She looks at her children and sees her husband. Ava has his eyes. And Aiden has his smile.
While students at University of Michigan-Dearborn, Andrea (Gully) Ash (’97 B.A.) met Ally Ash (’97 B.A.) at a Greek life social event in 1995—Andrea was a member of the Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority and Ally was a member of Delta Sigma Phi Fraternity.
She said they connected from the moment they shook hands.
“It’s a very good memory—on that night, our energy just clicked,” said Andrea. “I hope my kids experience that someday.”
Reminiscing on those early days, Andrea describes Ally as very popular. He owned a disc jockey business called DJ Alley Cat, and DJ’d special events, weddings and UM-Dearborn Greek social events.
“Everything started here,” said Andrea, former UM-Dearborn director of development, College of Engineering and Computer Science. “We flourished and grew and had so much fun on this campus.”
The two married in 2002 and settled into their lives in Metro Detroit.
But their lives changed in the winter of 2013. Ally couldn’t shake what he thought were flu-like symptoms and tiredness. They learned from his doctor that Ally had aggressive colon cancer, and he passed away September 21, 2014, just shy of his 41st birthday.
Andrea and her two children, Ava, now 11, and Aiden, now 9, have maintained their family traditions with Andrea as a single mom, still grieving for her husband.
“I have a job to do and I have to raise these kids and show them that life is worth living…to be brave, take chances, learn how to love and have healthy, strong relationships,” she said.
But she’s also helping to keep Ally’s memory alive—and not just within her own family.
Andrea has established the Ally Ash “DJ Alley Cat” Memorial Endowed Scholarship to provide two scholarships annually to outstanding student members of the Greek life community at UM-Dearborn––one sorority member and one fraternity member.
Andrea chose the scholarship name to honor her husband and their love for Greek life. “With so many professional and social networks in the Greek community, it really carried us forward throughout every stage of our lives,” she said. “And it provided us with such a strong foundation for success.”
In addition to Andrea’s endowed gift, during Giving Blueday on December 1, 2015––the university’s annual 24-hour online giving campaign––the Ally Ash “DJ Alley Cat” Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund raised $6,000 through crowdfunding. “It was a great opportunity to use the power of networking and our social spheres in the Greek community to bring awareness to the scholarship and encourage our peers to take part in philanthropy on campus,” she said.
Andrea has always found meaning in giving back to her alma mater and hopes to set an example for her children.
“Now I need to be the role model for my kids so they can grow up with that ‘give-to-others’ mindset that Ally and I shared,” she said.
While Andrea and the kids still are adjusting to life without Ally, Andrea said the family is growing stronger in the process.
“You have to dig deep and push yourself forward,” said Andrea. “There’s a whole big world out there and we’re going to go see it.”
To that end, Andrea, Ava and Aiden are moving to Dallas, Texas, later this month to be closer to family.
“I’m trying to reposition our lives so we can have new adventures together,” Andrea said, adding that she will miss her supportive team in the Office of Institutional Advancement.
And although her experience is a stark reminder that life can change in an instant, Andrea smiles through the tears, saying, “In the end, I’m most proud of my kids and that I had a great marriage…I got my happily ever after.”
If you would like to make a donation to the Ally Ash “DJ Alley Cat” Memorial Endowed Scholarship visit the link or contact the Office of Institutional Advancement at 313-593-5130.