As the lyrics from “Rent” played, hundreds of friends and family members filled the Copper Hills High School auditorium Saturday to pay tribute to Desaray J. Brown Odekirk, a former Weber State University debate champion.
Odekirk died Feb. 9 from injuries suffered during a car crash a week earlier, according to Weber State instructor Ryan Cheek, a close friend.
She was described Saturday as a person with an infectious smile and vivacious personality. Friends and family members said she was an avid learner, acquiring degrees from universities up and down the Wasatch Front, touching the lives of people in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Pocatello, Idaho.
At Odekirk’s memorial service on Feb. 13, Michael Bolam, Odekirk’s uncle, spoke of her kind and accepting attitude.
“Everyone remembers Desaray as happy. She was always kind to everybody and never spoke harshly to anybody,” Bolam said. “She was kind and gentle to all of her cousins and all of their children.”
Bolam described how wonderful it was to see Odekirk with her daughter Adrienne. Bolam said he always felt Odekirk was more like a daughter to him than a niece, and seeing her with her own daughter was heart warming.
“You don’t know how much your parents do for you until you have children of your own,” Bolam said. “To see Desaray with her daughter Adrienne was the best.”
Sawyer Brown, Odekirk’s younger brother, described how when they were younger, Odekirk often ended up babysitting Brown and their siblings. In retaliation for not being paid to care for the younger children, Odekirk taught Brown many “naughty words,” he said.
Inappropriate words weren’t the only thing Odekirk taught him, Brown said. She also taught him that he could do anything he put his mind to.
“Everything she did, she did at full force,” Brown said. “If she committed to something, she would get it done and do it well.”
Odekirk’s husband, Scott, described how they met while debating first at the University of Utah and later at Weber State. Scott said they were adversaries in debate but were having a romantic affair on the side, “which was pretty hot.”
After several years of mutual enmity, Scott said the two worked out their differences, started dating and were married a few years later.
Scott Odekirk said his wife’s main goals in life were to do her best and help as many people as she could. While there were nearly 1,000 people at the memorial, he said there were a thousand more who weren’t able to make it. Odekirk touched all of their lives, he said.
At Weber State, Odekirk was a leader of the debate team. According to the debate team’s website, during the 2004-05 school year, Odekirk and Michael Shackelford won four of four debates at the 59th National Debate Tournament—the best debate performance Weber State had at nationals in 10 years.
In addition to being a team captain and winning numerous debate awards for Weber State, Odekirk acted as a team mom.
“She touched so many lives,” said Cheek, a communications instructor and debate team adviser. Cheek was a freshman debater when Odekirk was a senior on the Weber State team and they both went to the national tournament that year. Cheek said debate is a small community, and Odekirk was, “the core of our group.”
According to her LinkedIn profile, Odekirk attended Weber State University from 2002 through 2005. In 2005, Odekirk graduated with a Bachelor of Science in psychology with a minor in women’s studies. That same year, Odekirk was named as one of the debate team’s distinguished alumna.
Odekirk, 35, lived in Taylorsville with her husband, Scott, and their daughter Adrienne.
The funeral arrangements were handled through Jenkins-Soffe Funeral Chapels and Cremation Center in Murray. A GoFundMe has been opened to help cover medical expenses from the car crash and hospitalization afterward.