A beautiful autumn day seemed of little comfort Thursday as the Wabash community gathered in the Pioneer Chapel to remember Johnny Smith, the freshman from Tucson, Arizona, who died on campus Sunday morning.
"Now a brave man full of gifts and promise is gone," Wabash President Pat White said, struggling with his emotions as he recalled the "ringing in" ceremony only weeks ago when he had welcomed Smith and the freshman class to the College. "We cling to his memory, and we must carry on his promise in our lives."
Forming a semi-circle around a single candle at the front of the Chapel, Smith’s pledge brothers and members of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity shared memories of their friend, carrying the candle to the podium when they spoke.
"Johnny had high ambitions," said Wabash freshman and Idaho native Grayson Stone of his pledge brother. He recalled their humorous first meeting during last Spring’s Honor Scholarship Weekend, Smith’s signature deep-voiced "What up, guys" greeting, and their emails over the summer.
"He asked me in one to help him be more outgoing, in another to be roommates. I promised to do both," Stone said. He described a paper Smith had written for his freshman tutorial about the "the green and lush Wabash campus.
"He loved Wabash. Johnny was a son, a sibling, a future Delt, and a Wabash man."
Stone smiled as he recalled the nickname — "Dump Truck" — that he gave Smith.
"He would smirk and ask me why I called him that," Stone said, then added as he looked toward the Chapel ceiling. "Well, Johnny, to be honest, I really don’t know why."
But to honor his friend, Stone proposed "The Dump Truck Challenge."
"To help heal a wounded campus and student body, from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, go out of your way to engage five people you wouldn’t normally. It doesn’t have to be much — just something to get people to know that others are around them, to get them talking to other people."
Smith’s friends were also selling "Dump Truck" t-shirts, with all proceeds going to help Smith’s family.
"He was a problem solver, and always willing to help," said freshman Jacob Moore, recalling Smith working late into the night on the fraternity’s homecoming float. "We looked up to him."
Junior Elliott Allen read a poem which ended, "you humbled us with your presence."
"Wabash is hurting, you are hurting, and I cannot take that hurt away," President White said to the students. "You must raise yourself up, carrying his memory in your hearts, actions, and highest imaginations."
"This passing of the candle represents his spirit among us," Janeway said, as the single candle was passed solemnly from student to student. Some made the sign of the cross as they passed it, others seemed to say a prayer, some stood in silence and wept.
Wabash has been providing counseling to members of the fraternity through its counseling service, directed by Scott Cavins, and through members of the Alumni Housing Corporation.
The cause of Smith’s death is unknown. Investigations by the Crawfordsville Police Department, the Wabash Dean of Students Office, and Delta Tau Delta International are ongoing.
In Photo: Grayson Stone '12 shows t-shirt Delts will sell to support Johnny Smith's family.