Roses and rose pedals lined the foot of the door outside Samantha Dillehay’s office Monday at East Central University’s Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center.
Photos - some all-smiles, some posed and some silly - adorned the door as well as notes from heartbroken, yet inspired students.
One of the notes says “Sam, you will be missed by everyone in mass comm. You made me believe in myself and reassured me I had chosen the right major. Thanks for being an amazing role model.” Another simply says, “Thank you for pushing me to be who I now am.”
Dillehay, 34, passed away on Thursday, Sept. 28, due to a short-term illness.
Hundreds of students, colleagues, community members and friends gathered Monday night in front of the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center for a candlelight vigil in honor of Dillehay.
Many spoke, while trying to hold back tears, about how Dillehay impacted their lives during the two-plus-hour vigil. Dillehay had been serving as assistant professor of mass communication, with a specialty in videography.
“As evidenced by the large gathering at the candlelight vigil, Samantha was extremely well thought of by her students and colleagues. She was certainly a tremendous asset to this university,” said ECU President Katricia Pierson. “Her diligence to her craft of working with and creating videos and then passing those skills along to her students will have far-reaching results. She will be missed by many around here.”
Two services are planned to commemorate Dillehay’s life, one in Oklahoma and one in Tennessee. The Oklahoma memorial will begin with a Celebration of Sam’s Art and Photographs on display at 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, in a come-and-go event in the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center, followed by a memorial service on the ECU campus in the Ataloa Theatre of that same facility on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
A Gathering of Family and Friends to Celebrate Her Life is set for Thursday, Oct. 12 at 6 p.m. in the Carthage Chapel of Sanderson Funeral Home in Carthage, Tennessee. Visitation is prior to the memorial service. A private internment is to be held in the Defeated Creek Memorial Gardens.
Abigail Atchley, a senior mass communication student from Stillwater, described Dillehay as loyal and outgoing.
“She always had your back. If you were having a hard time, you could go to her office and talk about school-related or non-school-related things. She was always there,” said Atchley. “She accepted everyone no matter what. I don’t think she ever met a stranger. She was witty, humorous and always drew people in.”
Atchley had Dillehay as her instructor in several video classes, including intro to video and Paper Lantern Lounge, a class in which students made videos of local musical artists in and around Ada.
Atchley admits that the first time she met Dillehay, she was terrified of her. “She was so lively and unapologetically herself and didn’t care what anyone else thought,” Atchley said.
She remembers another class when they interviewed Dillehay and someone asked her why she was so obsessed with country music legend Dolly Parton, who is from the same area as Dillehay.
“Her answer was ‘why are you NOT obsessed with Dolly Parton?’ She said it back with so much sass,’” said Atchley with a giggle.
Dillehay’s obsession with Parton goes back to her family’s love for the entertainer.
“Dolly is an advocate for all. She’s an ally for the LGBTQ Community and the impoverished,” Atchley said. “She’s an ally for what Sam related to.”
Susan Ingram, also an instructor of mass communication, praised Dillehay for her care of students and her drive to see them succeed.
“I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Sam for the past few years. She was an amazing person who genuinely cared about every one of her students,” Ingram said. “She absolutely loved teaching and believed that every student could be successful if given the chance.”
Ingram says that Dillehay’s passion for teaching went above and beyond the call of duty.
“The students loved her so much because she challenged them to be their best self – both inside and outside of the classroom. And, she was always willing to listen to her students when they needed someone to just be there for them,” said Ingram. “Sam was also blessed with the ability to make people laugh. No matter how stressful a situation might be, she always managed to lighten the load with laughter.”
Dillehay earned a bachelor of fine arts in media arts at the University of Tennessee in 2007 and later earned her master of fine arts in film/video at the University of Oklahoma in 2011.
She joined the ECU faculty fulltime in 2012 when she was named instructor of mass communication for the 2012-2013 academic year. She had previously served as an adjunct instructor at ECU for the 2012 spring semester.
Prior to her arrival at ECU, Dillehay was a graduate instructor of video art and a graduate teaching assistant for video art, filmmaking, installation art, advanced media arts and integrated text in art at the University of Oklahoma. While in the University of Tennessee School of Art, she was studio manager.
Dillehay is survived by her parents, Scotty and Debra Grisham Dillehay of Defeated Creek, Tennessee; life partner Natalie May of Ada; sister, Candice Fields and husband Chris of Defeated Creek and their children, Nathan and Emily; two brothers, Jeremy Dillehay and wife Tiffany of Pleasant Shade, Tennessee and their children, Nicholas and Charlie; Dustin Dillehay and wife Jessica of South Carthage, Tennessee and their son, Jackson; maternal grandmother Betty Grisham, of Elmwood Tennessee; paternal grandmothers, Marion Sloan of Lebanon, Tennessee and Kasel Dillehay, of Livingston, Tennessee.
Flowers may be sent to the ECU Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center at 1100 E. 14th, Ada, OK, 74820.
The ECU Foundation, Inc. has established a fund in her memory, the Samantha Dillehay Memorial Fund. For more information or to give, contact the ECU Foundation Office at 580-559-5655. The mailing address for the ECU Foundation is 1100 E. 14th, PMB Y-8, Ada, OK, 74820. To donate online go to http://alumni.ecok.edu/donations/