Inside Dunn Cemetery there’s only one gravestone with a colorful ceramic planter behind it. A Lego creation and a sea shell sit on top of the stone. It’s quiet inside the tiny cemetery in the middle of campus, passersby are blocked off from the 30 gravestones or so by a perimeter of stacked limestone.
Almost 2,000 miles away from the still cemetery, Craig Medlyn rests at the summit of Mount Shasta in California.
He’s climbed to an elevation of 14,179 feet with a guide and a team of climbers for four days through heavy snow. He’s climbed there in the memory of one name, the name on the gravestone in Dunn Cemetery.
IU alum Hunter Wroblewski died a year ago in a car accident in Florida. Sitting at a traffic light in a 35-mile-an-hour zone, the 27-year-old was struck by a drunk driver going 107 miles an hour.
His mother, Nancy Wroblewski, remembers seeing the police officer show up at her workplace in Bloomington. He insisted on a private room to talk to Nancy. When he delivered the news, she understood why.
“I had my hand on the desk,” she said.
The police officer asked if she needed anything.
“I said, ‘Well, you’re going to need to take me home.’”
Now, a year later, Medlyn, the senior director at HR Business Partner, decided to dedicate his climb of Mount Shasta to Hunter’s memory.
Nancy and Medlyn are old friends. They grew up in Bloomington together, living six houses apart on the same street, Meadowbrook Avenue. Their mothers were in the same bridge club. They rode the same bus. Went to the same school.
Nancy moved away to Guam for 20 years, while Medlyn spent 30 years in Baltimore. But they both found themselves back in Bloomington.
Medlyn says he didn’t know Hunter well. He was in Baltimore as Hunter was growing up. But that didn’t stop him from making the ceramic planter that rests at the head of Hunter’s grave.
“He’s got a huge heart,” Nancy said. “He’s just that kind of person.”
He wanted to do something more, though. Medlyn began planning for the climb about six months ago. Trips up Mount Shasta fill up fast, so he had to make his reservation early. And mountaineering takes extreme endurance, he said. In preparation for the climb, Medlyn worked out six days a week, doing a combination of weightlifting and cardio.
“My sense is that Hunter had a sense of purpose in his life and I think climbing kind of reflects that,” he said. “He was an Eagle scout and a graduate of a competitive program and none of that happens without focus.”
Medlyn flew out on July 13 to meet five other people to climb the mountain, the second highest peak in the Cascade Range after Mount Rainier.
At 12,000 feet, Medlyn took a crampon, a sharp traction device attached to shoes, to the face when another climber swung his foot wide to cross over a rope. Laughing off the small puncture wound with his fellow climbers, he kept climbing.
Because it’s safest to climb when the snow is coldest, mountaineering is predominantly a night sport, Medlyn said. He started climbing early in the morning and finished well before noon, when things start to heat up. He caught the sunrise each morning.
He sent Nancy a picture of the sunrise. “My heart really just smiles,” she said.
Then in early morning of Sunday morning, Medlyn reached the summit. It had been exactly a year since Hunter died.
“The summit is just the cherry on top,” he said. “It’s really all about living in the moment and experiencing the climb itself. It’s not just about the summit, it’s about being surrounded by that epic beauty.”
He said he thought about Hunter while he climbed.
“We all live our lives at the end of a very long thread that can be cut at any time,” Medlyn said. “You might as well live your life without fear. You got to get out and do things and not be afraid, and I think that was the kind of life that Hunter represented.”
Nancy concurs. Hunter traveled all over Asia to Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo and elsewhere. He lived and worked in Indianapolis, Colorado and Florida. “In 27 years, he lived about nine lives,” she said.
After Hunter died, all 18 women from Nancy’s workout group came to her house to comfort her. People she didn’t even know stopped at the wrought iron gate in her front yard to place flowers for Hunter. Friends from Hunter’s dorm, Collins LLC, reached out to Nancy to share memories of Hunter, who studied informatics at IU.
“Bloomington has a big place in my heart,” she said. “People ask me, don’t you want to move away sometime? I’ll never leave Bloomington. Especially after this happening in my life, I really understand what a wonderful community this is.”
On the anniversary of Hunter’s death, Nancy said she had phone calls and messages from good friends. Her husband was there to comfort her. She was with her grandson, who’s one year old and looks like Hunter. She sees some of Hunter’s gregarious personality in him.
Hunter was buried in Dunn Cemetery, the cemetery next to Beck Chapel on the IU campus. It’s technically not owned by IU, though. It’s owned and operated by the Dunn family for which it’s named.
Only members of that family can be buried there. Nancy’s great-great-great-great-grandfather, Austin Seward—the man who made the fish on top of the Monroe County Courthouse— was buried there with his wife Jennet Irvin. Her parents and aunt are buried next to Hunter.
“I hope he knows that he’s in the graveyard because he’d get a big kick out of that,” she said. “All that history does make you feel very grounded and rooted and very proud to be a member of this community.”
Hunter has become part of the fabric of history that makes up Bloomington. But he’s still very much part of the present.
“His life was cut short way too early, but he hasn’t been forgotten,” Medlyn said. “His memory is still on the lives on in a lot of people.”
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