Students are sharing memories of a classmate after his death during winter break.
Vinnie Franco, pre-medical/guitar freshman, died Dec. 31 in Chicago.
He was found unresponsive at 8 p.m., according to Chicago police. Franco was pronounced dead an hour later at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Information about funeral services was not available at presstime.
Tomi Vetter, piano freshman, said she remembers meeting Franco at the beginning of Fall 2017 and developing a unique way of greeting each other.
“We would shout ‘my friend’ and give each other the biggest hugs,” Vetter said. “Vinnie was one of the people that made OCU home for me, and he will always be in my heart. I miss him so dearly.”
Originally from Brazil, the 19-year-old lived with a host family in Norman, Oklahoma.
Franco discovered his love of travel after visiting his father in Africa, said Austin Keller, guitar freshman. That inspired him to find a program where he could live in a country for a year with a host family.
“He wanted to come to America because he thought it was like the greatest country in the world,” Keller said. “Him and his host family connected so much that he ended up staying here and continued to live in their home.”
Franco worked in the Wanda L. Bass School of Music dean’s suite. He was a member of University Chorale and the OCU Guitar Studio.
Keller described Franco as a great musician.
“He was very humble about his playing, even though he was a really great guitarist,” he said. “His personality and his music were just the same. It seemed to come through his music.”
Simón Gómez, music theater/composition freshman, met Franco through choir. Four times a week, they would sit next to each other during rehearsal.
“We quickly became friends. He was someone who was always quick to crack a joke and make me laugh, but I could also tell he had a deep love for music,” Gómez said. “Whenever the choir came together to create a beautiful harmony, he would turn to me with the biggest smile on his face, which always made choir rehearsal better.”
Gómez said he hopes Franco is at peace.
“He was a bright and warm presence in people’s lives… the kind of person that could make your day better if you had a normal conversation with him. It’s going to be painful to go back to school and not see him sitting next to me in choir, and it’s going to take time for me to get used to that,” he said.
Vetter said Franco was “beyond brilliant” with unmeasurable talent and love in his heart.
“Vinnie had a light that could brighten any darkened day, and he made sure that the people around him knew he cared. Vinnie was one of the best people I’ve met, and his light will never be forgotten,” she said.
The Rev. Dr. Charles Neff, vice president for university-church relations and dean of the chapel, shared news of Franco’s death in a email to the campus community. He asked the campus community to pray for Franco’s friends and family.
“Please know that university counseling and pastoral staff are available to assist students, faculty and staff experiencing grief,” he wrote.
If students need assistance following Franco’s death, the university offers free counseling services. They will also offer a group therapy session at 4 p.m. Thursday in the University Counseling offices in the northwest wing of Walker Hall.
For more information about counseling or to schedule an appointment, call 405-208-7901. Pastoral care also is available by calling 405-208-5060.