A standing ovation greeted Rick and Patti Spady this weekend at Timberline Church.
Pastor Reza Zadeh of Timberline Church, 1800 S. Lemay Ave., invited the Spadys, parents of deceased CSU sophomore Samantha Spady, to speak to the congregation.
The church has leased the Sigma Pi house, 709 Wagner Dr., where Samantha Spady was found dead Sept. 5 from alcohol poisoning. The church is planning to turn the building into a community center called the Lighthouse
"We came on his (Zadeh's) invitation simply to thank the community for their prayers, their kind words of comfort when this happened and to thank the church and Reza in particular for his energy and what he hopes to accomplish," Patti Spady said.
The Spadys spoke at five services over the weekend and saw the community come out in thousands to support them. Approximately 300 to 400 fraternity and sorority members, including Chi Omegas, the sorority Samantha Spady was a member of her freshman year, attended the weekend services.
"We really want our students at CSU, the Greek system, especially the fraternities and sororities, to know how much as a community we appreciate them," Zadeh said during the 9:45 a.m. service.
The Spadys also took the stage during the services and thanked the community for its support through prayers and kind words since September.
Timberline Pastor Dary Northrop described the events leading up to inviting the Spadys for the weekend, and the SAM Spady Foundation.
"We're not trying to make superstars out of these people. These folks are still in their pain. But what I think is admirable honestly is even in their tears and even in their pain they have chosen to say, 'We want to make a difference through Sam's death and we want to make a difference with this story that could potentially impact thousands of other students just like Samantha and because of that and our admiration for the Spadys we've invited them to come to say hi to you," Northrop said.
Next month, two colleges – Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Ala., and Morehead State University in Kentucky – will both be sponsoring Sam Spady weeks to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
While these universities are holding weeks in memory of Samantha Spady, the SAM Spady Foundation, along with former Sigma Pi fraternity members, distributes "Ace of Spade" cards that contain information on alcohol poisoning at the nation's campuses.
"Their goal is to get these cards in the hands of every college student, not only at CSU, but nationally," Zadeh said.
Former Sigma Pi members Kris Roggensack, Kyle Ballew and Darren Pettapice organized the Ace of Spades program and attended the 9:45 a.m. Sunday service.
"I think (it was important for the Spadys to come) to show their presence and what is going on and I think it's good for them to see how much support they have too," said Pettapiece, a senior natural resources recreation and tourism major.
Rick Spady also expressed his love for CSU and appreciation to the community at the 9:45 a.m. service Sunday.
"It has just been overwhelming, the support from the community, the university, the sororities, the fraternities; everybody has been so nice so gracious, the letters, the e-mails," Rick Spady said. "We really appreciate it. Go Rams!"
At the close of the morning service, Patti Spady, while choking back tears, sent a special message to the women of Chi Omega.
"I just want you all to know that although we lost Sam we gained you and your friendship and I want you to know that you're dearly loved and I hope we are friends for life and thank you for everything you've done," she said.
David Ramsay attended the Sunday service as he has for the past year and thinks it was important for the Spadys to speak to the community.
"I would say it's important for the Spadys, one to kind of help maybe close some loops with people and also for them to ground back to the community," Ramsay said.
The SAM Spady Foundation
The Spadys started the SAM Spady Foundation, www.samspadyfoundation.org, which aims to educate others about high-risk alcohol consumption and the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
"Ultimately the foundation hopes to develop a peer-to-peer alcohol-awareness education program because we feel strongly that the message from the peers will be more effective than from an adult in the campus scene," Patti Spady said.
The Spadys also hope to see changes in campus social settings, including activities that give students alternatives to parties and drinking.
"We're going to just be one small part in changing the culture because obviously this isn't something that started overnight nor is it going to go away overnight," Patti Spady said.
Rick Spady said that while he and his wife does not condone drinking under the age of 21, they understand that it does go on and want to provide individuals with information to deal with potentially dangerous situations.
"We don't feel like Sam intended to drink herself to death that night nor do we feel that the kids who put her in that room to sleep it off intended for her to die," Patti Spady said. "I just think if they knew the signs and symptoms then they would have gotten her help, and if Sam would have known that drinking like that could kill you I think that this all could have been prevented."
