Upper Arlington family hopes scholarship, sculpture will memorialize Emily Reardon and inspire kindness

Nate Ellis
ThisWeek group

An Upper Arlington couple who lost a daughter at the tender age of 19 now hope to honor her memory and inspire kindness through a new scholarship fund.

Choked by emotions, Jim and Sue Reardon sometimes struggle to recount the short life of their daughter, Emily, or discuss her four-day bout with an upper respiratory illness that ended her life May 28, 2020.

Emily Reardon, a 2019 graduate of Upper Arlington High School, died May 28, 2020 after a brief upper respiratory illness. Her family has created a scholarship fund in her memory that seeks to promote acts of kindness among students.

A year later, the pain hasn't subsided.

One of the couple's biggest comforts, however, comes from a story shared by a girl they still don't know during a candlelight vigil organized by Emily's friends at Upper Arlington High School a few days after her death.

At the vigil, a girl who identified herself only by her first name told a crowd of nearly 300 people she only spoke to Emily three times but that included once in study hall at Upper Arlington High School during Emily's senior year.

According to the Reardons and Upper Arlington Education Foundation president Alice Finley, the girl said Emily could see something was bothering her and asked if she was OK. When she responded, "No," Emily sat and talked with her the entire class period.

Finley said at the vigil the girl said, "The reason I am here tonight is because if it weren’t for Emily, I wouldn’t be alive. What Emily didn’t know when she walked into that study hall was that I had planned to kill myself that night.

"Because of her kindness, I didn’t do that. If it weren’t for Emily, I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t be alive. That’s why I had to come tonight. She didn’t know me, she didn’t have to do anything, but her kindness that day saved my life. I will always be thankful to her, and I am so sorry for her family and for her loss.”

Jim and Sue, who attended the vigil with some reluctance, said they were were deeply touched by the account. 

"I think what she said kind of blew everyone away," Sue Reardon said. "There wasn't a dry eye there." 

As a result of the moment, the Reardons decided to establish the Emily L. Reardon Memorial Fund at the Upper Arlington Education Foundation.

The fund will provide a $2,000 scholarship each year to a graduating senior in honor of Emily, who graduated from Upper Arlington High School in 2019.

“The Upper Arlington Education Foundation gives 11 scholarships during the UAHS Senior Honors Assembly each spring," Finley said. "They are each in remembrance of someone special and ensure that their memories live on.

"Emily’s scholarship is unique because it is designated to support a student whose highest achievements include spreading kindness and love.”

In addition to the scholarship, which will be awarded annually, the Reardons are using the Emily L. Reardon Memorial Fund to raise roughly $100,000 for the construction of a 10- to 12-foot sculpture by artist Alan Hamwi outside the new Upper Arlington High School natatorium. 

The sculpture, to be named "Kindness Soaring," will include six mourning doves taking flight.

The doves are meant to represent Emily, Jim and Sue Reardon, and the couple's other children, Ian, 26, Colin, 23, and Erin, 18.

The Reardons hope the sculpture will both remind people of Emily and the kindness she extended to others. 

"Kindness is always life-giving," Jim Reardon said. "In Emily's case with (the girl in her study hall), it was lifesaving.

"You never really know when that will be the case. That was her gift. That's what the kindness memorial was meant to symbolize."

The Reardons hope "Kindness Soaring" will be unveiled May 28, 2022, on the second anniversary of Emily's death. 

"The "Kindness" sculpture, it's something that will live forever," Jim Reardon said.

As the family and the Upper Arlington Education Foundation move forward with fundraising efforts, the first Emily L. Reardon Memorial Scholarship recipient was Piper Hiller, from the class of 2021.

Piper Hiller, a 2021 graduate of Upper Arlington High School, recently received the first Emily L. Reardon Memorial Scholarship, which seeks to recognize students who demonstrate exemplary kindness during their high school careers.

Hiller was selected, the Reardons said, because, like Emily, academic success didn't come easily to her but was achieved through extra work in and after classes. 

Hiller also was recognized for emotional support she gave to wrestlers throughout high school and dedication to the program in her service as a team statistician. 

Additionally, Hiller regularly took part in an activity her family called "Homeless Runs," through which herself, family members and friends collected and distributed clothing, toiletries and other personal supplies to homeless people in downtown Columbus.

"One of the reasons I keep going on Homeless Runs is to see the smiles and tears of joy on peoples faces when they see the warm clothes, winter attire, toothbrushes, blankets, food and more," Hiller said. "Another reason I keep coming back, is the car ride home.

"We reflect on our favorite interactions, special requests, and I generally feel lifted by the gratitude of others. It allows me to realize all that I have to be grateful for. It makes me grateful that I can help others in need and it motivates me to be a more compassionate and caring person."

The Reardons said Hiller's help to others deserves recognition and reward, and they hope it will springboard more acts of kindness and support for the memorial fund for years to come.

Still gripped by sadness from the abrupt end of Emily's life and the questions that surround her illness, it is moments like awarding the scholarship and raising money for the "Kindness Soaring" sculpture that now give the Reardons solace.  

"We didn't know until the candlelight vigil that Emily's kindness saved (a) life," Jim Reardon said. "There's some meaning to her loss.

"We're trying to continue to do good things in her name. We're trying to reinforce the value of kindness."

More information about the Emily L. Reardon Memorial Fund is available by calling Finley at 614-361-9140 or emailing alice@uaeducationfoundation.com.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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