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Service to celebrate graduate’s life

Posted on 09.25.2013

Positive, optimistic and full of life are not descriptions one would expect for someone who suffered from cancer, but friends and faculty remember recent University of  Indianapolis alumna Mindy Owens as anything but predictable. Owens passed away on Aug. 29 after a long battle with skin cancer that started in high school.

UIndy alumna Mindy Owens passed away after a long battle with cancer that started in high school. She graduated this past year with an honors degree in music education, as well as a minor in theatre. Photo contributed by Grace Labens

UIndy alumna Mindy Owens passed away after a long battle with cancer that started in high school. She graduated this past year with an honors degree in music education, as well as a minor in theatre. Photo contributed by Grace Labens

According to Chair and Associate Professor of  Music Brenda Clark, Owens found out two years ago that her cancer had returned. Clark said that at that time Owens wanted to let her professors and fellow students in the music department know, so she announced it at their beginning-of-the-year convocation.

“Mindy asked our former chair, Dr. [Kathleen] Hacker, if she could address that entire group and share with them what she had just learned in terms of her cancer. Because she had known that she had cancer previously, but they thought that they would be able to beat it,” Clark said. “And then, just a few weeks before school started, she got the news that that wasn’t the case and that she was in for a really challenging next few years.”

One of the few people who knew before the convocation was Owens’ best friend Lanea Bonney, also a music education alumna. Bonney said that she and Owens met on campus during that summer break, which is when she found out.

“We caught up, and she’d told me that she had a doctor’s appointment because she had some concerning things come up,” Bonney said. “…  After that initial appointment, she came and told me that she had cancer again and what they were going to do to treat it and that sort of thing.”

However,  Bonney said that it was often hard to tell that Owens, whom she met in a freshman music theory class, was suffering. During regular visits to Panera, a favorite memory of Bonney’s, they would sit and talk for hours, as if nothing was wrong.
“The person that she was, and the face that she put on, was so strong that a lot of times you didn’t even think about it, because she wasn’t showing it,” Bonney said. “She was such a strong person in the fact that if she was in pain from the medicine, you could not even see it.”

According to Bonney, there were very few times when Owens would open up, but that did not mean that she never said anything was wrong.

“One-on-one with her sometimes was a little different. Because whenever she came into the one-on-one with someone, she kind of let her guard down a little bit,” Bonney said. “… She’s not like any mystical hero or anything like that. She was a normal person, too, and she dealt with it. And there would be times that we’d cry together, absolutely.”

However, Clark said that Owens often put on a brave face because she did not want pity. Clark said that she remembered Owens being very strong during her junior and senior vocal recitals, even though she was in incredible pain.

“Music education majors are required to give a half-an-hour recital, and for her junior recital, she had gone through some treatments, but also [had] a couple of cracked ribs because of her cancer,” Clark said. “Any non-singer would be in pain just trying to talk or whatever, but she sang beautifully. I had never heard her sing so well.”

Clark said that Owens never wanted her condition to get in the way of her work, so she always made arrangements if she would be out for treatments.

According to Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli, Owens always remained very passionate about completing her degree. Vitangeli said that, as a music education major with a minor in theatre, and an honors college student on top of that, Owens’ job was not easy.

Although she still had some honors college requirements to finish, Owens walked during the commencement ceremony in May. According to Vitangeli, though, it was not until right before her passing that she received her diploma when a group of UIndy faculty visited her in the hospital.

“So myself and Amy Allen-Sekhar and Brenda Clark and Terrence Harewood, who had had her in a couple of classes, went down to the hospital to present her and her family her official diploma,” Vitangeli said. “… It was such a special moment because you could tell, one, how much it meant to her family but also to her and how proud she was of herself for being able to get that diploma.”

Owens’ life and passions will be celebrated at a memorial service at 4 p.m. on Sept. 29 in the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall in the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Performance Center. The UIndy vocal group Crimson Express, which Owens was a part of, will perform. Also, Bonney will speak about Owens’ life. According to Vitangeli, details will be revealed about a scholarship and some memorial on campus in Owens’ honor.

Vitangeli encouraged any students, faculty and staff who are struggling with Owens’ passing to visit the Counseling Center on the second floor of the Schwitzer Student Center.

According to Vitangeli, Owens was a very well known and liked student. She said that Owens was a model of perseverance, positivity and optimism in the face of uncontrollable circumstances.

“Even after her diagnosis, she was so positive and maintained her positivity, her wonderful spirit,” Vitangeli said. “… She never wavered in her faith. She never wavered in her positivity throughout the years that she was battling with cancer treatment.”


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