It’s often difficult to find beauty and happiness following a great tragedy. For the Owen family, they know this all too well. In March 2015 their beloved daughter, sister and friend, Erika Owen, died in the middle of a 150-foot pond in Wichita, Kan., as she attempted to rescue her young sheltie that had fallen through the ice. A devote Christian, volunteer and friend to all creatures, Erika was a bright light in the lives of everyone she met.
To cope with their grief while perpetuating this young woman’s spirit and legacy, Doni and Glen Owen, Erika’s parents, and their sons, Geremy and Benjamin, established the Infinite E Foundation through The Dayton Foundation.
Q: Please share a little about Erika. What was she most passionate about in her life?
A: Erika was the third of three children and the little sister every brother would want. In fact, she was “adopted” by many of her brothers’ friends, all of whom loved her.
Erika graduated from Springboro High School in 2005. She was very athletic and loved basketball, track and especially volleyball. In her senior year, she was named to the 1st team All Mid-Miami League conference in volleyball. She also was active in Young Life and was on the Homecoming court and prom queen court. After her death, her friends wrote many letters telling us that Erika always had the biggest smile, the kindest heart and the warmest compassion for every student, regardless of the clique or circle of friends. Everybody trusted her.
She was passionate about life. It’s difficult to find a photo of her where she isn’t smiling. She cared about every person she met. She was outgoing and fun. She was the bubble in the champagne of our life.
She also was passionate about animals, as well as people of all ages. When we moved from Kansas to Ohio we had to bring her personal zoo with us – three dogs, two finches, a cockatiel, a guinea pig and a rabbit.
While working as the Kids Life director at City Life Church in Wichita, she would pray for each of her children on Saturday before meeting with them on Sunday.
Q: She was a dedicated volunteer as well, correct?
A: Absolutely. She would spend her day off volunteering at the Lady Bugg House, which offers a safe place for single moms to meet and have Bible Study and fellowship. She also served as a Bible Study co-leader and mentor for young college girls.
She believed in helping people who needed assistance learning how to help themselves. During her college spring break, she went on a mission trip to New Orleans and later raised money for a mission trip to Haiti to work in an English language camp. She helped build a concrete base for a generator and develop a garden so the people could grow their own food. She fell in love with the Haitian people, especially the children, and planned to return the following summer.
Erika also volunteered at Canine Rescue that helps find homes for dogs that had been abandoned, abused or put up for adoption. More than once she called home to say she had fallen in love with a doggie and wanted to bring it home.
Q: Why did you decide to honor her memory with a fund through The Dayton Foundation?
A: We established the fund through The Dayton Foundation because the principles on which the Foundation was established matched the principles of our fund, the Infinite E Foundation.
Q: What does the name of the fund, Infinite E, mean?
A: Infinite E was coined by Erika’s brother, Geremy, when he spoke about his little sister, who he adored. Geremy had affectionately called Erika “E” as they grew older, and she called him “G”. Infinite E just seemed to fit. We know that her spirit and love will live on with us every day. She’s now able to be in so many places and with so many people that her love and spirit have grown exponentially! It’s our family’s hope that Erika’s legacy lives on through infinity. Her passions, heart and love are all the things that she would want us to carry on.
Q: You also have a scholarship fund in her name.
A: Since Erika was a passionate Wildcat and the 10th member of our family to graduate from Kansas State University, it seemed fitting to establish a scholarship. Thanks to family and friends, we raised over $25,000 in less than a year. The Erika Lynn Owen Memorial Scholarship is awarded to an Education, Business or Veterinary School student each semester and seeks to encourage upper class students pursuing occupations that support the areas Erika cared about most. We also plan to establish a memorial scholarship for a graduating Springboro High School senior.
Q: How are you raising funds, and can others support your efforts?
A: We hold two events each year. The Tailgate — EO Style at a Kansas State football game is hosted by her college classmates and friends. The Walk a Mile for Her Smile walkathon is held in Springboro on the weekend closest to Erika’s birthday, Dec. 12. These events are great ways to honor Erika’s memory with friends and family in Kansas and Ohio.
Anyone can support our efforts by donating at our website, www.infinite-e.org, and through The Dayton Foundation.
Q: Would you say that The Dayton Foundation is helping you to help others?
A: Yes. The Dayton Foundation has been a huge resource and has helped us to quickly establish our foundation and raise funds to honor Erika.
Q: Is your family originally from the Dayton area?
A: We moved to Springboro almost 20 years ago. The community inspires us with its rich history of flight, the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and its Midwestern values of faith, family and friends. It’s been a wonderful place to raise our family and now to bring our grandsons to visit.
Q: How would you complete this sentence, “My giving makes me feel____”?
A: … as though we are carrying on Erika’s life work and passion for children, animals and Christian education. There is no greater joy than helping others. Erika lived this, and we are grateful to continue her legacy.
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The Dayton Foundation has been helping people help others since 1921 by managing charitable funds, awarding grants to nonprofits and launching community initiatives. Contact the Foundation at (937) 222-0410 or visit www.daytonfoundation.org.