Hundreds of members of the Ohio Wesleyan community gathered outside the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity Sunday evening for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of Jake Von Der Vellen, who died in a car accident Friday morning.
Junior Marshall Morris, president of Phi Delta Theta, was a chief organizer of the vigil. Morris said that he and other Phi Delts began thinking of ways to show support as soon as they received the tragic news.
After deciding that a candlelight vigil would be most appropriate, they pitched the idea to Phi Delt Adviser Stephen Hayhurst, and then to the rest of the community on Facebook.
“The vigil was a collaboration of everyone,” Morris said. “Several school administrators helped facilitate resources that were needed, but both the faculty and students were instrumental in making it special for both each other and the brothers of Sig Ep. I believe the unity of the students in the OWU community was something very special.”
Many students like junior Rachel Rose said they went to the ceremony to support the brothers of Sig Ep and others close to Jake, and to pay him respect. Rose said that the vigil had her “wishing (she) could do more for the boys than hold a candle outside their fraternity.”
Several OWU staff members who do not live on campus were in attendance. Athletic Director Roger Ingles said he and his wife attended to show support for the OWU community as well as represent their son, sophomore Brad Ingles, also a member of Sig Ep.
“Anytime you lose a life so young it is tragic,” Ingles said.
“My thoughts during the event were for Jake, his family and friends, Vince and his family and friends and my own son who is currently in Ireland and could not attend tonight’s vigil.”
Jon Harnett, one of the brothers of Sig Ep, said the support received at the vigil made him feel like Ohio Wesleyan is “one big family.”
“It also let me and the other brothers know that we aren’t alone in this, and that we can all get through this awful time as one community,” he said.
The remnants of a thunderstorm were still evident in the sky as the scheduled event time of 8 p.m. grew near and lightning still flashed in the clouds above.
Nevertheless, streams of OWU students and staff slowly converged from all parts of campus into a single group in the middle of Fraternity Hill where candles were being distributed.
Von Der Vellen was killed Friday in an automobile accident on Route 77 outside of Rock Hill, S.C., at 11:41 a.m. Von Der Vellen is from Medina, Ohio. Von Der Vellen was with friend and Sig Ep brother Vince Donofrio who was hospitalized at the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C.. Donofrio has since returned home to Canfield, Ohio.
Von Der Vellen will always be remembered for his commitment and service to the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity and the OWU community. He was recently named president of his fraternity.
“Jake may not be here,” said Sig Ep senior James DiBiasio during the vigil, “but the memories will live on.”
At 8:10 p.m., the Sig Ep brothers emerged from the front door of their house wearing their letters.
As darkness neared, they stood, silently elevated on the front porch, and lit their candles.
The rest of the crowd quickly followed suit until the darkness was pierced by hundreds of dancing illuminations, struggling to survive the sporadic gusts of wind. The congregation then simply stood in silence and looked up at the fraternity men on the front porch.
After several minutes, President Rock Jones came forth and raised his voice over the crowd.
“We gather to share the love for the brothers of Sig Ep who stand here in front of us,” he started.
Rock voiced the OWU community’s empathy for those who were close to Jake, and said that the candles represented a special bond that brought members of the school together to the vigil.
DiBiasio thanked the crowd for their support. He said while Jake’s physical presence may be gone, the lessons he taught will resonate with his friends and family.
After several more silent minutes, Morris asked participants to extinguish their candles and place them into the provided bins by 8:45 p.m. “out of respect for the privacy of the brothers of Sig Ep.”
Some left immediately, others cried softly, but the majority just stood respectfully and held their candles in silence for the remainder of the vigil.
As 9 p.m. neared, the people parted, and so did the storm clouds. The Ohio sky seemed to answer with its own candlelight vigil when the stars twinkled as brilliantly as the candles had moments before.