By Monica Chapman
For many graduating seniors, spring excursions to Stroud's Run will be among the fondest memories of college days. As soon as the first warm current finds its way to Athens County, the celebrated state park is swarming with collegiate hikers, boaters and sunbathers, all eager to drown the winter blues in the park's main attraction -- Dow Lake. But for soon-to-be graduate Ashlee Dolan, a fourth generation Bobcat, Dow Lake also serves as a constant reminder of her family's deep roots at Ohio University.
Dolan's family tradition at Ohio University started with her great grandfather, Clarence Lorenzo Dow, after whom Dow Lake was named. Dow joined the Ohio University community in 1936 as a teacher in the Department of Geography and Geology. An active member of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, he was instrumental in establishing the Stroud's Run lake and recreational area.
"He was a real outdoorsman... a conservationist, who pushed for natural resource development during the Great Depression," said electrical engineering computer science instructor John Dolan, the only of seven grandchildren to meet Dow during his lifetime. "And he was very active in promoting to the state the idea of setting aside state parks."
Dow didn't live to see the project to completion. In 1955, he died at sea en route from Japan, where he spent the last year of his life teaching geography on a Fulbright lectureship. Construction of the dam creating Dow Lake was completed in 1960; the dedication took place two years later.
In naming the lake in his honor, the ODNR commission cited Dow's "untiring efforts" and "years of invaluable contributions toward the preservation of Ohio's natural resources."
Though Dow never had the opportunity to set foot in the lake of his own creation, the site has served as a hub for Bobcat events and Dow family reunions ever since. Three generations later, Ashlee Dolan still frequents the lake in the dusk of her quickly waning college career.
A long line of Bobcats
At the June 13 commencement ceremony, Ashlee Dolan will walk alongside 19 other graphic design graduates -- the select few handpicked into the School of Art's prestigious graphic design program. Her bachelor's of fine arts will mark the 10th degree earned by eight Ohio University graduates in her immediate family since 1938.
But she wasn't always set on upholding the family's Bobcat traditions. After an all-expense paid year at Ohio University's Chillicothe campus, she transferred to Columbus College of Art & Design.
"I just wanted to try something different. Because there was such a strong pull family-wise, I wanted to go elsewhere," Ashlee Dolan said. "But I couldn't do it."
After a year of city life, she said she better understood the lure of Ohio University. She regained her Bobcat status the following year.
"As soon as I came on campus, I felt at home," she recalled. "All of (my family members) love the green and the outdoors. So maybe it's just the environment and the social atmosphere."
Or perhaps, hints John Dolan, her uncle, it's something more.
"We have preserved education as a high value in our family," said John Dolan, who holds a bachelor's in English and a master's in computer science from Ohio University. "From the time I was a child I had a vision of what college would be like, and that was shaped from my visits to Athens and the OU campus."
A sundry of experiences
Despite a long family history of attending Ohio University, no two college experiences have been alike for the Dow/Dolan line.
Quite the socialite, grandmother Elizabeth Jean Dolan had a college experience that was punctuated by membership in 13 organizations across the Athens campus. She graduated in 1948. In contrast, Ashlee Dolan's mother, Rebecca Dolan, who graduated in 1998 with a bachelor's in business administration, took classes for nearly a decade at the Chillicothe campus while simultaneously working and raising a family.
Memories of her mother's studies are etched permanently on Ashlee Dolan's memory -- a testament to the family's commitment to education. Many nights, Rebecca Dolan would study after her daughters were in bed, but on occasion, the girls would be included in the lessons.
"I remember sitting at the table at night, staying up really late going over her tape recorders," recalled Ashlee Dolan, thinking back to her mother's sign language class. She continued sign language classes at Ohio University en route to her degree.
As the site of countless family picnics, Ohio University and Athens, in particular, have always held special significance to Ashlee Dolan. But she didn't understand the full extent of her family's connections until a recent class project encouraged her to dig deeper.
The assignment called for students to create a mind map, starting and ending at Stroud's Run state park.
"We wanted to start somewhere we'd all been before so we had a shared experience. Stroud's Run was good because it's kind of an iconic place for the area," said Visiting Assistant Professor Nathan Davis, who assigned the project to his senior studio class this past fall quarter. "The idea was to connect past experiences with memory... following the path that your mind wanders to. A little imagination adventure, if you will."
Davis' assignment called for students to depict their mind map through an image book. For Ashlee Dolan, the book evolved into a visual family history of sorts -- an assignment for which she is ever grateful.
"It's given me a chance to use the resources at the library to look at all of it and get it all written in one place," she said.
Though graduation looms in her near future, the nostalgia of leaving campus hasn't set in.
"I don't feel like I'm leaving just yet," she said.
With many friends still on campus and a boyfriend entering grad school, opportunities to revisit campus abound.
A job with T&S Enterprises, the family's Chillicothe-based mailing and shipping business, also makes the future a bit less daunting. Ashlee Dolan will join the company as marketing and design director on June 15, just two days after commencement.
As for the future of the family's legacy at Ohio University, she said she has hope for her two nieces, ages 3 and 4. Perhaps, with a little encouragement, they will continue the Dow/Dolan Bobcat tradition into a fifth generation, she said.
For the time being, Dolan is stocking up on college apparel to help instill a bit of Bobcat spirit in the girls. And between shopping trips to the college bookstores, there will always be time for the occasional escape to Dow Lake.