In the 5th grade, I fell off of my scooter after hitting the slightly dipped curb from the street and broke my wrist. I remember running right past my mom without a thought, and straight into my dad’s arms. I wrapped my short arms around him as best and as tightly as I could and buried my tear-filled face into him. I was so scared and didn’t know how to fight the pain of my wrist but there is just something about a hug from your dad that makes all the pain, rain, tears, and hurting quickly vanish. Knowing I was with my dad reminded me I would never have to worry about a thing ever again because he always had my back.
November 24, 2010 is a day I would have killed for a hug from my dad. That date will forever be one where the world grew much darker and quieter for the many people who knew and loved my dad, Erick Montgomery Jr. This year, 2018, is the eighth year marking his passing and eight years since Oregon State paid tribute to the remembrance of his life during the second quarter of the Civil War game at home against University of Oregon on December 4, 2010. As these major events are both getting closer, emotions are heightened for those who continue to mourn as we remember the very special man that we lost but stay smiling as we cherish the lasting moments that we will forever carry with us.
As a former student, football player and Oregon State Alumni, Erick Montgomery Jr.’s time at Oregon State started in 1983 when he moved from California to further his education and continue his athletic career. Having grown up always involved in running track and playing football, this was a natural path for him. Being far from home, his teammates quickly became his family and they all remained close and in regular contact until his last days. OSU is where all the pieces came together for Erick and shaped the mold for the distinguished career and the life, he would set out to have.
As a freshman he would meet Teresa, the woman he would call his future wife and the mother of his two daughters. They met at an OSU dorm dance, which no longer occurs, on a Saturday night. The dances were held at the dining halls where underage students could go to socialize and dance for $2. He got her phone number, but she already knew who he was through her love of football and attending all home games.
He was a red-shirt freshman, then his sophomore year he was slotted as a running back and also on special teams. He went on to play four seasons in these positions.
As a student, he was a Health and Physical Education major (exercise sports science/kinesiology) with a concentration in commercial industrial fitness management and a minor in Sociology. At that time, he thought he would end up managing a gym or becoming a coach of some sort. He got into bodybuilding as a hobby, impressed and inspired by the art of it. He attended competitions, and this further fueled his motivation for wanting to run a gym of his own. After completing his senior internship at The Boys and Girls Club his passions and focus changed.
He had the desire to be a positive influence and to build supportive relationships with youth. Having moved back to San Jose, CA after graduating, these attributes led him to his first job at EE’s Residential Group Homes. Both of these experiences piqued his interest in the court system and juvenile probation work. The owner of EE’s was a retired Probation Officer who acted as a mentor to him and soon encouraged him to apply to become a probation officer in Santa Clara County.
He worked at Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall and San Mateo County Juvenile Hall before moving back to Oregon and continuing at the Multnomah County Juvenile Detention and Clackamas County Juvenile Intake before transferring to the adult side of the corrections system. After a lot of hard work and dedication in completing the training, he was sworn in as a Multnomah County Probation and Parole Officer.
Having deep ties with the African American community within the system, he specialized in working with those involved in gangs. Work was his life and it showed. The dedication and hours he put in around the clock, on a day-to-day basis were admirable in and of itself. My dad touched the lives of nearly everyone he met. His positive light and tough-love approach were just his ways of showing that he cared, this was prevalent not only in his personal life but in his work life as well.
The loss of their Parole Officer inspired many of his clients to truly commit to bettering their lives and staying on the right path. They quickly came to understand that this was all he ever wanted for them. However common or uncommon it is, handfuls of his clients and former clients attended his funeral service and expressed to the abundance of people filling the room, what he meant to them and how he single-handedly changed their lives.
In January of 2011, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Best Parole Officer. My mom and I attended the ceremony and received his award. At the time I wasn’t fully aware of the honor this award carried. But looking back, I see how amazing this honor was and know that my dad couldn’t have been a better fit as the recipient.
My family were football season ticket-holders way back when the old bookstore still existed, the terrace was still the crappy end zone, and well… the Beavs still weren’t that great. But there was nothing like taking the walk from where the SEC stands now, to Reser Stadium. It was the longest walk of my short little life, but in my defense, we were always having to stop and wait for my dad to finish talking to one person he knew after the next because he literally couldn’t step into our front yard without running into someone he knew.
Getting 9-year-old Savannah to agree to go to the football games was not an easy feat. The price of my attendance always came promised in the form of hot chocolate and elephant ears, and I’d be set. I always caught myself in heavy observance of the crowd surrounding me rather than the game itself, since I had no understanding of football yet.
