Columbia College celebrates life of beloved residential staff member

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 | 6:47 p.m. CDT; updated 9:13 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 27, 2009

COLUMBIA — The last time Kristina King spoke to Ryann Schmidt was in an instant-message conversation Saturday night when she told him, “I don’t know what I would do without you.”



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“I guess now I’ll find out,” King said.

Schmidt, 26 and a Columbia College residential life coordinator, went into cardiac arrest and died Sunday. The college held an informal memorial service Tuesday during which laughter was more prominent than tears.

King had bought Schmidt a "grocery list" of Burger King food Saturday night.

“He was my go-to person,” said King, 21. “He was always there for everybody no matter what. He was an amazing person and will be very missed by the Columbia College community.”

The Dulany Banquet Room at Columbia College had the makings of a casual party as students and staff gathered at 4 p.m. Tuesday. A nacho bar, chocolate chip cookies and chilled sodas lined the north side of the room. Music rose just above the buzz of quiet chatter. Eight sofas were set in a semicircle in front of a large projector screen on which a slide show played.

But as the banquet room began to fill, guests hugged not only in greeting but also in comfort, gathering to both mourn a loss and celebrate Schmidt's life.

“We wanted to keep the service like Ryann – a happy atmosphere,” said Faye Burchard, dean for campus life.

Members of the residential life staff re-created a residential hall floor lounge within the banquet room. Students and staff wore red, primarily St. Louis Cardinals apparel, to honor Schmidt’s favorite team and hometown. Even the menu reflected Schmidt’s personality.

“He knew the menu inside and out at every Mexican restaurant,” one colleague said.

As a microphone was passed around the room, those in attendance shared memories of encounters with Schmidt. Talk ranged from Schmidt’s competitive nature on the softball field to his love of family, friends, Frisbee golf and Burger King.

Before and after the sharing of stories and inside jokes, many guests signed a large banner to be given to his fiancee and family.

With 1,090 students enrolled, including 400 students living on campus, Columbia College’s tightknit community was evident throughout the hourlong service.

“Even though it’s devastating, (Schmidt’s death) is bringing us closer together,” said Abigail Kesl, 21. “We were relieved we had a time to just sit down and share memories. He wasn’t the type of person who would want people to mourn.”

Students and staff will travel Thursday morning to St. Louis to attend the funeral service.

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