As part of the foundation's mission, Patti Spady travels across the country and speaks to students and parents about the SAM Spady Foundation. Many parents thank the foundation for its message, Patti Spady said.
"I know originally our intention was if we could save one family from having to go through this we would have felt like this was a success, and that happened within two weeks of Sam's passing away," Patti Spady said.
She said the foundation received letters and e-mails in which people left positive testimonials about the foundation's life-saving impact.
While Samantha Spady's death has become a national symbol for alcohol poisoning, it has helped to bring attention to a problem that exists nationwide.
"It's all over the country, just not here. The only reason it's here is because Sam loved it here," Rick Spady said. "She really liked it here."
The Community Center
Although the Spadys are not directly involved in the plan for the Lighthouse community center, they support the project.
"If he needs help with something we may help down the road, but we don't have anything to do with it other than to say that it's a great idea and he's done good work," Rick Spady said.
The church will begin cleaning up and renovating the building next weekend.
While the Lighthouse will be operated by Timberline Church and will serve as a place for prayer and Bible groups, it will also serve as a community center for all.
Plans for the building include pool tables, shuffleboards and a big-screen TV for watching CSU games. The center will also serve students breakfast after a night at the bars, Zadeh said.
"I can't see them not (stopping by after the bars) with free food," Zadeh said.
The Lighthouse will also provide a place where students can hang out, be rowdy and have fun without alcohol.
"I think it goes to show that any situation that's tragic can be used for good and that's what we want to represent," Zadeh said. "There is always hope in the wake of tragedy."
The Healing Process
It has been five months since Samantha Spady's death, but both Rick and Patti Spady deal with the grief continuously. However, they find hope through their work with the foundation.
"Obviously, physically Sam's not with me, but I find spiritually when I speak I get my strength. It has to come from her," Patti Spady said.
For Rick Spady, helping others gives him hope but does not distract him from the grief.
"Sometimes it would be nice to not to think about it every day. It just brings it back so I don't know if it's better. I know it makes you feel better helping people so that makes me feel better but I don't know about the grieving part," Rick Spady said.
Both Spadys have always lived "low-profile" and "simple" lives, but through their daughter's death and beginning the foundation, they have found themselves in the media spotlight.
"Of course by starting the foundation part of that was our choice to go public with this so that's a repercussion of doing that, but speaking in front of crowds is not something I have ever been comfortable with nor will I ever be comfortable doing," Patti Spady said.
While Patti Spady finds comfort in her spiritual connection to her daughter, the foundation and aspects of outreach prolonged the grieving in some ways.
"We were so anxious to get the foundation started and the Web site up and so we really probably didn't take the proper time to deal with reality," Patti Spady said. "I look back on September and I feel like I was just numb and I was kind of robotic … The holidays is when I realized the numbness was gone because the reality had set in."
The Spadys continue to work with CSU to institute programs to help students with alcohol, but they were not involved in the CSU Alcohol Task Force, which was set up 10 days after Samantha Spady's death.
"We were offered an opportunity (to be part of the task force) but we're not an expert on that," Rick Spady said.
The only thing the Spadys could have brought to the task force is the viewpoint of grieving parents, Patti Spady said. The Spadys felt that their attendance would have only brought media focus to them and distract the force from the task at hand.
Patti Spady is appreciative of CSU President Larry Penley's attention to the problem of drinking on campus, but she recognizes that the problem was there before her daughter's death.
"I think his approach with dealing with it head-on helped a lot," Patti Spady said.
While Patti Spady cannot speak for all of her daughter's friends, she has been in close contact with many of them and sees positive changes in their lives.
"I think that for the most part they've (Sam's friends) all looked at things differently and it was a wakeup call for them. I think they've made drastic changes in their lives," Patti Spady said.
But no matter how many people have not received the message, the Spadys will not give up on spreading information about signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
"I think change can happen. I mean, I'm not giving up," Patti Spady said. "She (Sam) wasn't the first nor the last to die but you feel a strong obligation to give all those that have passed away from the same (thing) a voice because we've been given the opportunity."