By Katherine Yeager | Contributor
Swipe. Smile. Find a seat. The mealtime ritual at Hodson Dining Commons (DC) is ingrained in students. But on April 26, 2006, daily life came to a halt and the Taylor community gathered together to grieve.
The former lead server of the Homestyle line in the DC, Monica Felver, was a Hartford City native and a victim of the 2006 van accident that killed Felver and four students: Elizabeth (Betsy) Smith, Bradley Larson, Laurel Erb and Laura Van Ryn. As the 10-year anniversary of the accident is April 26, former students and current faculty and staff reflect on their memories of Felver and others involved by the tragedy.
The van, carrying Dining Services employees, was on its way to set up a catered event at Taylor's former Fort Wayne campus. The event was in celebration of the inauguration of current president Eugene Habecker. When the Taylor community learned that a semitrailer rig struck the van, the campus grieved for the loss of classmates, colleagues, roommates and employees.
The five students killed participated in all areas on campus. Smith volunteered at ReaLife. Larson enjoyed writing about his experiences at Taylor, and later published a book. Van Ryn did graphic design work for University Press. Some had nicknames. Three were seniors, awaiting graduation.
Much has changed since that day, Wednesday, April 26, 2006, but bruises on the hearts of the Taylor community are still tender.
Penny Mitchener, office manager in dining services, remembers going to the hospital the night of the accident. Upon arrival, Mitchener recalled seeing 25 to 30 students already there to visit friends and classmates involved in the accident.
The community organized a prayer vigil.
"The chapel filled up," Mitchener said. "People were literally laying on the stage praying. When you have four or five classmates in an accident it is life changing."
The Dining Services team faced a difficult weekend, grieving lost co-workers while short on employees. Yet, food still had to be served.
Kathy Thornburgh, Director of Catering, remembers a gloom settling over campus for several days following the accident. At the time, Thornburgh worked in the Admissions office. She remembers watching students process the loss of their classmates.
"You always feel that close connection when you have a small community like this," Thornburgh said. "You would see people in small groups praying. You would see groups together rather than separate people walking across campus. There were a lot of prayer vigils at the chapel and a lot of concern with the surviving students." One student who worked in Admissions was an EMT at the accident scene, Thornburgh recalls. It was his first run in response to his own peers.
Jim Garringer, director of media relations at Taylor, remembers conversations with Erb as she served meals during various events.
"She was an artist and she loved photography and I loved photography," Garringer said. "That compounded the pain and loss felt in the weeks and months after the accident."
Garringer heard a story, prior to meeting Erb, of a homecoming guest who was angry about the food he was served from Dining Services and proceeded to make a scene. From that point on, Garringer made it a priority to show friendliness and appreciation to Dining Services workers. The next time Garringer attended a banquet catered by dining services, Erb served his table.
"They're not just some faceless, nameless entity to me," Garringer said. "It was impossible for someone to have not known someone in the van that night."
Instead of seeing a black uniform, Garringer sees a face, a person with a story, a person like Laurel Erb.
The van accident reminded the Taylor community of the people behind the black uniforms. The 10-year anniversary is a reminder of the stories of all of those involved in the accident and how the lives of five members of the Taylor community impacted the school forever.
The article above is part of a series of pieces regarding the 10-year anniversary of the 2006 van accident. To read the other articles in the series, please click on the hyperlinks below.