By Mike Linn
Those who knew Eric Hodgest say they don’t need his picture to see his face. Or to remember his smile. Or even his charm.
Still, Hodgest’s photo, along with those of three other Eastern New Mexico University students, will be displayed on an altar today in ENMU’s Campus Union Building Ballroom.
Hodgest, a former ENMU football player who died Sunday morning in a car wreck in Amarillo, is one of four Eastern students who have died since mid-July. They will be remembered from noon to 2 p.m. today at a “Day of the Dead” ceremony at the CUB.
“(I’ll miss the most) Eric’s smile, his personality,” said Rosalind Curtis, the director of ENMU’s African American Affairs. “I saw him the Friday before he died, so it’s kind of hard…”
The others are Rayla Porraz, an ENMU student who died on Sept. 19 in a car accident near the Roosevelt/Curry County line; Rolland “Rojo” Ellsworth, a freshman who died in a bull-riding accident on Oct. 2; and Amanda Tenorio, who at 21 died at a railroad crossing near Melrose in mid-July.
On Thursday afternoon, ENMU students had already begun decorating the altar with symbols of each of the fallen. Among the decorations were heart-shaped candles, a stuffed ENMU greyhound, dolls, an Eastern football and helmet, a practice jersey with Hodgest’s number and an American flag bearing a bow-and-arrow toting an American Indian on a horse.
The decorations represent a facet of each individual’s life, from their background and heritage to their talents.
“This is more like an honor (for these students) and to remember the good things rather than feeling sad about it,” said Erika Talamante, who works in the Hispanic Affairs Office and added memorial items for students to remember Tenorio and Porraz.
Talamante said in Mexico the ceremony involves bathing the family member’s grave and is more like a festival than a funeral.
ENMU students and faculty have endured many deaths in a short time span, and they said they can’t remember the time four students died in such a brief period.
The Day of the Dead ceremony is an ancient tradition initiated by the Taino Indians, a Puerto Rican tribe, which believed the dead would come back to life if they provided food and offerings near their burial grounds, according to Diana Cordova, ENMU’s director of Multicultural Affairs.
The tradition was then passed on to the Hispanic culture.
“It’s a family get together, because the whole family plans this,” Cordova said. “It’s about remembering those who have passed away but in a joyful way, not so much saddened.”
Cordova figures about 100 to 150 people will attend. The Day of the Dead is an annual tradition usually held on Nov. 2, but since that day was a Sunday, ENMU officials opted to change the day.