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President's Blog: From the Heart

'Say Yes'

By Eric F. Spina

Professor Anne Crecelius didn’t just teach human physiology to University of Dayton students. She taught life lessons to everyone she touched, certainly including me. Most importantly, she showed us how to cherish the gifts we have been given, including time and simply being a part of this special UD community.

Diagnosed with breast cancer a month before her 29th birthday, Anne “took a ‘say yes’ mentality toward life,” as written in her obituary and chronicled on her “Never Too Young” blog.  She faced her death on Feb. 26 as she lived her life — with courage, determination, optimism, and a never-quit attitude. She was only 37, but I dare say few people lived with such joie de vivre and accomplished so much in so few days on Earth as this beloved scholar, teacher, administrator, mentor, daughter, sister, and friend.

She taught with energy and passion, bringing her cancer diagnosis and treatment options into the classroom because she saw a way to drive home important lessons — about physiology and about living life. She co-authored research studies with undergraduates. A master at making connections, she collaborated with researchers at UD, Harvard, and Ohio State on a big Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant to model and predict how pilots perform in various flight conditions. She was a brilliant, dedicated, and highly respected scholar, evidenced by her photo gracing the cover of the September 2019 issue of The Physiologist Magazine for a piece about “The Now Generation,” rising stars in the field.

While she earned promotion to Professor just last month, even as a junior faculty member she embraced the opportunity to serve, whether as vice president of the Academic Senate or as a member of the Blue Sky Scoping Steering Committee that’s working to ensure that every student receives a deeply meaningful experiential learning experience and the mentorship of a “learning partner” before they graduate. Anne wanted to do whatever would help the University and further the education of our students, convention and timing and personal limits be damned. She simply said “yes.”  Again. And again.

Anne viewed life as a grand adventure. Over the holidays, while tethered to oxygen, she embarked on a Danube River cruise with her mom and sisters to visit Europe’s Christmas markets. Last summer, she went hiking and white water rafting with her siblings *after* returning from an African safari, both despite the serious nature of her illness at that time, including what were already seriously damaged lungs.

Under home hospice care last week, she blogged, attended Zoom meetings with colleagues, and recommended to her vast network of friends and colleagues a book, A Beginner’s Guide to the End, which she described on her blog as “sort of the What to Expect When Expecting but for a different important transition in life.”  Her final instructions to us: “talk about death with someone you care about” and “support each other.”

Anne was, in a word, remarkable — refreshingly honest, adventurous, vulnerable, brave, and so very intelligent.  She loved life and loved all those in her life. And all loved her back.

As family, faculty, staff, and students quickly filled the chapel for a memorial gathering on Monday, I started thinking about why she leaves such a void on our campus and in our hearts. Quite simply, she was part of our family. She proudly kept her undergraduate honors thesis in a treasured place — tucked next to her research studies on a shelf in her Fitz Hall office. As a UD undergraduate, she was one of the first Berry Scholars. Her life came full circle when she returned to her alma mater after grad school to teach and work in the lab with Berry Summer Thesis Institute students studying how the cardiovascular system is regulated.

Anne’s students are “a part of her living legacy,” she wrote in her obit. But her legacy also includes innovations in learning and teaching — and ways to blend those lines.

The newly created Professor Anne R. Crecelius Fund for Innovation in Learning and Teaching at the University of Dayton will provide annual awards to teams of two or more faculty or staff from different programs, departments, or University divisions for projects that advance excellence in learning, teaching and/or mentoring in innovative ways. 

We will honor the selfless way she put learning and discovery above self. In that way, a piece of Anne will always live in us and in our University.

(A Celebration of Life will be held at 4 p.m., Friday, March 10, at the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. A reception will follow in the Kennedy Union ballroom. For those who can't attend in person, click here to view the service. For more background, please read a news story about her life's accomplishments.)

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