When 28-year old John Ashford passed away unexpectedly in 2008 there was one thing his family and friends knew for certain; they wanted to give back to John's beloved University of Houston in his name."We started talking about it right away," said John's widow, Melissa Ashford. "Our first conversation happened at the wake. Creating an endowment was something concrete we could do to start healing. We just missed John a lot and it was something we could do to honor him."
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be sent to the University of Houston, College of Technology in John's name.
The John O. Ashford III Memorial Endowment was established in December 2008 and his friends and family feels it's something John, a 2005 Mechanical Engineering Technology graduate, would have wanted.
"It was important to John to give back to his school," said former Mechanical Engineering Technology classmate Vicki Blocker. "Graduating from the College of Technology was one of his greatest life achievements. We wanted to give back to future generations. I think that's something John would've been proud of."
Fundraising began in 2009 to raise the $25,000 minimum needed to establish the endowment. From bake sales to dinners hosted by John's parents, Ashford, aided by her friends and family, is doing everything she can to meet their December 2011 deadline.
"We've had several fundraisers and they went really well, thanks in part to UH alumni involvement," Ashford said. "We did some smaller things at our families' homes as well but we wanted to get a lot more people involved, especially other UH alumni."
The American Society for Mechanical Engineers-Petroleum Division has been one of the most generous donors, contributing $5,000 to the endowment as part of a fundraiser held in July.
Melissa Ashford's dedication has been a driving force behind every fundraising event.
"It's never been an option of 'will we,' it's not an 'if we raise enough money,'" Blocker said. "Melissa's drive and ambition has been the foundation of our fundraising efforts".
The story has even prompted College of Technology employees to join in Ashford's fundraising efforts.
"I found her story really touching," said Maylin Thanudape, a staff member at the College of Technology. "I thought it was great how she was raising the money on her own for other Mechanical Engineering students in honor of her husband."
The establishment of the endowment will help mechanical engineering students, like John, grow and learn. The interest from the endowment has been dedicated to support students in the Senior Design capstone course, in which participants design, build, fundraise and present projects.
"One of the things that bonded us in school was that we were able to go to ASME design competition," Blocker said. "John was a huge team supporter. The experience created so much comradery, which is hard when you go to a commuter school. Hopefully this endowment will help provide for other teams to participate in those types of activities as well."
Ashford hopes the endowment will continue to carry on John's memory even when those that knew him are gone.
"I think it's hard when someone passes away so young," Ashford said. "But this endowment is a living memory of him. It's going to exist past the time that we're all here. It's nice to know John's mark is somewhere."
Considering the drive and conviction with which their fundraising has been conducted, John's memory will continue; not only in the endowment but in the very fundraising experience itself.
"He may not have been the smartest guy in the class," Blocker said. "But he had the most enthusiasm. It was contagious. He elevated all of our spirits."
For John, the endowment ensures that his school pride will live on forever.
"He was so proud of being a Cougar," Ashford said. "He was so proud of being at UH. This is something he would be glad to have."
Approximately $1,900 is needed to complete the Ashford Endowment. Alumni and friends wishing to give to the Ashford Memorial Endowment may do so by visiting www.tech.uh.edu/giving (please select College of Technology for designation and list Ashford Memorial Endowment in the additional designation box), or by contacting Lisa Burns, development director, at email@example.com.