Alina BigJohny would have turned 26 on Monday.
On Saturday, friends and relatives turned out to an event to keep alive the memory of the Manchester University graduate who died in the 2011 Indiana State Fair stage collapse.
About 70 people came to bid on items during a silent auction at the university’s new College of Pharmacy in Fort Wayne to replenish the coffers of a scholarship fund established in the young woman’s memory.
Despite the passing of nearly three years since the Aug. 13, 2011, collapse, BigJohny’s mother, Polly BigJohny of Fort Wayne, says it doesn’t get much easier. Even planning the event brought back painful memories.
“But you’re doing it for a good reason, to honor her,” she said. “I know she’s proud of us.”
Alina BigJohny’s sister Christy Collins of Fort Wayne said the first scholarship, designated for an undergraduate student studying English or education at Manchester, was awarded this year to a young woman following in her sister’s footsteps.
BigJohny “was always about teaching and helping others,” Collins said. “She was always tutoring. She would help at Manchester with incoming freshman.”
Before she died, BigJohny had been hired to teach seventh grade in Muncie.
The fund for the Alina BigJohny Memorial Scholarship was started last year when some of her friends organized a dance-athon on campus and raised $4,500, family members said.
This year, the family took over fundraising so the scholarship can continue, they said. This year’s goal was $5,000; the first award was $1,500.
Items laid out on tables at the auction included donations from the Mad Ants, Komets and TinCaps and other businesses, including Vera Bradley to Starbucks.
A soccer ball signed by World Cup star and Fort Wayne native DaMarcus Beasley and a Super Bowl football signed by the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks were garnering good bids, Collins said.
The latter, procured by Jason Barnes, best man at Collins’ wedding and a Seahawks scout, had pulled in a $150 bid, she said – within minutes of the four-hour auction’s 2 p.m. opening.
“For us to have a scholarship for others to pursue a teaching degree, so they can teach since she can’t – she would have thought that was awesome,” Collins said of her sister.
“She just loved Manchester,” Polly BigJohny said. “I know she would have given back (to it) herself, if she could.”