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Donigale Dilworth | Courtesy
Donigale Dil­worth | Courtesy

Known as a lover of the world around her and the God above her, former Hillsdale College student Rhianna Dil­worth died on Sept. 17 sud­denly in her sleep from a heart con­dition at the age of 22 at the Uni­versity of Montana.

Dil­worth attended Hillsdale from 2012 – 2014 and studied biology. With aspi­ra­tions of becoming a wildlife biol­ogist, she trans­ferred to the Uni­versity of Montana after her sophomore year to join its renowned science department.

Close friends and family said there are two things they remember most about Dilworth’s life: her passion for being out­doors and her gen­erous and loving spirit for everyone.

“She died of an under­de­veloped heart,” said Donigale Dil­worth, her mother. “Which is so ironic for anyone who knew her. She was the kindest member of our family by far.”

While at Hillsdale, Rhianna Dil­worth made science a part of her daily life. In addition to her extensive biology course load, she vol­un­teered to work numerous hours in the DNA lab as a freshman. To not feel detached from nature, she would often forego the library and climb a tree in Slayton Arboretum and study in its branches.

“Whether she was diving head first into the bio­station trap net to remove the live snapping turtles or scam­pering 50 feet up a white pine while car­rying a flute and an ecology textbook, Rhianna was a force of nature and seem­ingly afraid of nothing,” Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Biology David Houghton said. “She was one of the most inquis­itive and thoughtful scholars that I’ve ever taught.”

But what many of Rhianna’s family and friends said they remember most is her over­whelming gen­erosity.

During her last week of freshman year, senior Katherine Frank, a friend of Dil­worth, said she woke up one morning with pain in her right hand. She had slept on her wrist awk­wardly and struggled to write out the dozens of pages of Greek homework she needed to accom­plish before finals.

As Frank was writing out her Greek trans­la­tions using her left hand, Dil­worth stumbled upon her in the library. She dropped every­thing on her schedule to help.

“I don’t know what she had to do for finals week, and I knew she was always busy with biology,” Frank said, wiping away a tear from her eye. “But she sat down with me and spent so many hours with me. She deci­phered my hand­writing, and she lit­erally learned the Greek alphabet to help me write out and tran­scribe my homework.”

That act of kindness didn’t come as a sur­prise to Dilworth’s parents, they said.

Her father, Timothy Dil­worth, said his daughter’s con­nection with animals and Chris­tianity started from a young age. Rhianna Dil­worth grew up in Howell, Michigan, on an 18-acre farm.

“She would con­stantly be bringing frogs and snakes back to the house,” Timothy Dil­worth said. “If we couldn’t find her, we knew she was probably outside.”

Donigale Dil­worth recalled one moment when her daughter was 7 years old, and she wanted to cut the grass with the riding lawn­mower. When she looked back outside, she saw that the lawn was mowed into a design of zig zags and skewed lines.

“She told me that she didn’t want to run over any of the new wild­flowers that were getting ready to bloom,” Donigale Dil­worth said. “That made me laugh. She was such a char­acter.”

Several years later, Rhianna Dil­worth sur­prised her mother again, she said. Donigale Dil­worth stumbled upon her 10 year old reading Rev­e­lation cover to cover in the family Bible.

“She was deeply spir­itual at a very young age,” she said. “That’s not common to see, espe­cially with a book such as Rev­e­lation. It didn’t scare her. It was one of her favorites. She had a walk with God, ever since she was a little girl.”

Her parents said that Christian love carried her throughout her childhood, through Hillsdale, and her tran­sition to the Uni­versity of Montana. Rhianna Dilworth’s parents moved with her to Montana in 2014 and settled two hours away from the school. It had always been their dream to move to the treasure state, they said.

Rhianna Dil­worth took a year and a half off school to establish res­i­dency in Montana to qualify for in-state tuition. She started her first year at the Uni­versity of Montana in January 2016. She would come home often, and she always stayed in touch with her parents.

Rhianna Dil­worth came home the weekend before she sud­denly died. Her parents had no idea they wouldn’t see her again.

“I had just come home from work and told her I was going to take a nap,” Timothy Dil­worth said. “I told her to make sure she woke me up before she left, so I could say goodbye. A few hours later, she woke me up. And she said goodbye. Then, she was gone. That was the last time I saw her.”

In honor of Rhianna Dilworth’s life, her parents are making plans with members of the biology department to install a memorial bench in Hillsdale’s arboretum, her favorite place to study and be with friends on campus. They are also planning to hold a memorial  service at Hillsdale in the near future.

“I think she found peace in nature,” Timothy Dil­worth said. “But I knew she found God every­where.”

Rhianna Dilworth’s funeral is on Oct. 8 at 11 a.m. at East­haven Baptist Church in Kalispell,  Montana. Con­do­lences and flowers can be sent to the Dil­worths at 488 Batavia Lane, Kalispell, Montana, 59901.

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Thomas Novelly
Collegian Editor-in-Chief, Thomas Novelly was born in Novi, Michigan, but was raised in Franklin, Tennessee, making him a self-proclaimed "Yankee gone South." Thomas began writing for The Collegian as a sophomore, and since has served as a reporter, columnist, and Assistant City News Editor. He has also worked for two major publications, interning at the Washington Free Beacon in D.C. and The Tennessean in Nashville. His work has been seen in National publications such as CBS News, National Review Online, Stars And Stripes, and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.