Andrew and Jamie Dill pose for a portrait with a memorial angel in honor of their son Oliver that sits outside their home in Evansville, Ind., Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The Dills' three-year-old son Oliver, also known as "Ollie," died in 2019 after accidentally being forgotten in a car on the University of Southern Indiana campus. (Sam Owens/Courier & Press)
EVANSVILLE − Sometimes, tragedy can turn into an opportunity to help others.
That's what Jamie and Andrew Dill are hoping for with Be Kind for Ollie, a foundation dedicated to the memory of their 3-year-old son Oliver, who passed away in 2019.
Jamie is originally from Newburgh, Andrew from Princeton. And while the couple lived other places after marriage, such as Florida and Connecticut, they returned to Evansville when Andrew was hired by the University of Southern Indiana.
Owen Dill, 7, holds a memorial angel in honor of his younger brother Oliver that sits outside his home in Evansville, Ind., Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Sam Owens/Courier & Press)
Jamie Dill holds a memorial angel in honor of her son Oliver that sits outside the Dill family home in Evansville, Ind., Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Sam Owens/Courier & Press)
The day tragedy changed their lives
Their lives changed forever on July 9, 2019 − what should've been a normal Tuesday for the family. The Dills were getting ready for a beach trip they'd leave for a few days later but Andrew was headed to USI that day for work.
"It was a pretty hectic morning," said Jamie Dill. As a stay-at-home mom, she was preparing for the vacation, taking care of her oldest while he was out of school for the summer, and needed some extra time without being worried about Oliver.
She and Andrew decided it would be best to send Ollie to daycare so they could focus on other tasks, then go check out the new "Toy Story" movie that evening.
Be Kind for Ollie founder Jamie Dill works on her speech for the non-profit's annual benefit dinner in Evansville, Ind. (MaCabe Brown/ Courier & Press)
Andrew Dill had forgotten about Ollie until it was time to get him from daycare. He found him still in the backseat. The sweltering summer conditions inside the car had killed him.
"It was out of routine. Your brain takes over and it automatically goes to where and what you normally do, you go on autopilot," Jamie Dill said. "So (Andrew) went on autopilot that morning."
Before she'd heard from authorities, Jamie said she already had a bad feeling. She hadn't been able to reach Andrew and it was nearly time for him to return home. She packed her other son Owen in the car and drove toward the daycare. When she came off the exit ramp at USI, she saw emergency vehicles around her husband's car, a backseat door open.
She knew something had happened to Ollie. Sheriff's deputies and medical staff at the scene confirmed her worst fears.
Two pictures, one of Oliver Dill and another of him with his family, are displayed on a wall in the Dill family's home in Evansville. Ollie – who would have turned 5 years old on June 2 – is one of 16 Indiana children under the age of 14 who died in hot cars between 1990 and 2020. (Sam Owens/Courier & Press)
After Oliver's passing, Jamie Dill went to the library to get books about grief and loss. There was some material that helped, but she said she needed more for the healing process. So the Dills decided they wanted to honor him, and move past some of the judgemental things others had said after the incident.
A framed picture of three-year-old Oliver sits on a mantle in the Dills' living room. The picture was taken at the University of Southern Indiana's Children’s Learning Center and given to the family after his death in 2019. (Provided by the Dill family)
"We tried to figure out how you can honor your son's life while healing yourself. We decided we wanted tobecome a nonprofit, Be Kind For Ollie, because we wanted everyone to be nice to each other," she said.
The Dills' first initiative: setting up lending libraries in Alexander Memorial Park and Oak Hill Cemetery.
A little library stands near the playground at Wesselman Park in Evansville. The Dill family set up several "little libraries" around Evansville to honor their son Oliver through their nonprofit organization Be Kind For Ollie. (Sam Owens/Courier & Press)
"I thought, people that are in my situation, they don't want to go to the store. They don't want to go anywhere except possibly visiting their loved ones at their resting place and I just wanted to do something that can help others in the same situations," Dill said.
Be Kind for Ollie founder Jamie Dill, left, receives donations from Center for Pediatric Therapy's Maria Banks, center, and Alyssa Anderson, right, for her non-profit's annual benefit dinner in Evansville, Ind. (MaCabe Brown/ Courier & Press)
Be Kind for Ollie now hosts an annual benefit dinner and silent auction. Its proceeds go to early childhood education and special education scholarships for area college students. Last year, the event raised $8,000.
This year's A Night to Be Kind for Ollie event
The foundation is planning on having its second annual dinner and silent auction, A Night to Be Kind for Ollie, from 5-9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 at The Crescent Room at Milestones, 621 S. Cullen Ave.
Tickets are $50 per person, or attendees can sponsor a table of eight for $500. Tickets can be purchased on eventbrite. For more information on the event, email email@example.com.
The foundation also recently delivered 75 "comfort bags" to the Evansville Police Department and Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office. The bags contain blankets, wipes, tissues, fidget toys, coloring books, pencils and more, and are meant to be given to children in crisis situations.
Jamie Dill said it's an important project for her.
"My son Owen was in the car when I pulled up on Ollie's accident and he, fortunately, was able to go off with the daycare staff, and knew them, but what if that wasn't the situation?" she asked. "What if it happened at a random store? And he didn't have anyone there to help them while I was being questioned? What would happen to him? So we came up with these bags thinking it's an opportunity to comfort children in times of need."
The Dills say they're still healing.
"We're definitely different people than we used to be," Jamie Dill said. "And that's okay. I want everyone to know that has been through some type of tragedy: it's okay to be totally different person than what you were before."
Be Kind for Ollie founder Jamie Dill, left, receives a hug for Center for Pediatric Therapy's Karen Lawson after receiving donations for the non-profit's annual benefit dinner in Evansville, Ind. (MaCabe Brown/ Courier & Press)
They're advocating for federal adoption of the Hot Cars Act, which would require automakers to install a sensor in every car to detect movement or oxygen levels inside when the engine is shut off.
Jamie, Andrew and seven-year-old Owen Dill stand with a framed photo of Oliver in their backyard on the west side of Evansville, Ind., Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (Sam Owens/Courier & Press)
"The biggest thing is people don't think this can happen to them, but it can happen to anyone," Jamie Dill said. "It's happened to rocket scientists, social workers, teachers, stay-at-home moms, and work-from-home dads. There's no specific group this can happen to. And the most dangerous thing is: don't think it ever cannot happen to you."
Pictured are Jamie, Andrew and their son Owen Dill with a faded image of Oliver. Andrew and Jamie recently went public with a nonprofit organization called Be Kind For Ollie, which they established to educate the public about the dangers of leaving children and pets in vehicles. (Provided by the Dill family)
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