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Ouachita Stories


Seth McDowell remembered for authenticity, kindness, inclusivity

Seth McDowellAugust 04, 2023 - Office of Communications & Marketing

Seth McDowell, 22, of Benton, Ark., died July 30. A graduate of Bauxite High School, McDowell was working toward an English and secondary education double major at Ouachita Baptist University and was a former member of the Tiger football team. His authenticity, sense of humor and genuine interest in others made an indelible impact on those who knew him.

Seth McDowell

Seth McDowell

Jennifer Burkett Pittman discovered this to be true the first time McDowell took one of her classes in Ouachita’s Department of Languages & Literature. Pittman serves as department chair.

“On the first day of class, I asked students to introduce themselves by naming something they didn’t like. Seth’s answer has stuck with me: ‘I’m Seth McDowell, I’m from Bauxite and I don’t like pineapple.’ It was a silly, but clearly effective, answer,” Pittman recalled. “In the ensuing semesters, I also learned that Seth was unabashedly honest and unwilling to make excuses. He was pragmatic as he wrote about earning his degree and becoming a high school English teacher and coach. His reflective writing, especially, was top-notch. A few of us in the department felt he should add ‘writer’ to those goals.

“Ultimately, to know Seth was to be charmed by his authenticity,” she added. “I join his family and friends in grieving this tragic, tragic loss.”

McDowell was “absolutely loved by everyone he met because of his charm,” said Gary Storment, a Christian studies/biblical studies & theology Ouachita graduate who became friends with McDowell during summer practices on the basketball court at Bauxite High School when the two were 14 years old.

“We immediately hit it off,” Storment remembered. “Seth was the most easygoing, simple, kind man I’ve personally known. It was impossible to make him mad and easy to grab his attention. At Bauxite, he was the golden boy. Everyone wanted to be his friend.”

McDowell’s circle of friends continued to grow at Ouachita, where he and Storment pledged the Beta Beta men’s social club together. Josh Wallace, an engineering physics major from Arkadelphia, Ark., was a member of their pledge class, too. As an Arkadelphia Badger, Wallace had played high school football against McDowell; as Ouachita Tigers, he and McDowell were teammates.

“When I think about Seth, the first thing that comes to mind is how caring and inclusive he was to others. He always found ways to include and respect everyone around him, to reach out to people who weren’t the most outgoing,” Wallace said. “He could make anyone around him smile and laugh, even if that meant making fun of himself at times.”

Kenta Jones, a kinesiology graduate pursuing a master’s degree in exercise science at Ouachita in the fall, was a Tiger freshman defensive back in July 2019 when he met McDowell – also a freshman defensive back. Because they played the same position, they taught each other the coverages they were assigned to learn.

“Seth and I were from two completely different cultures, but he never judged me for anything I did. He always accepted me for being me, no matter what others would think of him,” Jones said. “Even when I called him ‘Seff’ instead of ‘Seth’ the first time I met him, he never corrected me because of my accent. He told everyone to call him ‘Seff’ instead.”

He added, “Seth was such a determined and kindhearted person. No matter what happened to him, you would never know because he would always bring the energy in whatever room he walked in.”

Ashleigh Harris, Ouachita head athletic trainer, agreed.

“Something just so amazing about Seth was that no matter what he was going through, and no matter what was wrong in his world, he only cared to help others,” Harris said. “He would always make sure to show love to anyone in any possible way he could. He was a light even when things were dark."

Storment recalled a night during his sophomore year at Ouachita when he was going through a difficult time personally. “A lot of my friends were helping me through it. Around 1 a.m., everyone started to head back to their dorms for some sleep, but Seth did not. He stayed with me. We went for a walk around 3 a.m. and sat in the Stu for a while. Eventually we stayed up ‘til 5 a.m., just talking about everything we had been through up until that point.

“Seth always cared, and he was always supportive,” Storment added. “I love Seth a lot. I know he was a Christian, and I know that a resurrection is coming. Death does not have the final say.”

Sarah Smith, instructor of English at Ouachita, was McDowell’s academic advisor.

“The narrator in a book Seth and I both loved writes, ‘You will know me by my voice.’ I was blessed to know Seth by his voice: the voice of a gifted storyteller, a perceptive reader of the human condition on and off the page and a kind, genuine, generous young man,” Smith said. “He will be sorely missed."

McDowell is survived by his fiancée, Jessalyn Ahrens, a junior elementary education major from Dewitt, Ark., and family including his parents, Bo McDowell and Misty Haeber; brother, Cade McDowell; and two sisters, Faith McDowell and Addison Moore. Visitation will be held Thursday, Aug. 10, from 5-8 p.m. at Dial & Dudley Funeral Home in Bryant; a celebration of McDowell’s life will follow on Friday, Aug. 11, at 1 p.m. at Family Church in Bryant.


Lead photo: Seth McDowell (center) was among the Ouachita education majors at a student event on campus in support of the Arkansas education system last spring.  Photo by Susannah Arnn

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