The love story between D.J. and Emily York started at Southeast Missouri State University. When the unthinkable happened, it was back at Southeast where those ties were strongest that the family found an outlet.

 Emily (Connaway) York didn’t have a problem finding a college when she was looking in 1997. She graduated as salutatorian at McLeansboro High School in southern Illinois and had her pick of schools. In the end, it was Southeast Missouri State University that stood out for her. Emily started in the fall of 1997 with a Governor’s Scholarship in tow.

Emily was involved on campus from the first day. She worked in Admissions and loved what she did, she was with the student newspaper, the then Capaha Arrow, and she was a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority. It was with her involvement in Greek life where she met D.J. York, who was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha.

“Greek life was a pretty big part of campus,” D.J. said. “If you were in Greek life, you pretty much immersed yourself with those students and in that community 100 percent.”

Emily and D.J. started dating. He, like many, was drawn to the warm and charismatic personality that Emily exuded.

“She was extremely outgoing,” D.J. said.  “She just had this ability to make people comfortable. She was extremely warm and friendly, a friend to everyone.”


That’s on top of everything else. If her full ride scholarship didn’t say it enough, Emily was extremely intelligent and hardworking in the classroom. D.J. says she kept other members of her sorority and his fraternity on their toes.

“She just pushed people to be their best and excel academically,” D.J. recalled. “Also, she was incredibly fun. She was incredibly smart, but she knew how to separate the two. When the schoolwork was done and it was time to go to all those social events and fun things that Greek organizations do outside of the classroom, she was just fun to be around.”

The two became inseparable and were married in 2002 after D.J graduated. They called Cape Girardeau home briefly before moving back to southern Illinois after D.J. finished his undergraduate degree. There, Emily continued what she had started at Southeast by accepting a position with the Admissions office at Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. She eventually obtained her master’s degree and worked her way up to assistant director of Admissions for New Student Programs while there.

She excelled in her work with admissions at SIUE. She made many personal connections, most notably with the students who worked in her office – the same position she had at one time at SEMO. She took a special interest in students and often hosted events at her home for them. She called them "her kids."

Eventually, Emily stepped away from her role with SIUE when she and D.J. welcomed their third child. They had everything they had dreamed of.


In 2013, the Yorks' world was turned upside down. Emily passed away from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a very rare and fatal degenerative brain disorder. 

D.J. and his three children were left without the bright presence that Emily brought to their lives. D.J. had to navigate the next steps. Immediately, he knew that the memories of Emily needed to shine just as bright as she did while she was alive.

“The biggest thing for me was to create something positive that the family, especially my kids, could pour their energy and grief into,” D.J. said.  “Grieving in a healthy way was something very important to me, and on the flip side, not grieving in a healthy way was something that was absolutely petrifying to me. I think I read something that said what I was thinking: don’t let your family member’s legacy be that their death destroyed you.”

The family set to work figuring out the best way to remember Emily. D.J. remarried a few years later and with the help of his wife, Katie, they realized Southeast was the place.

“I think it had the full spectrum of what we would want,” D.J. said. “Personal ties, professional ties, relating very specifically to Emily in so many ways both as a student and as a professional. Then, of course, the main thing of wanting to give back and create something positive out of this nightmare.”

D.J. and his family started working with people at Southeast to put together what a scholarship would look like to remember Emily. There were things he wanted to include to recognize the work she put into her career with admissions and the type of person she was overall.

The award would go to students who truly loved Southeast and showed the excitement Emily did when working with other prospective students.

“My hope is that they might continue their career in admissions as well,” D.J. said. “That they appreciate what scholarships can do. That they appreciate the importance of philanthropy in general. Those are the main takeaways. Then obviously, that they have pride in our alma mater through all of this.”


In 2021, the Emily York Admissions Achievement Award was officially established. 

D.J. and Katie hosted a tailgate at the 2021 Homecoming game celebrating the establishment of the award. Their entire family was there, along with many of the friends both D.J. and Emily made in their time on campus 25 years ago.

D.J. is now helping his oldest look for colleges, and Southeast is on that short list. For him and his family, it's not just a place where he went to school anymore.

It's where he met Emily, and now it's where she continues to make a positive impact for other students. 

“One of the ways that I thought was best to get through it was creating this positive outcome we could pour ourselves into and that they could always look at,” D.J. said. “There’s a legacy. Every single year, we get this letter; here’s another student your mother’s legacy is helping to reach their goals and obtain their college degree. I know she would love that. I think she would want that.”