While looking Thursday for a picture of Rachel Ianni covered in mud, gleefully holding a parchment tube worm she’d dug up on a beach in North Carolina, Jim Welch came across a second photo of the Springfield native who died New Year’s Day in South America — of Ianni asking her classmates to bury her in the sand.
“Imagine the most fun person you’ve ever known, with the biggest smile, then multiply it by two,” said Welch, chairman of Wittenberg University’s biology department.
Ianni, whose funeral will be Saturday, will be remembered as a fun-loving and outstanding student whose passion in life was biology.
A 2004 graduate of Catholic Central High School, Ianni went on to earn a biology degree in 2008 from Wittenberg.
On Jan. 1 she fell into a ravine while hiking the Inca Trail near the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains of Peru. She was 26.
“She was an outdoors person. She was prepared for this hike,” said her father, Tony Ianni, who added that when she served in AmeriCorps, she was chain saw-certified.
Rachel Ianni, who also earned a master’s degree in marine and environmental science from Nicholls State University in Louisiana, was a resident of the Chicago area at the time of her death.
Like so many others, news of her death stunned Welch.
“I can imagine that she was just doing her thing. She was having fun,” said Welch, who led Ianni on summer field programs to North Carolina and the Bahamas. “For her to have it end like that is just as awful as can be.
“It’s so hard to imagine she’s not here anymore.”
Ianni worked as a biological science technician at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, a 15,000-acre area at the southern part of Lake Michigan.
“She was full of life,” said her mother, Juliann Ianni. “She embraced life is what she did.”
Visitation for Rachel Ianni will be held from 2 to 7 p.m. today at Conroy Funeral Home, with a funeral Mass at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Teresa Catholic Church.