A reflection on Ashley Sandau

Ashley Sandau ran cross country for St. Bonaventure University. [Image courtesy of gobonnies.com.]

Co-editor in chief Maddie Gionet attended Wednesday night’s memorial service for alumna Ashley Sandau. She reflects on the night and what she learned about who Ashley was.

By Maddie Gionet, Co-Editor in Chief/Features Editor, @MaddieGNA

I use words for a living. And more recently, I’ve used words to tell stories and paint pictures.

But I have come to find, after tonight, that sometimes words cannot tell a story or paint a picture the way I would like them to.

Last month, 2010 and 2011 St. Bonaventure University graduate Ashley Sandau passed away after being hit by a car in California.

The St. Bonaventure family remembered her Wednesday night at 7 with a memorial service in the University Chapel.

I had the intentions of writing a news story on the event, highlighting the celebration of her, but I found myself intimidated by this task.

How does one use words to paint a picture of Ashley?

How does one do her life and her character justice?

Josh Billings, a humor writer and lecturer, once said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”

Perhaps the answer to the question comes from Billings’ quote – in short words.


As Rob DeFazio, director for Campus Activities, Recreation and Leadership, said at the memorial service, Ashley always greeted everyone with a simple smile, whether she knew them or not.

DeFazio went on to say she could always be counted on to do the right thing.

She touched more lives than she probably imagined, he said.


Stephen Ross, a 2011 St. Bonaventure graduate, wrote in a piece, read by Elizabeth Moran, that Ashley welcomed him to the cross country team the moment he arrived on campus as a freshman.

Ross wrote that he remembers running the most difficult race of his life and almost giving up, only finishing it because he saw Ashley cheering him on.


Bob Macfarlane, current coach of the cross country team, said although he only met Ashley a few times, her character stood out.

He remembered Ashley interviewing him before being hired, and she asked him what he would do to improve the team.

Macfarlane said he was impressed that Ashley was more worried about the team and others than herself.


Teammates, peers and coaches alike, spoke of Ashley’s commitment to the cross country team even when injury made running difficult for her.

They spoke of her will to stay in shape during the off season and to keep working through any struggles she might have had.


A student and advisee of Denny Wilkins, professor of journalism and mass communication, Ashley inspired him to be more respectful, patient, tolerant and humble, he said.

In the past weeks, while speaking with current students about Ashley, Wilkins said he was able to see who she was – someone we can all look up to.

I did not have the opportunity to know Ashley. I wish I had. Maybe that would have helped me decide which words best describe her and the life she lived.

But maybe there is not a single word that does Ashley and her life justice.

Or maybe there is.



St. Bonaventure mourns the loss of recent graduate

Ashley Sandau [Photo courtesy of laist.com]

By Joe Pinter, Assistant News Editor, @jpinter93

ST. BONAVENTURE (April 9) — At 10:25 pm on March 30, a vehicle struck Ashley Sandau while crossing the street. She later died of her injuries at the hospital. 

The tragic accident took the soon-to-be St. Bonaventure University integrated marketing communications graduate’s life while in the company of her father in Silver Lake, California where she had eaten dinner just minutes before.

Sandau, 24, graduated with a journalism and mass communication degree in 2010 but returned to St. Bonaventure to finish her master’s degree in integrated marketing communications in 2011. She had been working as a marketing coordinator at United Consortium in Los Angeles. 

“Ashley came to SBU from Germany where her mother was teaching in a department of defense school for American students of military families,” former cross country coach Tom Hagen, said. “Ashley ran cross country over there. She was a great student while in Germany and a very solid runner.  She knew what she wanted and worked to make it happen.”

Sandau’s mother also had ties to the Olean area, and Hagen said he believes she grew up near Ripley, PA.

While writing and social media were her passions, she also ran cross country at Bonaventure.

Denny Wilkins, professor of journalism and mass communication, said she was one of the leaders every year she ran and her teammates looked up to her.

“She was highly regarded in athletics because she provided leadership on her team, and she was also involved in the student athletic advisory group,” Wilkins, who was also her adviser, said. “Her interests were varied, but she was one of these people that are easy to like.”

Both Hagen and current cross country coach Bob Macfarlane know how much Sandau meant to the team. Both coaches raved about her work ethic and, among other things, her likeable personality.  

“She was the captain of the team for the last two and a half years,” Hagen said. “She had the leadership aura about her, and the team loved her. The student athletes on the cross country team and in the school did look up to her.”  

Hagen also spoke about how she was always a good representative of the women’s team, and how she was mature and very professional in both her athletics and academics.

“Words seem inadequate to express the sadness the cross country team feels about Ashley’s death,” Macfarlane said. “I know the former runners that knew Ashley are deeply sorry to hear about her death. They lost a great friend and a wonderful person.  I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death.  They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make.  Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories.  We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love.”  

Wilkins said she will be dearly missed by everyone who was fortunate enough to have her in their lives.

“The young should not die,” Wilkins said. “To me, personally, it’s an incomprehensible loss. I can’t imagine what her parents are going through, or what her boyfriend is going through.”

According to Wilkins, the one trait that stood out far and above everything else was her modesty.

“She was humble,” Wilkins said. “I mean this was a kid who graduated cum laude. She’s a brilliant mind. She knew it, but she was never someone to push it in your face. She was always self-effacing. She went about her business, and she didn’t seek credit where it wasn’t due. She’s really one of the best writers I ever coached here.”

What Hagen will most remember her for is her motivation and her leadership. He said Sandau simply had a drive and no matter what it was, she gave her full effort. She also never let her coach or her teammates down, offering to host a team dinner when Hagen could not.

“I could show up at the Richter Center on any afternoon, and she would be there on the elliptical or doing some other exercise to stay in shape,” Hagen said. “Also, when I was not able to get back for the team dinner for the start of the 2009 season, she stepped up and helped host it in her townhouse. She was just a good captain.”

Sandau became very close with Wilkins and Hagen, staying in touch over the years.

 “She took four courses from me, and even after she finished her undergraduate degree and started her graduate work, she was in my office every two or three weeks, so I spoke with her regularly,” Wilkins said.” And after she left last May and went to California, I still talked with her several times by phone.”

While Ashley won’t be able to finish her masters, she will never be forgotten, especially in the halls of the John J. Murphy Professional Building.

“Sooner or later, I will have the picture of her that ran on gobonnies.com,” he said. He then pointed to a blank space on the wall in his office and said, “I’m going to have it framed, and it’s going right there. I am going to make sure that Ashley Sandau is not forgotten in this journalism program.