Tragedy struck Northeastern Illinois University in 2014 when five students, all members of Omega Delta Phi Fraternity, were in a car accident on the way to an educational conference. Two of the students died. The University community was devastated.
On Monday, April 29, Northeastern unveiled a Memorial Tree in the Student Union Reading Room in honor of those students and others from the University community who have passed. The leaves of the tree are engraved with names of deceased students, faculty, staff and community members.
Veronica Rodriguez, director of Student Leadership Development, was motivated to honor those students, as well as Northeastern’s former Event Administrator, Al Cordero, who passed away suddenly in 2013. She has been working for several years with Vice President for Student Affairs Daniel López, Jr. and Kyle Burke, director of Student Union, Events, and Conference Services, to determine a suitable memorial to honor dearly departed members of the Northeastern community. The tree was decided upon in recognizing the University needed a memorial that could grow and honor anyone who felt a special connection to Northeastern.
“I think it’s a great way of recognizing people who have been members of the University community,” López said.
Soon after he was named vice president, López was disappointed that he could not help the family of another deceased student that wished to honor their loved one. Now, the University community has an official outlet for such tributes.
“The Reading Room is the perfect spot because it is subtle yet visible,” Rodriguez said. “Since it is in a space that is already designated as a quiet space, if people come in to view the tree or need a moment of silence and reflection they won't be disturbed or won’t disturb others.”
The tree had 36 names on it at the time of the unveiling.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Rodriguez said. “People have purchased leaves for professors, alumni, staff and even family members who saw NEIU as a special place. I think this shows our current and future students that NEIU is more than just a school. It is a family and we all touch the lives of others.”
Leaves of the tree are still available for engraving. Those interested in designating a leaf need to fill out the Memorial Tree Leaf Sponsorship form and submit the minimum contribution of $50 to the NEIU Foundation. Under “Designation” select “Other” and type “Memorial Tree.” Sponsorship forms will be reviewed as they are received. A portion of the cost goes toward the engraving of the leaf and part of the donation goes into the University’s general scholarship fund.
“This tree is open to anyone who ever called NEIU home, be it a student, alumni, staff, faculty or family member,” Rodriguez said. “These people played some role at NEIU and it is important to remember them. It has been an honor to work on this project, and I am so happy it has finally become reality.”