Theresa Powell remembered at emotional memorial service

The Temple community gathered to share memories of Powell after her passing on Jan. 2.

Stephanie Ives (center), interim vice president of student affairs, shared a speech about Powell's legacy in the wake of her passing. | WILL COLAVTIO / THE TEMPLE NEWS.

Theresa Powell’s family, friends and colleagues gathered in the Temple Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, hugging and exchanging memories ahead of today’s celebration of life

Temple hosted a memorial service for Powell, who passed away suddenly in her home state of Texas on Jan. 2, in the Temple Performing Arts Center. President Jason Wingard was among nine speakers during the service, which also featured musical performances, speeches from Powell’s family and a poetry reading. 

Pastor James Moore of the Second Mount Zion Baptist Church where Powell frequently attended services, began the event with a prayer for strengthening Powell’s loved ones as they grieve. 

In his opening remarks, Wingard shared memories of Powell, the vice president of student affairs who worked at Temple for more than 20 years, and her habit of greeting everyone she saw with a warm embrace.

“We had this routine where she would roll up, literally roll up in her scooter, and I would reach out my fist to give her a fist bump, and she would look at me and continue to hold on to her scooter, and she would leave me hanging, she’d look into my eyes and give me that look— Stephanie you know that look— and she’d say ‘Baby, I ain’t your homeboy, real men give ladies a hug,’” Wingard said.

In his opening remarks, Wingard shared his fond memories of Powell at Celebration of Life at the Temple Performing Arts Center. | WILL COLAVITO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Department of Student Affairs developed significantly under Powell’s leadership, including the creation of the Weeks of Welcome program hosted at the beginning of each semester and Temple’s Cherry Pantry, which provides food for students in need.

After Wingard’s remarks, Provost Gregory Mandel shared his memories of Powell, recalling her positivity and how she viewed the student body as her own children.

Mandel also spoke on behalf of former President Richard Englert and former Provost JoAnne Epps, who were not in attendance. 

Powell was a woman of deep faith and wholehearted passion for her profession, said Stephanie Ives, the interim vice president of student affairs.

“Her commitment was to make sure every student had a true and legitimate chance to be great in the vibrant academic environment that university offers, and over the course of more than 40 years, she built campus experiences that gave students a home, a place to succeed, the opportunities to figure out who they were and how to live their values,” Ives said.

Despite her passing, Powell’s legacy of authenticity, devotion and generosity will live on, Ives added. Powell is remembered by all as someone who always put students first, whether it be in her large-scale programming or one-on-one mentorships, Ives said

Binh Nguyen, a 2017 Klein alumna, shared her own memories of a graduation gift Powell gave her, a pillow with her name written among different aspirational quotes and phrases, which reminds Nguyen to reach her full potential.

“To this day, I have that pillow in my office, reminding me every single day of the type of person and version of myself that Dr. Powell would want me to be,” Nguyen said. 

Rev. Sean Tripline played a rendition of Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise” during a musical interlude, leaving the crowd teary-eyed. 

After the song, Moore spoke of Powell’s faithfulness and passion for education. He recalled her habit of respectfully disagreeing with him, which he believes made him a better preacher, and was met with knowing laughs throughout the audience.

Among Powell’s many accomplishments, she was the first Black female president of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, said Danita Brown Young, board chair of NASPA.

“Being the first is never easy, and these positions can be lonely and isolating, and although she was discouraged many times, you would never know because she always kept that smile on her face,” Brown Young said. 

Serena Baxter, president of the Chester alumnae chapter of the Delta Theta Sigma sorority, which Powell was a member of, offered condolences to Powell’s family and noted how she exemplified the sorority’s guiding principles of scholarship, public service and sisterhood.

Pamela Ikner, Powell’s niece, delivered a speech on behalf of Powell’s family. She encouraged those in attendance to carry on Powell’s legacy.

“I encourage and challenge you, as my aunt Dr. Theresa Powell often would, strive for excellence,” Ikner said. “Treat people with dignity regardless of their station in life. Take ownership and work towards becoming the best version of yourself so that you can make a positive difference in the spaces you occupy, as she often did.”

As Ikner’s speech was met with applause, other members of Powell’s family could be seen hugging each other and wiping tears from their eyes.

Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, president of the Temple University Faculty Senate, closed the ceremony by reciting an original poem entitled “To Have Known Her,” describing the shock she felt after Powell’s unexpected passing and reflected on their friendship. Williams-Witherspoon received a standing ovation from the audience.

“Gut-punched,”  Williams-Witherspoon said. “That’s how it feels. Felt, when I first heard. Still feels, when we forget to remember.”

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