Fresh, clear water surged from a deep well below the “Oasis” sculpture on Union’s campus and filled elegantly decorated mason jars that were distributed to people attending the sculpture’s dedication on Oct. 1, 2016.
The sculpture is a well with a pump and tree enclosed by a low, circular, stone wall at the top of a hill. A gift from the class of 2014, the sculpture was constructed in honor of two students who passed away that year, one of whom was Olivia Greenlee.
Greenlee, a senior music education major and member of Zeta Tau Alpha, was shot and killed by her fiancé, Charlie Pittman, on February 11, 2014. Shock, rage, and grief filled the minds and hearts of many knew her and were influenced by her vibrant life.
Since then, the hard truth her family and friends have wrestled with is that they may not ever have all the answers to their questions this side of heaven. But the sculpture’s dedication was a chance for them to remember they can find peace in Jesus, the oasis that provides a constant flow of living water to restore and satisfy empty and anguished souls. The sculpture symbolizes this hope in its purest, clearest form.
“This is not a memorial, but a sculpture that celebrates our hope,” said Lee Benson, art professor and designer of “Oasis.” “I’ve had my belly full of death, and have no desire to remind you or anyone of it. All I wanted to do and hope I have done is focus you on our hope.”
Three of Greenlee’s Zeta Tau Alpha sisters performed “Give me Jesus,” one of the last songs Catherine Guthrie, senior elementary education major, remembers Greenlee singing at church before she was killed.
Greenlee’s parents received a bouquet of white flowers and a plaque with a sketch of the sculpture. Her father, Barry Greenlee, said the memorial meant a lot to him.
“It remembers her and the kind of life she had,” he said. ““I hope it will be a witness about her life and the Lord that we know.”
Guthrie knew Greenlee from childhood, as both of their families attended First Baptist Church in Dyersburg. The morning Guthrie learned of the tragedy, she and her Zeta sisters met at their house.
“I remember vividly, we were all sitting on the floor, [and] we prayed for I don’t know how many hours,” Guthrie said. “I remember the whole campus and our chapters coming together in prayer, because we didn’t know what else to do. It was an awful day, but I really feel like that even today, the Lord is glorified through that situation, [because] so many conversations about the Lord have happened [as a result].”
Guthrie said throughout her middle school and high school years, she looked up to Greenlee for her honesty and words of wisdom that she shared with so much grace and genuine kindness.
“When she walked into a room, she always had that smile on her face. Her laugh was contagious to everybody, [and] she never had anything bad to say about anybody,” Guthrie said. “She was proud that she loved the lord and she wanted everyone around her to know that. I’m so thankful for the life that she lived, and even though it was not that long, she lived her life with such purpose, and she fulfilled that purpose.”
Guthrie remembers Greenlee’s laugh. It was the melody of her life, the evidence of a joy so strong that it didn’t leave the earth when she did. That joy is still breathing in the hearts Greenlee touched, the echo of her laughter reminding them not to grieve forever, but to hold onto hope, and to hold onto joy.