Julianna Gehant loved children, country music and, most recently, ballroom dancing.
The elementary education major also loved her tight-knit Mendota, Ill., family and her homeland.
Before coming to NIU last September, she logged 12 years in the U.S. Army and the Army Reserves. As a Sergeant First Class in an engineering unit, the 32-year-old served a tour of Bosnia. It was during her military years that Gehant earned some experience as a teacher and found a career path.
“We were the same age. We were at the same place in our lives. We clicked right away, and I’m heartbroken,” said Jennifer Webster, a friend from the NIU Veterans Club. “We described her as a ray of sunshine. She lit up a room, and everyone had more fun when she was around. We’re very sad. Very sad.”
Gehant was “smart, kind and conscientious,” said Betsy Smith, her academic adviser in the College of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning.
“She would have been a really good teacher. Because she was older, she really knew for sure that teaching was something she wanted to do, and she was willing to put aside everything to pursue that dream,” Smith said. “She was taking a science class so she could better prepare to teach science when so many people don’t like science. She went above and beyond.”
Members of the NIU Veterans Club gathered the morning of Friday, Feb. 15, to lay a wreath at the Veteran’s Memorial Flagpole, located near Altgeld Hall, in Gehant’s honor. They plan a remembrance service soon and will add a plaque to the flagpole base in her memory.
“It’s truly a great loss to the world that she’s no longer with us,” Webster said. “I want everyone to know her name. I want everyone to know her face and how wonderful she was.”
“She was an intelligent, highly motivated young lady who served her country and came back. To be lost in this manner is such a tragedy,” said Jon Lehuta, adviser to the NIU Veterans Club. “We’re very solemn. We’re a pretty close group. We know each other. The military bond makes us somewhat like brothers right out of the box. This really hurts.”
Junior, age 32