Right outside of Lucy Residence Hall facing the Rector Village lawn, a festive bench is always dressed to the nines. The bench is dedicated to Megan Hammerle, a student who passed away during her freshman year at DePauw University in 2015. Now, her younger sister, junior Sara Hammerle, uses the bench to bring smiles to others.
“One of my biggest fears is that Megan will be forgotten, so it’s nice to have something that fights against that. She’ll never be disassociated with DePauw and that feels good,” Sara Hammerle said.
Sara explained that DePauw’s overwhelming support to her family following Megan’s passing was one of the reasons she was drawn to the school. When she first arrived on campus, Sara began putting flowers on the bench, but students would often take the bouquets. She wanted to do something more permanent so she and her mother came up with the idea to decorate it based on the seasons and holidays.
Some of their favorite holidays to decorate the bench are Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, St. Patrick's Day, and Easter. Between holidays, however, Sara will usually decorate it with neutral decor or flowers.
Sara is grateful when people in the DePauw community notice the decor. “It’s really cool when someone recognizes me from it, or I’ll hear people in passing talking about it because I’m like ‘that's me, I did that!’” she said.
Professor Craig Paré was Megan's symphonic band instructor during her first semester on campus. He shared fond memories of having Megan as a student.
“I’ll always remember Megan coming up to me after a concert and saying, ‘Wow, what an experience that was.’ She was a shy student, so I could finally tell she felt comfortable to share something personal,” he said.
Professor Pare was the only DePauw faculty member to attend her funeral later that year. Now, he has the pleasure of conducting Sara Hammerle four years later in the symphonic band. He explained that both sisters play the trombone, but that is the only similarity between them.
Professor Pare did not know about Megan's bench on campus and is eager to check it out.
Luckily, the Hammerle’s only live an hour away from campus, so sometimes Sara’s mother will stop by often to help decorate. Sara also has friends on campus to help her.
Junior Grace Gliva has helped decorate the bench many times.
“I never had the chance to meet Megan so I’m really honored by the fact Sara is willing to share that with me. I’m happy I can have that connection to her and her family,” Gliva said.
Gliva was Sara’s roommate freshman year and shared the fond memory of helping Sara pick out tinsel from Dollar Tree for Valentine’s Day. The bench is something that brought the two closer during their freshman year, and Gliva is honored that she is still able to be a part of something so special.
The bench is not the only way the Hammerle’s celebrate Megan’s life. “Megan Hammerle Day'' on Megan's birthday, June 16, is a day dedicated in her honor. Sara explained that the whole day is about spreading love and showing random acts of kindness in her honor. It all started when Megan was in awe of a “pay it forward” movement at the drive-through at her work, Dunkin Donuts. Now, that same Dunkin Donuts kicks off the day by paying-it-forward in hopes others will do the same.
To learn more about Megan Hammerle Day, refer to the Instagram page created in Megan’s honor: https://www.instagram.com/meganhammerleday/.
The Hammerle’s also host an annual 5K with their family and friends in Lebanon every spring in honor of Megan’s love for cross country.
The Megan Hammerle bench and Sara’s decorations can remind students of Megan’s generous and cheerful spirit. Sara will continue to decorate the bench until she graduates and hopes that after she leaves DePauw she can pass down this tradition to someone else.