Resident director Ennis Koonce remembered for kindness, life lessons
Ennis Koonce never left a day of work without stopping by each coworker’s desk to say goodbye.
Those same coworkers now walk past the same neatly kept, now-vacant desk as a reminder of his untimely passing April 5.
Koonce had a multi-faceted career at OU. He served as an Adams Center resident director, higher education administration graduate student and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity member.
Those who worked with him said he had a passion for helping others.
“He loved helping students, mentoring, just stopping and talking to people,” resident director Lauren Carter said.
Before his passing, Koonce helped develop a program intended to help transport injured students living in residence halls to and from classes, said Jennifer Doughty, Housing and Food director of operations.
Koonce’s fondness for amusing wordplay inspired him to push for the name “Lending a Limb,” Doughty said.
Colleagues said he was clever and had a sharp wit.
“He created words, he coined phrases that became parts of his peers’ vocabulary,” said T. Elon Dancy, higher education professor. “He was very creative.”
Koonce was at OU to study higher education administration, and his dissertation was focused on African American male performance in college, Dancy said.
“He saw himself in a professional role of serving this population of students, either through mentoring or broader student affairs work,” Dancy said.
Koonce practiced kindness to those around him, but in a humble manner.
“He did it in such a way that it wasn’t a big show, being kind,” Doughty said. “He was very quietly and privately kind, like leaving notes on your desk.”
Doughty said Koonce never left the office without saying goodbye to each employee, and his loss is devastating.
“It sounds like such a small thing, but it’s really meaningful when someone takes the time out from everything else that’s going on,” Doughty said. “Every single day.”
Despite his passing, lessons learned from Koonce still linger.
“Like his big heart, it’s still impacting us on a day-to-day basis,” Carter said. “He is still teaching us stuff, even though he’s not physically here.”
Koonce taught her to be honest and true to herself, Carter said. Koonce also inspired others to do whatever they could to help people.
An avid cook, Koonce also informed Carter that he made the best turkey burger, though she never had the chance to try one.
“I’ve heard nothing but good reviews of all of his food,” Carter said. “If you gave that man a kitchen, he’d make you a meal.”
Still, he taught coworkers other lessons.
Resident director Klint Neal said Koonce taught him to follow his passions and helped him plan out his own career path.
Resilience is another lesson Koonce left behind.
“He hadn’t been well for some months, and he never gave up,” Klint said. “He was still very much involved in pursuing his Ph.D. and completing his classes, on top of his work in Housing and Food.”
After graduating, he planned to work helping students. He was interested in being a vice president of student affairs, directing resident life or deanship of student life, Dancy said.
“He wanted to do work that mattered to the issues around African American male performance in colleges and universities,” Dancy said.
His leadership skills sprang from his strong sense of self, Dancy said.
“He was not the type to succumb to peer pressure,” Dancy said. “He was often the leader in groups because of that.”
This quality made people want to be mentored by Koonce, Dancy said.
He earned his undergraduate degree in his home state of Georgia and left behind a similar legacy there.
“By the time he left Georgia to come to [OU], he left behind a countless number of students who missed him very much,” Dancy said.
“He lived life, with not one bad memory,” Carter said. “I can honestly say that he served every day with great purpose.”