At the end of the game, packing around my stadium seat, drowning in my plastic poncho, with my hand engulfed in my dad’s, I struggled to not get pulled back into the sea of soaked and disappointed beaver fans. Each post-game memory consists of hallways leading to the bathroom in Gill Coliseum or the MU. These were such foreign places to me at the time that I never remembered where it was that we used to go until I found myself standing in those same hallways, years later as a student at Oregon State. And suddenly, such foreign places to me at the time had this ability to continuously bring me back to a moment I long for, where things were easy and getting my hands on an elephant ear was the most important task to accomplish for the day.
When applying to and considering my attendance to Oregon State, I remember feeling like this was the only place that truly felt like a home to me; it had been a place I knew so well for so much of my life.
As a freshman, I often found myself deep in thought about what I would make of my time here at OSU. Being the shy introvert that I am, I wanted to push myself to be more open to new things and to fully experience all that college had to offer. I wanted to make my dad proud. He had always told me that he never worried about me, in the sense that he knew I had a good head on my shoulders and that I knew exactly what I wanted out of life.
College was a bigger, newer world for me and it took some time to dive into it. Having been through the trauma of losing my dad only three years prior, I faced a lot of difficulty within my courses and in moments of my social life. Thoughts of my dad and bouts of missing him often pulled me away from being present. After all, it was hard not to feel alienated when no one else seemed to be fighting such a large void in their life.
My first Dad’s weekend was unexpected and a major defining moment where I got a taste of how blatantly bittersweet the absence of my dad was. My closest friends had already joined their sororities that fall term, and since I didn’t join mine until the following winter term, it was clear that I was on my own, or so I thought. I got a call from my dad’s lifelong best friend, Lavance (LV), who was also my God Father. He said he was in town for the game and picked me up from my dorm. Feelings of relief settled upon me. Finally, there was someone who understood how I would be feeling this weekend. Within their college friend group, there were two other children that attended OSU also, so meeting up with them felt natural. Looking back, it feels so special to me that I got lucky enough to have the dad that I did. For his friends to make a point to look out for me when he couldn’t, meant everything to me. Through the sad feelings of not being able to experience any of my dad’s weekends with my dad, I learned to find a comfort in knowing that his friends would come to my rescue and so strongly kept his presence alive.
I have always had the ability to find strength in overcoming hardship with a positive mindset, and with so many up and down experiences like these sprinkled through the rest of my college career, I did just that. Being in Corvallis and attending Oregon State is something that will always make me feel closer to my dad, in our own special way.
In times when I found myself questioning what I was even doing with my life and questioning my own judgment every time I changed my major, I reminded myself that there was a reason why I was here at this point in my life. I reminded myself of how proud my dad would be of me for pushing through and continuing to learn and explore my abilities.
There’s a moment I go back to when I overheard my dad and Uncle John talking about me. I was in the seventh grade and we had been visiting my uncle in Arizona, I was falling sleeping on the pull-out couch in the living room while my dad and uncle talked in the kitchen. They both have two daughters, so they went on about when we would all have husbands, what they might be like and how they’d finally be able to get rid of us. I heard my dad say how he felt sorry for the poor guy I’d end up with because I am such a tough woman and know how to hold my own. My dad laughed and said he knows he’ll be rich too, with the expensive taste I have. I smiled, thinking to myself how right he was. I love that I’ve kept that with me because it reminds me how highly my dad thought of me and how well he knew me.
After what felt like hours of standing in line making small talk with people I hadn’t seen in months, trying to keep my cool as my knees are buckling, with the sun beaming down on me, the bagpipes were getting closer and this was our cue that it was almost time. Walking from the front of Dixon Rec. to Reser Stadium felt like the longest walk of my short little life. Mostly because of the wedge heels I was wearing, but long nonetheless.
We got to the entrance of the football field and stopped again. Mentally preparing to take it all in, and trying not to trip and fall, I stepped on to the turf. Having walked the length across the entire football field and seeing how many people were packed into those seats, to suddenly arrive at my designated chair for the next few hours, felt like the feeling right after giving a presentation in class that you’re really nervous about. Where you sit back down and realize you had a mini-blackout moment and have no idea how you just made it through any of that; a metaphor for my college career.
The next ten plus minutes consisted of everyone twisting and turning to stare out in the crowd for their people. I found mine instantly, and they found me too. I felt like I was the only student on the field the way they automatically clapped and cheered when our eyes finally met.
My whole support system was there for me; my mom and grandma, my boyfriend and best friend, my sister, and nephew. No matter how happy and proud of myself I was, I couldn’t help but stop a slump for a moment, as I’ll always still be missing my biggest fan. Though I couldn’t see my dad smiling down on me, I felt his presence and knew he’d been there every step of the way.
I touched the letter stickers I put on the brim of my cap, my dad’s initials, ‘E’ ‘M’, and Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray, Ph.D. takes the stage:
“Members of the class of 2018, members of the faculty, staff, family, and friends of the graduates, welcome to the 149th Oregon State University Commencement…”