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Serendipity in action

Serendipity in action

Gita Balakrishnan July 28, 2020

A Flyer connection 70 years in the making.

First-year student Quinn  Gilroy had a bit of time to spare in February, so she decided to go to “Maintaining a Lifelong Relationship with UD,” where alumni came to campus to share their insights as to how a UD student’s University experience does not have to end on graduation day.

Her past attendance at PATH events — required for students to learn about living in community and gain points for housing preference — had been very intentional; but on this particular day, it was by pure chance that she walked into the ballroom at Kennedy Union, found an empty seat, sat down and started working on homework.

Illustration by Brent Beck“I went to this event solely because I had been released from another PATH event early,” said Gilroy, a Portland, Oregon, resident. “I did not intend to have any sort of personal experience with the event whatsoever.”

Gilroy would learn shortly — as most Flyers experience eventually — that it is exactly those experiences that make being a part of Flyer nation so special.

The turnout was so large that organizers asked the alumni to walk around the room and talk to students while everyone found seats.

Phil Doepker decided to walk over to a table that had only students sitting at it. Gilroy put her homework away. Doepker introduced himself as a 1967 graduate of the engineering school.

“When he told me his graduation year, I thought that there was a very small chance he might know my grandfather, a UD alumnus as well,” Gilroy said.

Doepker indeed knew John Deters ’62. He told Gilroy, “It is only because of him that I am standing here today as a UD alumnus.”

Doepker shared that his family had known the Deters family for 70 years, dating back to the 1950s. In fact, the two families were neighbors in Ottawa, Ohio, and he knew not only John but all of Gilroy’s great- aunts and uncles.

“It was by luck that I happened to wander to that table and that Quinn happened to be sitting there,” Doepker said.

As the two continued talking, Doepker revealed that when he was finishing high school, he did not know what to pursue. His initial plan was to attend a technical school in Toledo, which provided a certificate after two years.

Being older, Deters was already a student at the University of Dayton, pursuing a degree in economics.

Said Doepker, “When my parents were talking to his parents about my plans, they told us to just give them a few days. They would talk to John and see what other opportunities were available.”

Deters did some digging. He shared that there was a technical program at UD in mechanical technology that lasted two years and awarded an associate degree instead of a certificate.

“John set up everything,” Doepker shared. “My mom, dad and I went. John gave us a tour. I learned about the program, applied and got accepted.”

After finishing, Doepker said the faculty and staff urged him not to stop but continue his education. He listened and received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. From there he went on to receive his master’s degree, worked in industry 16 years, returned to UD, became a mechanical engineering professor, and helped found UD’s Innovation Center before retiring in 2011.

When the PATH event ended, Gilroy sought out Doepker and snapped a photo to seal the memory.

“Leaving the event, I was truly bursting with joy,” she said. “I had never been to a PATH event where I made a true, genuine connection with someone. It was such a small-world experience that I never would have expected to have, but I am so grateful that I did. Not only was I happy to have met him, but I was especially happy to know that I would most likely see him again in the near future and have that experience to share with our families, accentuating the truly lifelong bond that comes with being a  Dayton Flyer.”

Additional reporting by Kaelin Kelly ’20.

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