Strong winds gusting through a southern Ohio state forest Wednesday afternoon uprooted a tree that fell on the tent of Meredith Wilkie, killing the 24-year-old Ohio State graduate.
“She was a caring person, who was always for the underdog,” said Charles Wilkie, Meredith’s father. “She was a quiet person, but knew how to be vocal when it was something she believed in.”
Wilkie was camping in Shawnee State Forest in Scioto County with friend Andrew Roland, when winds of up to 76 mph ripped through the area.
According to the Shawnee State incident report, Roland, who exited the tent to investigate a cracking noise, witnessed powerful winds topple a 70-foot-tall scarlet oak tree onto the tent with Wilkie inside.
Heidi Hetzel-Evans, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesperson, said though the tree was healthy, its immense height made it susceptible for its canopy to catch the full brunt of the wind gusts.
Wilkie, an only child, was a 2005 graduate of Fairfield High School, where she played soccer for four years and clarinet in a woodwind ensemble.
While Wilkie had long been involved in running and cycling, hiking and camping were activities she had begun participating in over the past four years.
Wilkie graduated from OSU in 2009 with a degree in journalism.
At OSU, Wilkie wrote stories with a notable concentration on human interest for The Lantern’s campus section. Her articles included topics such as cancer prevention programs, acceptability of tattoos in the workplace and fiscal advantages of new business establishment in the South Campus Gateway.
Family and friends said Wilkie’s focus on stories with human interest elements created tangible extensions of the warm and caring feelings she expressed to those she met.
“She loved her time at OSU; she thought writing for The Lantern was just the neatest thing,” Charles said.
Both her peers and faculty said she was not afraid to write outside her comfort zone and challenge herself or her audience.
“She was the kind of student who was usually quiet in the classroom, but when she had something to say, it was very insightful, and made you stop and ponder,” said Nicole Kraft, a journalism lecturer at OSU, who instructed Wilkie in her magazine writing class. “She wasn’t thinking of just the grade, per se, or what it took to get an ‘A’. She was really striving as a person to find what path she could take to be the best that she could be at whatever she did.”
Gerrick Kennedy, a staff music writer for The Los Angeles Times, worked as editor-in-chief of The Lantern during Wilkie’s time with the paper.
“There was a lot of promise in her work that unfortunately she didn’t have a chance to continue. She had a lot of talent to offer to the world,” Kennedy said. “It’s always sad to hear about a death, but it’s especially tough to lose anybody from the Buckeye and Lantern family.”
Wilkie was residing in Columbus, working at the downtown law firm of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease as an assistant librarian in the law library, a job she acquired after graduating from OSU.
Wilkie was also pursuing a master’s degree in library science through online courses at the University of Pittsburgh. Family said she had found her calling and whole-heartedly invested herself in becoming a full-time research librarian after obtaining her degree.
“She was just in so many activities that everyone here has been affected by her death,” Charles said. “She’s got friends that she probably hasn’t seen in four or five years coming from out of town and across the nation to be here for her. She always cared for her friends.”
Public visitation hours will be held Monday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Avance Funeral Home, 4976 Winton Road in Fairfield.
Funeral services will be Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Burial will be private.