Occupational therapy graduate student remembered


Occupational therapy graduate student Evan Willman, 23, died in a car crash during the early morning hours of Thursday, Dec. 29.

His funeral mass was held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 3, at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Saginaw.

According to a statement released by Midland County Sheriff Scott Stephenson, Willman was a passenger in a truck driven by a 22-year-old Midland man. The driver pulled over so Willman could get out and relieve himself, the sheriff said. The driver then drove away as a joke, and Willman ran ahead and jumped on the hood of the truck, Stephenson said.

The driver drove forward for a distance before braking, but Willman was unable to maintain his grip on the truck and fell from the vehicle onto the road, striking his head, Stephenson said.

Another passenger in the truck, a 25-year-old Marlette man, provided immediate medical aid. Rescue personnel were dispatched to render assistance, but Willman was pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver, whose name is being withheld pending arraignment, was a 22-year-old Midland Township man who was charged with operating while intoxicated after the incident. He is being held on a $50,000 bond.

Willman was engaged to Mary Iott, a recent alum of the University, and their wedding date was set for next summer.

Hannah Krzyske, an occupational therapy graduate student, said that she and her classmates will always remember Willman’s energetic and positive attitude.

“He always tried to make everyone laugh and lighten the mood, especially when we were all stressed,” she said. “He was a big advocate for class potlucks, and for our spring class last semester, he organized it so the different groups would bring breakfast each class. He even made coffee and made pancakes for all 30 of us. He also always wore plaid flannels for all of our Friday classes and organized Flannel Fridays.”

Allie Hinds, also an occupational therapy graduate student, shared similar sentiments.

“Evan had a personality that was one-of-a-kind, and [he] put others before himself,” she said. “His jokes and personality will truly be missed, as he was extremely great at relating towards others.”

Assistant professor of occupational therapy Jill Innes said she first met Willman in the fall of 2015, when he started in the graduate program.

He was enrolled in two of her courses, psychological assessment and treatment of mental health conditions, and she said it was a great experience to have him in both classes.

“I quickly learned how bright, positive and motivating Evan was to his peers in the classroom,” Innes said. “He had a natural ability to brighten any room, and he often encouraged others. Evan was a big proponent of celebrating the class’ success with an occasional potluck, and he had a resilient attitude that made him successful in graduate school.”

Innes said she traveled for an interprofessional study abroad trip to Leon, Mexico, with Evan, his fiancé and other students from the occupational therapy, kinesiology and health science programs.

She said that while there, Willman helped navigate through Leon, was eager to learn and loved meeting the students from the University of Guanajuato.

“Evan cared deeply and appreciated learning the culture of others abroad,” Innes said. “He beamed with pride when provided with the opportunity to cook steak and chicken on a farmer’s ranch in Leon.”

She said he made great strides in both mental health classes, and it was evident in his work with community members, as he treated his clients with compassion, dignity and quality of life.

“Evan was a natural leader and had all the potential of being an incredible leader, mentor, and occupational therapist,” Innes said. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have him in class, learn from him abroad and to see him work with community members with respect and dignity.”

Similarly, Hinds said Willman would have made an excellent occupational therapist.

“I think that, based off of the personality that Evan had, he could have brought the best out of anybody and related to clients in any possible way,” she said. “He is the definition of a true friend and will be truly missed by many.”

Occupational therapy graduate student Cody Zeitz said Willman was just a good person who would go out of his way to converse with people as if they were lifelong friends and he had a positive personality that influenced those around him and could change one’s mood for the better with only a moment of interaction.

Zeitz said that while the OT program required a business attitude, Willman never let it cover who he was as a person.

“As for the OT program, we often follow a strict professional demeanor,” he said. “Evan wasn’t scared to go outside of those boundaries and let his personality shine through. Making fellow classmates smile, laugh, and letting them constantly know that we are in this together.”

Zeitz added, “He influenced me personally by helping me recognize the importance in setting aside time from my busy life to enjoy the activities I love with the people that are important to me.”

Krzyske said Willman made the occupational therapy class a better community and made fellow students feel as though they were in a tight-knit family.

“He was passionate about helping others, and you could tell he really thought outside the box to help his clients when he was at fieldwork,” she said.

Willman’s classmates have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to cover expenses associated with his funeral: https://www.gofundme.com/evan-williams-funeral-expenses.