Fresh soil surrounds the new rock in front of King Library. Little purple and white flowers encircle the stone. A plaque reads:
“Stephen Smith. Julie Turnbull. Kate Welling. On April 10, 2005 these three Miami University students died in a tragic house fire near this campus. They were caring and compassionate young adults of great accomplishment and promise who were loved by many. They will be remembered for their spirit and the joy they brought to all who knew them.”
This memorial – to be dedicated at 3:30 p.m. April 10 – is one of the multitudes of ways in which the lives of Steve, Kate and Julie are being remembered at Miami University. Over the past two years, the memories of these three students have been preserved through physical memorials such as this stone, scholarship funds or simply stories being shared.
“People were frankly giving us money before we knew what we were going to do with it,” said Doug Turnbull, Julie’s father.
Julie was a senior mass communications major and a dedicated member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority. Next fall, two recipients of the Julia H. Turnbull Scholarship will attend Miami, receiving approximately $1,000 apiece. Both Doug and Linda Turnbull, Julie’s parents, said they wanted a student to be able to attend Miami because of Julie.
“Julie loved Miami so much – those were the best four years of her life,” Doug Turnbull said.
Doug Turnbull credits the growth of the scholarship fund in large part to the work of Julie’s Pi Phi sisters.
Alison Miles, Pi Phi’s current president, is a sophomore and was not yet a student at Miami when the fire occurred in 2005. However Miles said that through the stories the upperclassmen have shared and frequent visits to Oxford from Doug and Linda Turnbull, she feels as if the memory of Julie is very strong.
“It’s not just the girl who died in the fire – it’s Julie,” Miles said.
Miles and two of Pi Phi’s graduating seniors, Megan Moran and Abbey Groza, all said that the sorority has grown closer because of Julie’s death. The sorority maintains the upkeep of Julie’s bench, which sits outside of Minnich Hall on Central quad. Individual bricks surrounding the bench were sold, with money going toward the scholarship fund. According to Miami’s division of university advancement, the scholarship has accumulated approximately $40,000.
“Stopping by that bench, reading those bricks – that could have been one of our friends,” Miles said.
In addition, a Web site dedicated to Julie is flooded with posts on a message board. One such post from www.julieturnbull.com is from Carolyn Cifuentes, mother of Miami student Michael Cifuentes, who died in Iraq in August 2005.
“I felt compelled to write and tell you how much my son Michael thought of your daughter,” the post from July 20, 2006 reads. “They worked together at First Run (now Brick Street Bar) as Miami students and had great times together. He was devastated to learn of her untimely passing and was planning to write to you from Iraq to tell you how beautiful and wonderful a person she was and how much she meant to him as a friend. I don’t think he was able to get the address to do so. I wanted to tell you for him since he cannot. He joined her in heaven Aug. 3, 2005. I know they are having good times together again.”
A lecture series centering on disability awareness – which will debut on campus April 10 – is just one way Kate Welling’s mother believes the memory of her daughter will stay alive at Miami.
According to Helen Welling, Kate would have made an excellent advocate for the disabled. The business major took a class in disabilities studies and threw herself into the issue.
“The professor said that she couldn’t teach Kate what Kate innately knew and connected with on the subject,” Helen Welling said.
Helen Welling said that in one such instance, Kate agreed to participate in a disability accessibility awareness event on campus. Kate had signed up to take part in just one shift and end up staying the entire day.
With the knowledge of their daughter’s passion for the subject in mind, Thomas and Helen Welling created the Kate Welling Disability Awareness Lecture Series, which will debut at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 10 in 115 Shideler.
The series will host one speaker a year.
Jeanne M. Kincaid, an attorney who deals with universities on disability law matters, will be the first lecturer in this annual series, speaking on “The Changing Face of Disability.”
Helen Welling hopes that through these lectures, students who normally would not think of learning about those with disabilities would come across these issues.
“Kate didn’t plan it, she came upon (a disability studies class) by accident,” Helen Welling said, adding that she believes through this series Kate’s memory at Miami will stay alive. “She had a strong sense of who she was … She found her voice at Miami.”
Steve Smith loved the camaraderie of friendship, and his mother Edye Smith said that the renovations on a common room at his all boys’ high school in Bethesda, Md. were all too fitting.
“Stephen was all about buddies, friends and keeping people together,” Edye Smith said. She explained that the renovations at the Landon School to the two rooms of the lounge – now called The Steve Smith Lounge – were intended to foster Steve’s beliefs in the importance of friends and family.
In addition, an award given yearly to a student at the Landon School is the only award at the school in which the boys vote on the recipient. The winner isn’t based on athleticism or overarching intelligence, rather someone who is a friend to all.
“This is the only current award that is voted on by the seniors for someone that embodies the spirit of Stephen – a friend to everyone,” Edye Smith said.
The Smiths are also working on establishing a scholarship at Miami, however it may take some time.
“We’re still on our knees after his death,” Edye Smith said. “You need a certain amount of strength to make something like that happen.”
For the past two years, participants in the Chicago Marathon – held annually in October – have run in honor of Steve, Kate and Julie. In 2006, there were eight runners registered for “Running to Remember,” and in 2005 there were 12.
In addition members of Pi Phi will once again release about 200 balloons with laminated cards attached during their alumni weekend – or “Julie’s Weekend” – to be held April 14 to 15. These cards have pictures of Steve, Kate and Julie on one side, and briefly tell their story on the other.
“If you find this,” the cards read, “please visit www.julieturnbull.com to let us know when and where you found it and that their spirit has now touched your life, as well.”
Friends and family members will be traveling to Oxford the weekend of April 10 in memory of the three students. Helen Welling said that she’ll “God willing” return to Oxford every April 10.
“I want to sit on (Julie’s bench), see young students, engage in conversation with them,” she said.
She expressed the desire for the stories of the three students to be told – even after all students who were here at the time graduated.
Senior Lauren Centa, a friend of Kate, said it is important to see the physical memorials on campus and hopes that current first- and second-year students grasp the realities of what happened two years ago.
“They may not know who (Kate) is or what happened, but the memory of her is there,” Centa said. ” … What all of us took from this situation is to appreciate life. You get so caught up in the college life, you feel invincible.”
Edye Smith said even though when she travels to Oxford now all she can think about is “that horrible day,” she wants to move past those feelings. After all, Steve loved Oxford.
“I can he
ar Stephen’s voice in my head: don’t focus on that day, on the fire,” she said. “Focus on the good things.”
Edye Smith stressed that there needs to be changes in the safety of off-campus housing and that parents and lawmakers need to make those changes happen.
“Watching my family suffer through this, it forever alters your life,” she said. “I don’t want to see any other families experience this.”
She said that she wants current students to realize, no matter how unfair it is, life can be fleeting. Helen Welling and Doug and Linda Turnbull echoed these sentiments.
“For a parent, the thing you really don’t want to have happen is that your daughter is forgotten,” Doug Turnbull said.
All connected to Steve, Kate or Julie seemed to be speaking with one voice, as all expressed the desire for the memories of the three students to live on at Miami.
Kelly Luken, Julie’s sister, expressed the difficulties of explaining to students who weren’t yet at Miami April 10, 2005 the impact of such an event. She said the most important thing is for students to remember that life is short and to live each day.
“When you lose someone that is so important to you, you will do anything you can to keep that person’s memory alive,” Luken said, via e-mail. ” … My hope is that we are able to hold an event each year and continue to honor and remember my sister.”