In Urbana University, we grieve a communal loss

With the closing of Urbana University, I am deeply saddened and quite honestly, disappointed. Saddened because of all that UU has done for me, my family and our community over the years. And, disappointed because of the suddenness of its closing without an effort to engage the community in this monumental decision. I was on the Board of Trustees during the time of the decision to sell UU to Franklin University. It was a very difficult, heart-wrenching and painful process that involved many people and long hours of consternation, dialogue, contentious discussions and emotional decision-making. I do understand the financial dilemma that Franklin found themselves in as a result of the shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And I do know about how difficult it is to maintain a privately funded University without a large endowment to keep it afloat during lean times. But I wonder if more couldn’t have been done in working with community leaders to salvage the University in some form or another during this extremely difficult time? For those of us who have wrestled with these issues for decades and immediately prior to the sale to Franklin, I know the deep commitment, the heartfelt feelings and the historic pride that kept us from closing the doors in 2013-14. And, I am deeply grateful to Franklin University for taking a chance on UU then. However, this doesn’t negate my sadness and my disappointment.

I first became involved with Urbana College during Winter Quarter of 1968, when I took two classes from then Urbana College at the Bellefontaine branch campus. I didn’t go fulltime until Fall Semester of 1970, when I moved on campus. For the next seven years, I would attend fulltime, take time off from school, get married, have three children (the fourth came during graduate school), work fulltime, and finally get my diploma in 1977. By then the original name of Urbana University had been restored and UU was fully accredited as an institution of higher learning. Over the years, I would become the Dean of Students for eleven years, Bev would get her Baccalaureate Degree, one of my children would get her degree at UU, and two other children would attend. Shortly afterwards I joined the Board of Trustees in the early 2000’s, and in 2002, we would establish the Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Fund at the University in honor of our daughter after she was killed on September 11, 2001. She had attended Urbana University but ultimately got her degree from Miami University in Ohio.

In 2001, after our daughter, Alicia was killed on 9/11, our family and friends were devastated by this senseless act of terrorism that killed nearly 3000 people and created so much havoc in our country and our world. Alicia had always been a peace-maker and loved to learn about new cultures around the world with an ever-growing appreciation for the rich diversity she found there. It was then, in working with the Swedenborgian Church and Reverend Betsy Coffman, that we decided to develop a fund that would honor Alicia and all those who have suffered from violence. Thru what would become “The Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Fund,” we worked very closely with the wonderful people at the University, and began offering programs on issues of peace, social justice, non-violent communication, volunteerism, the Season for Nonviolence to commemorate the lives of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., The Great Kindness Challenge, Kids for Peace and many more. On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we started the “Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Run/Walk” to honor the first responders and those who have died from violence and war. The annual “Peace Run” was held on campus, weaved its way through the downtown area of Urbana and Freedom Grove and it was a fun-filled, family-oriented event. Many thanks and much appreciation go out to the wonderful community donors, volunteers and special friends who made this possible. This also became our annual fundraiser which allowed us to develop a scholarship in Alicia’s name to help an incoming freshman woman who exemplified Alicia’s spirit and commitment to peaceful co-existence. It also allowed us to develop programs at the University and in the community.

Now we stand at a crossroads wondering which way to go. What will happen to our annual Peace Run and our events that were housed and aided by the University and, the caring people there who helped make it happen? The “Peace Run” is cancelled for this September, but we will be looking for a new home for it for the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, in September of 2021. The scholarship’s home is still being determined. As for our peace events and other activities, we will try to find a new partner and venue in which to hold them. During this time of uncertainty, with the pandemic and economic loss, our message of peaceful co-existence, compassion for our fellow human beings, volunteerism and hope for a more peaceful tomorrow is ever-so-important. The murder of our daughter made us realize how far we as human beings have strayed from the divine loving and wisdom that created us all. And, if all good people in this world would rise up together to overcome the conditions that perpetuated such anger, distrust and hatred, together we can build a better world in which we help one another as God truly intends for us!

Our heartfelt thanks and eternal gratitude go out to Dr. Christopher Washington, Tammy Leiker, Stephanie Islam, the coaches, faculty, student volunteers and all those at the University who have been so instrumental in our efforts to do our part in making this world a more peaceful and compassionate place to live and raise our children and grandchildren. We will truly miss our time together, our heartfelt collaborations and the incredible bonds we have created together. To all the employees and students at UU, we wish you well in your future endeavors. Urbana community will come to realize how vitally important you and our University have been for our community in the days to come as we grieve our communal loss.

John and Bev Titus

The Alicia Titus Memorial Peace Fund