Earlier this year, Sherry Wheatley Ramsey gave out the first The Dakota Wheatley Memorial Scholarship, and the second recipient will be announced this August. All funding for the scholarship is raised with loose change. She said the scholarship is a way of keeping her son Dakota’s memory alive while helping others achieve their goals.
Wheatley Ramsey said her son was never able to reach all of his goals because she lost him to suicide in October 2016. She said his struggle with depression began while he was in high school and was exasperated by a brain hemorrhage during his senior year.
“At first he went on some medication that actually worsened his depression, and he was a freshman at OSU when he had his first suicide attempt,” she said adding that he then took some time away from school to focus on going to therapy and finding the right medication.
“We found one that worked really well for several years. Then he wanted to go back to college because he had always had that desire,” Wheatley Ramsey said.
When he returned to school, he attended the University of Oklahoma where he majored in English. He planned to attend graduate school  and hoped to one day become a university professor while he penned a novel in his spare time.
“He flourished there,” she said adding that he finished his junior year in the top five percent of his class. However, just before his senior year of college, he returned home covered in blisters.
“He was having a sudden allergic reaction to his medication,” Wheatley Ramsey said, adding that because the allergy could lead to serious potential consequences, he had no choice but to stop taking the medication that had worked so well for so many years.
“So then there we were after several good years having to start all over at square one,” she said.
They tried a few different antidepressants and he continued going to therapy, but never found the right medication. He died in October 2016, four months after his sudden allergic reaction.
Today Wheatley Ramsey works to erase the stigma attached to mental illness. She captains a team in her son’s memory every year at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Walk in October. Because Dakota was a major fan of reading she will sometimes read to him at his grave or spend time in his bedroom looking at his favorite books.
“One night I was in his room just sitting on the quilt his aunt made for him and thinking about all the fun times we had,” she said. “I looked over and I saw his old dinosaur bank.”
As a child Dakota loved dinosaurs, so instead of a traditional piggy bank he had a bank shaped like a dinosaur. Coins are placed in the dinosaur’s mouth then slide down a track into its “stomach.”
“He would walk up to you and say, ‘my dinosaur looks so hungry. Don’t you want to feed him?’  And that night, I could just hear him saying to me ‘you know you want to feed him,’” she said. So feed him she did.
She told a few friends and coworkers about “feeding” the dinosaur and soon people were bringing her change from all over town. When the coin collection was far too large to fit inside the dinosaur, she ended up taking it to the bank in December. It totaled almost $500, and she wanted to use this money to do some good.
“That’s when it dawned on me,” Wheatley Ramsey said. “Who needs money more than a college student, and Dakota was all about education. He also knew what it was like to save your change.”
She began creating a scholarship then and there, and awarded the first $500 in January. A college student helped her create the scholarship application and draft the essay questions, so as a way of saying thank you, this student received the first award.
After getting everything for the scholarship application together, she went to every high school in Carter County and handed them out to the counselors. Seven students ended up applying this year, and Wheatley Ramsey plans to announce the winner for the 2019 school year in early August.
 “This is just a way to honor him,” Wheatley Ramsey said. “It keeps his memory going which is really important to me, and it helps someone. Dakota was great — the best person I’ve ever known, No matter what, I’ll always be Dakota’s mom, and he’ll always be my child.”
For more information about the Dakota Wheatley Memorial Scholarship, email dakotawheatleymemorialscholar@gmail.com.