The legacy of Rowena Irani – daughter, sister, student and children’s advocate

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The legacy of Rowena Irani – daughter, sister, student and children’s advocate

 Rowena and Rooshad Irani at Rooshad’s graduation from the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center (KLETC) in Hutch. “She was just proud to see me accomplish that dream,” Rooshad said.

Rowena and Rooshad Irani at Rooshad’s graduation from the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center (KLETC) in Hutch. “She was just proud to see me accomplish that dream,” Rooshad said.

Courtesy of Rooshad Irani

Rowena and Rooshad Irani at Rooshad’s graduation from the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center (KLETC) in Hutch. “She was just proud to see me accomplish that dream,” Rooshad said.

Courtesy of Rooshad Irani

Courtesy of Rooshad Irani

Rowena and Rooshad Irani at Rooshad’s graduation from the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center (KLETC) in Hutch. “She was just proud to see me accomplish that dream,” Rooshad said.

It was a momentous day for Officer Rooshad Irani — the day he knew he’d finally made it. He’d recently picked up his degree in criminal justice from Wichita State and was finally starting his career. On October 3, 2014, his dream of becoming a police officer became a reality.

Now that date brings him nothing but heartbreak. Two years after being offered a position by the Derby Police Department, Irani got a call that no amount of police training or experience could prepare him for.

On Oct. 3, 2016, his younger sister Rowena was attacked in their family home.  

Around 1 p.m. that afternoon, Dane Ownes parked around the corner and then entered the Irani house.

“After he saw that she was home, he walked in through the front door and as she came around the corner, when she came into his sight, he raised the gun and shot her in the head.”

Owens then grabbed her phone and walked out the back door. Irani was left without care for at least three hours. She died the next day.

Owens was convicted in November of first-degree felony murder and aggravated burglary in the 2016 shooting.

Now Rooshad Irani and his parents are raising money for a scholarship in her name.

Finding a fitting tribute

Not long after the trial ended Rowena’s mother Toranj, a primary teacher at the Wichita Montessori School was approached by the parent of one of her students.

“My mom had a chat with the parent about, you know, finding things to look forward to now that the trial was over,” he said.

The parent, Melesa Johnston (Coffey) talked with her about doing things to help keep Rowena’s memory alive. Johnston suggested starting a scholarship in her name.

“My mom said I really don’t know how to get one started,” Rooshad said.

Johnston reached out to a friend who works for the WSU Foundation. Amy Tully is the Associate Director of Development for the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and University Libraries at the Wichita State Foundation. Johnston called Tully at the Foundation and the two brainstormed different fundraising ideas for the Irani’s.

“Melesa was kind of like, ‘I don’t even know what’s possible but this girl needs something to make sure that her legacy lives on.’ I was like, ‘Great. Let’s do it.’”

It was one mother to another, trying to give some comfort and focus her attention on doing something positive despite her grief.

“There was something in Melesa that was like, ‘She helped my babies so much and here she is,” Tully said. “She’s the one that found Rowena. It’s just heartbreaking.

Coincidentally, Tully represents Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the Foundation and psychology is under that umbrella, so it made sense for her to be involved in raising funds for the psychology scholarship from there forward.

Tully met with Johnston and the Irani family.

“They wanted the story to end on a positive note,” Tully said. “A life-giving kind of outcome.”

The way the idea was formed, shared, and put into action stands out to Tully. It’s a community effort — people rallying around the Irani family in an effort to give something back to them.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Tully said.

“It would just mean the world to this family if they could relax in the knowledge that their daughter would be honored and that students would be benefiting for the betterment of this community.”

The Rowena Irani Scholarship

Courtesy of Rooshad Irani
“She definitely touched a lot of hearts,” Rowena’s brother Officer Rooshad Irani said. Over 600 people attended Rowena Irani’s funeral, from all over the world. “All we can do now is keep her memory alive.” The Irani family is hoping to do so by raising $35,000 by the end of June for an endowed psychology scholarship at Wichita State. This photo was taken less than one hour before Rowena was shot. “That’s the last photo we have of her,” Rooshad Irani said.

The Irani’s, Johnston and Tully met in January and got the ball rolling from there.

“When we first started out, the goal was set for $10,000 just to see if we could get this crowdfunding campaign going,” Rooshad said. “We got the word to enough people to raise 10 grand in about 30 days.”

They weren’t sure they’d even hit the $10,000 mark, let alone do so that fast.

“That blew our minds,” Rooshad said.

The family is originally from Pakistan and moved to Wichita in 2004. Connections to their Pakistani community members made a difference.

“People from Pakistan, from within our community, have moved to the States or to Canada,” he said. “It’s why we were able to raise the ten grand.”

According to Aaron Winters, Director of Development for the WSU Foundation, The Rowena Irani Psychology Scholarship fundraising campaign began on April 23. The campaign initially had an end date of May 31.  

