A beloved East Central University professor’s impact on the arts in Ada was recognized by the Ada Arts Council Jan. 14 when the group posthumously named Samantha Dillehay the 2017 Outstanding Adan in the Arts.
Dillehay’s girlfriend, Natalie May, accepted the award on her behalf.
In tears, Ada Arts Council President Rebecca Weir told those in attendance that Sam — Dillehay insisted upon being called Sam, as if everyone she met was a new friend — was a driving force in the Ada arts community.
“Sam was everywhere,” Weir said. “She was a Pied Piper of genuine enthusiasm — a bottomless well of kindness and enthusiasm.”
Weir said she wanted Dillehay to be a part of every team she ever assembled.
“Everybody did because Sam had a way of bringing people together and challenging them,” Weir said. “She brought us together this afternoon, and for that, I am so grateful.”
Pausing to regain her composure on several occasions, it was clear to all present that she saw Dillehay as more than an outstanding artist, more than an enthusiastic supporter of the arts in general. She was talking about her friend, and those in attendance were nodding at every kind word, as if to signify they, too, had seen these qualities in Sam — Sam was their friend, too.
“Some people shine a little brighter — Sam Dillehay was a supernova, wherever she was,” Weir continued. “A brilliant artist in her own right, Sam’s tireless work in the Ada community as an educator and advocate for the arts and the artists is a legacy that will last far beyond her 34 years.”
‘A legacy far beyond her 34 years’
Dillehay clearly left a lasting impression on everyone she met — an impression many of her ECU students said kept them going through some of their darkest hours.
She met many of those students outside of the classroom, working on arts-related projects, like the Chickasaw Arts Academy. Those young people were often vulnerable — struggling to find their voice and their mode of artistic expression at a time when life itself is in a constant state of flux. In Samantha Dillehay — Sam, as she insisted — those young people found more than a teacher, more than a mentor. They found a friend.
Sam’s influence on those young lives would propel many of them into the arts, some right here in the Ada area. Sam’s fingerprints were all over events that helped shape and promote the arts in Ada. From direct involvement on boards, through ECU arts projects and her students and behind the scenes in the lives of those she touched, personally. By all accounts, it seems Sam Dillehay was a living, breathing part of the arts in Ada.
Tragically, Sam’s life was cut short Sept. 28, 2017, when she lost a short, sudden battle with an aggressive form of cancer. Her loss came as a shock to her students and was keenly felt throughout the campus and arts communities.