NORMAL — In the semester that Benjamin Allison worked at Illinois State University's student radio station, he made such an impact on fellow students that his adviser said, “There's a part of us that feels cheated that we didn't have more time with him.”
Described as upbeat and always bringing a smile to those around him, Allison died Tuesday at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center, three days after being hit by a car in uptown Normal.
“He was even optimistic on days we had a test,” said Steven McWhorter, a junior from Aledo who worked with Allison as a deejay at the student radio station, WZND.
“He was the first friend I made here and he made me feel like this is the family it is,” added McWhorter, a mass media major.
WZND adviser Deb Lesser and others described Allison as someone who did whatever needed to be done, from taking early morning broadcast shifts, handling bills to bringing in sandwiches.
“He was willing to do anything. He said, 'I want to learn everything I can,'” Lesser said. “He was so much fun to be around.”
Allison, 20, a sophomore communication major from Crystal Lake, transferred to ISU from McHenry County College in August and joined WZND shortly thereafter.
Another student, Joshua Dunn, 21, of Normal, has been charged with drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident involving a death in connection with Allison's death. He remains in the county jail. He faces 4 to 15 years in prison if convicted of the felony charge.
State’s Attorney Jason Chambers said Normal police are continuing their investigation into the accident and additional charges may be filed.
McLean County Coroner Kathleen Davis said Allison was an organ donor through the Gift of Hope.
One way his friends at the station intend to honor him is through a public information campaign to encourage others to sign up as organ donors, said WZND's news and sports operations director, Emily Pomorski, a senior in broadcast journalism from Mokena.
In a message to students, faculty and staff sent after learning of Allison's death, ISU President Larry Dietz said, “Many people will lead better lives through Benjamin's gift as an organ donor.”
Calling it “a sad day for the Illinois State University family,” Dietz said “Tragedies like this remind us that life is precious and that we relay on each other for support. … It is important to remember that we are never alone and that by sharing our thoughts and feelings we will begin to heal.”
That's what his co-workers at WZND — which Dietz described as “his second family” — were doing Tuesday, sharing stories and hugs while putting up a bulletin board in Allison's honor.
“It's tough, very difficult here,” said Lesser, the station's adviser for 30 years. “We want to be together.”
Allison also was a big hockey fan since he was a toddler growing up in Detroit, friends and family said. He played the game and officiated.
One story shared by friends was the time a hockey game was about to start and Allison was running the public address system, but no matter which button he pushed, the National Anthem wouldn't play.
“So he picked up the microphone and sang the National Anthem,” Lesser said.
“I just remember being little, all of us, playing with Play Doh and him playing hockey in the hallway,” said a cousin, Brittany Smith of Crystal Lake. “He'd play by himself, have hockey fights by himself, put himself in the penalty box — which was the couch — and spit on the floor, just like you saw on TV.”
Smith and Allison, an only child, were born a few months apart. They went to Crystal Lake South High School, where he was starting goalie for the hockey team, and together they attended McHenry County College before he transferred to ISU and turned to work as a travel referee.
He was close to his seven cousins, most of whom live in Detroit, home of his beloved Red Wings. The team has agreed to send mementos to the family and will list Allison's name on the electronic signboard, Smith said.
On Saturday, Smith's family headed to Normal after Allison's parents arrived at Advocate BroMenn. “He’s just a great person, very caring; you could see that from the 100 people who showed up to his hospital room,” Smith said. “His bed was absolutely surrounded by his friends. They were there constantly. ... They came to let Ben know how much they loved him.”