“Thanks to some incredible work by the Irani family, the dollar goal for the campaign was achieved on May 12 (just under three weeks from the start of the campaign),” Winters said in an email.

Shortly after surpassing the original goal, The Rowena Irani Psychology Scholarship became the most successful campaign, both in terms of donors and dollars raised, on the GiveCampus crowdfunding platform since the WSU Foundation began using it.

As a result of this early success, the family decided to extend the deadline to June 30. They increased the goal from $10,000 to $35,000 so the scholarship could be endowed.  

The Wichita State University Foundation Scholarships

The current scholarship is like a checking account — money in, money out. Once the money is raised it gets used for a scholarship(s) as specified, but when the money runs out, the scholarship is done. It won’t be available again next year.

“There’s basically two types of scholarships that flow through the WSU Foundation,” Vice President of the Wichita State University Foundation, Keith Pickus said. “One is called current, and the other is called endowed.”

The alternative is an endowed scholarship that does repeat annually. If a family or entity wants to create an endowed scholarship at WSU, they must first raise at least $35,000. Once the $35,000 is raised then the Foundation will pay out annually a percentage of the proceeds from that fund — roughly 4%, Pickus said. That amounts to $1,200 a year if the amount raised is $35,000. If it’s more than that then the annual scholarship will pay out more as well.

Pickus said the Foundation will typically do pledges for up to five years but there is no firm deadline for raising money to endow a scholarship.

“There’s no end to fundraising for this scholarship or any other one. There’s no deadline for it.”

The campaign webpage won’t come down on June 30 either. Even after the campaign ends, it will remain viewable on the GiveCampus platform and donations can still be accepted, Winters said.

Tully said the Irani’s don’t want Rowena’s legacy to be finite. They want to see it go on and on through this scholarship

“The $35,000 just gets us to the level that we can assure the family that she’ll live on,” she said.

Rowena’s work at the Wichita Children’s Home

Courtesy of Rooshad Irani
On this day Rowena snapped a selfie as she was getting ready to head to work at the Wichita Children’s Home. The kids there called her, ‘the selfie queen.’

Rowena worked at the Wichita Children’s home for about a year and a half before she died. In that time she made a lasting impression on the lives of many young people with her efforts and enthusiasm.

“She was very involved on campus and decided that she wanted to give back to the community so she started working at the Children’s Home,” Rooshad said.

Rooshad said he and his sister were bullied all through middle school and high school because of their Pakistani heritage. People also assumed incorrectly that they were Muslim and gave them grief for that. Rooshad said that was difficult for all of them.

He was 14 and just starting high school. Rowena was 10. He said he and Rowena leaned on each other a lot. They were very close.

“We came here three years after 9/11 so you can imagine the kind of mentality that most people had,” he said. “Instead of letting that get to us, the both of us – her more than me – we turned that into a positive and used those experiences to help not only others but to educate those who were bullying.”

One way Rowena did this was through her work at the Wichita Children’s Home (WCH).

WCH CEO, Debbie Kennedy speaks passionately about Rowena, highlighting the many strengths Rowena demonstrated when working with children.

Kennedy gave the eulogy at Rowena’s funeral.

The things children at the home said about Rowena still bring tears to her eyes.

When children were admitted to the home “she greeted them like they were the important guests she was waiting for,” Kennedy said. “They instantly knew they were someplace that cared about them.”

Children adored Rowena there, Kennedy said. They loved it when Rowena woke them up in the morning because she’d quietly enter, call them by name and gently wake them.

Kennedy described the act, “like a very tender mother would do with a child they adored.”

They said when they were in school, they couldn’t wait to get back to see Rowena and share their day with her, big events and small that brought joys and sorrows.

“She listened, attentively listened, letting them know that they were worthy of someone’s attention and kindness,” she said.

During their academic hour, she studied right along with them, modeling the importance of academic success, according to Kennedy

“She talked to them about the importance of setting goals and figuring out how to achieve them,” she said.

As she listened to the children talk about “Ms. Ro” she noted the words used to describe her, saying that Rowena was, “amazing, upbeat, memorable and cool.” They also said, “she never got mad at us. She loved us.”

As the children were talking about Rowena, they promised to always remember the lessons she taught them, Kennedy said.

“They wanted to be just like her — to never be afraid, be adventurous, and always be courageous,” she said.

They vowed to become someone she would be proud of. One vowed to finish high school, one vowed to go to cosmetology school, one vowed to go to college.

Kennedy made a vow too.

“I vowed to seek out more employees like Ro. To do less would mean I did not learn the lessons she taught me.”

Donations to the Rowena Irani Psychology scholarship can be made through the GiveCampus campaign site at http://bit.ly/GiveRowena, by sending a check to the WSU Foundation and denoting the name of the scholarship in the memo section, or by visiting the WSU Foundation giving page and designating the gift to the scholarship.