Declan Sullivan’s death at Notre Dame made national headlines, but his family remembers an extraordinary young man.
“He marched to his own drummer,” his father, Barry Sullivan, said. “He was a rare individual.”
Sullivan, a 20-year-old business major from Long Grove, was killed on October 27, 2010. He worked for the school’s athletic department and was filming the university’s football practice when a strong gust of wind pushed him off a scissor lift.
“Sometimes we think: Can this really be true? We can still hear him. We can still picture him,” Declan’s father said. “This is not something you ever get over, you don’t put it behind you.”
But, the Sullivan’s found a way to create something good out of unbearable grief. Next week, more than 700 people are expected to celebrate Declan’s life at Navy Pier. The money raised will go to Horizons For Youth, a Chicago non-profit that helps 100-plus low-income children with scholarships, mentoring and college training.
The organization's building is located next to Old St. Pat’s Church, where Declan and his two siblings were baptized.
“Yes, we want them to remember Declan and if they knew Declan how he made them laugh, if they didn't, maybe make them wish that they had. But we want people to feel that it's an evening of celebration,” Barry Sullivan said.
He says the accident was avoidable, but they do not blame Notre Dame for Declan's death. Sullivan says that has also been part of their healing process. They’ve never filed a lawsuit against Notre Dame or received a financial settlement.
“I found it easier to think: It's an accident, nobody purposefully did something to cause this,” Barry Sullivan said.
He also says his conversations with Notre Dame immediately after Declan’s death helped his family.
“We have the luxury of looking back and saying there was nothing we could’ve done. What they feel at the university, on top of the pain and loss, is responsibility. We feel sorry for them.”
Notre Dame was fined by the Indiana Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Among the steps Notre Dame took were launching a safety campaign and using a permanently installed camera system to film practices. They also made a donation to the Declan Sullivan Memorial Fund, a 501c3 non-profit.
“Subconsciously, maybe consciously, I’m trying not to be angry about this,” Barry Sullivan said. “Let's try to learn what can be learned and find whatever good can be found.”
No Ordinary Evening will be held on Saturday, April 28, at Navy Pier. The evening will feature dinner, dancing, live and silent auctions, and live music.
For more information on the fund and the event, visit declandrummsullivanfund.org.