a smile on his face in the Property Control office.
In the fall semester before his death on Dec. 29, 2018, Gary Cornell’s boss, Laura Pavlick, got a smile out of him.
Every day, a small smile for a split second between Pavlick and Cornell acknowledged a “hello,” a “how are you” or even a “I know I don’t smile, but I will just for a second.”
Cornell’s loss was felt through the people at the university that knew him, like Pavlick. He was one of 10 people honored at Missouri State’s memorial service for students, faculty and staff.
This was the fifth year the memorial has been held.
“This list is too long; many were gone too soon,” University President Clif Smart said.
Eight of the names were students. Cornell and former director of women’s athletics Mary Jo Wynn were also honored at the memorial.
The event itself is put on by the Division of Student Affairs. Debbie Letterman, assistant director of Event and Meeting Services, is co-chair of the memorial service committee. She said this event is important for remembering those who stepped foot on the Missouri State campus.
“We need to recognize those that came before us,” Letterman said. “Everybody’s life is short-lived, so we wanted to recognize them and show they meant something to Missouri State. Every person is important to this university, whether they are faculty, staff or student.”
Dave Embree, director of Christian Campus House and a per course faculty member, spoke at the memorial about each person’s importance to the university. He covered the Missouri State University podium with a quilt, one similar to the quilts his grandmother and aunt made.
“Each bit of cloth has its own attributes and beauty individually, but they gain boldness and they gain power and they gain beauty as they come together in combination with the others,” Embree said. “And the pattern which is created only exists because of the contribution of each individual part.
“We are all accumulations of influences and investments from others, young and old, powerful and lowly, scholarly and worldly-wise. Individually, we are composites of others’ images.”
Embree presented quotes from Paul Valéry, Thornton Wilder and Philippians 4:4-9.
He quoted Valéry: “A great man is one who leaves others at a loss after he is gone.”
That feeling of loss was true for Priscilla Childress, assistant director of Family Programs and Student Affairs special events, who puts the list of those who died together.
Childress said the process starts in January. The Dean of Students’ office sends over the files of students, faculty and staff who have died so far in the semester. Childress reaches out to the families listed in the files and sends invitations to the memorial service. She adds in her contact information and hopes they contact her to share the stories and photos of their loved ones.
“I feel like I know a lot about them, and I feel so much for their families,” Childress said. “I have two daughters of my own and I cannot imagine what these families go through. ... It gets pretty emotional.”
Childress said the hardest part of collecting information for the reading of the names, which was done by the Dean of Students Thomas Lane, is not finding any information about someone.
“Sometimes I can’t find information on people, and that’s what really breaks my heart,” Childress said. “It’s so sad to me that I don’t know who’s here that cared about them.”
Regardless, she makes sure to include something about every person in the reading to ensure no one is forgotten.
“We want to put that human side on it, so you can see that person’s face,” Letterman said.
Whether they were students, faculty or staff, there were little pieces of each person brought to Missouri State.
“We are no one thing — the idea of a uni-versity is odd — we are very much a multi-versity, an effective whole created by many individual parts,” Embree said.
“Missouri State is more than a college — more than a university — we’re a community,” Pavlick said.