Winona State remembers Mary Sullivan

Allison Mueller

Mary Sullivan, Winona State sophomore and Sheehan Hall RA, was found dead on April 16. (Contributed photo)
Mary Sullivan, Winona State sophomore and Sheehan Hall RA, was found dead on April 16. (Contributed photo)

Nathaniel Nelson / Winonan

Mary Sullivan, 20, of Milwaukee was found dead in Sheehan Hall on Saturday, April 16. As the effects of her passing rippled across campus, Winona State University students gathered Wednesday to remember and celebrate her life.

Sullivan was a RA for Sheehan Hall’s 11th floor, and was known for her joy, compassion and humor.

“She radiated positivity and light, and always wanted people to have a great time,” former Winona State student Elizabeth Doyle said. “Every time I saw her, she was always happy.”

Doyle met Sullivan during her first year through Winona State’s Residence Housing Association, while Doyle was in Sheehan Hall’s Hall Council. That spring, they learned they would both be RAs in Sheehan for their sophomore year.

Doyle said Sullivan was a remarkably selfless and giving person, giving her all for both her friends and her residents. She also made a point of always wanting people to enjoy themselves and would often go out of her way to make life better for everyone.

“It was incredibly hot in Sheehan, so she had the idea to make this outdoor pool party with those inflatable kid pools and filling them up one-by-one,” Doyle said. “She taught people how to bring joy out of everything and make everything a fun time.”

Sullivan was very close to her residents. She was inclusive of everyone, and created a strong communal bond between the women. A few of her residents strived to follow in her footsteps and become RAs, and some were even elected into Sheehan’s Hall Council.

“Doors were always open, and she always had residents hanging out with her in her room. I think a lot of people knew that they could trust, and come to her for anything,” Doyle said.

In addition to her duties as an RA, Sullivan studied health, exercise and rehabilitative services with an emphasis in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation. She was an aspiring student with a love for activities, both as part of the rugby team and as an avid swimmer and lifeguard.

Winona State sophomore Paige Brenengen was Sullivan’s teammate on the rugby team during her first year. Brenengen said Sullivan, while a huge part of the team, was more into being a supportive teammate than a star player.

“She wanted to be a part of it, with all of us girls, but was less enthusiastic when it came to not warming the bench anymore,” Brenengen said.

Brenengen first met Sullivan during their first year when they both lived in the Lucas Hall. She visited Sullivan in her room every day, and they grew very close.

“We met each other’s boyfriends, talked about families, I even FaceTimed her mom and her little brother with her before,” Brenengen said. “But since I moved off campus for sophomore year I didn’t get to see or talk to her as much. Yet, every time when she saw me, she always had something nice to say.”

A candlelit vigil was held last Wednesday to remember Sullivan, with dozens of students paying their respects in East Hall. Students at the vigil were invited to share stories and memories of Sullivan in front of more than 200 other attendees, as well as Sullivan’s family. Many of these stories focused on her sense of humor and practical jokes, which led to so-called “Mary Moments.”

Doyle recalled one of her own “Mary Moments,” which occurred during their time in Hall Council. According to Doyle, each meeting had a dress-up theme. While most of the council, including herself, rarely dressed up, Sullivan took Pajama day to a whole different level.

Sophomore Mary Sullivan and fellow Sheehan Hall RAs dressed up for an event. Sullivan is pictured in the green balloon suit. (Contributed photo)
Sophomore Mary Sullivan and fellow Sheehan Hall RAs dressed up for an event. Sullivan is pictured in the green balloon suit. (Contributed photo)

“She would go all out and wear her pajamas and slippers and bring this gigantic teddy bear that was the size of a small human,” Doyle said. “She would bring it to a lot of meetings and it made a lot for people laugh and smile.”

Brenengen said Sullivan was always a bright and humerous person. She was always ready for light-hearted jokes and pranks, and was always able to brighten the mood. According to Brenengen, she was also known for her idiosyncratic sense of style.

“She was wacky for sure,” Brenengen said. “She wore her rain boots all the time, she had rainbow shorts, and loved to cornrow her hair. She was a beautifully unique person.”

Sullivan was a bright and joyous person who radiated kindness. Whether it was a friend or a stranger, Sullivan greeted people with smiles and compliments. Most importantly, Sullivan constantly strived to help others and brought out the best in every situation, often sacrificing her own time and energy to make a dark day just a little bit brighter.

“She was dedicated, motivated, fun loving, had an amazing sense of humor and she really was always selfless,” Doyle said. “No words will do her justice.”