There are some people who walk the earth and make an immediate and lasting impact on everyone they meet. Whether through their service, their art, their kindness or all of these things combined, they create positive change even if their time is short. Autumn Rupkey was one of these people.
“I think that Autumn really lived a life of service to others,” Kevin Rupkey, Autumn’s father, said of his daughter. “I think that she consistently gave back to her community, and there was no doubt that she loved Des Moines.”
The Drake University grad was known throughout the city across the numerous communities she was involved in. She played Cajon for the band The Carbon Canaries as well as for worship at Vineyard Church. She was a co-founder of Beza Threads, a Des Moines-based nonprofit that sells handcrafted accessories made by formerly enslaved Ethiopian artisans. In her free time, Autumn loved graphic design and illustrating. And through her involvement with AmeriCorps, she began working for Habitat For Humanity in 2012.
In 2018, Rupkey passed away suddenly due to a traumatic brain injury. Her death left the communities that loved her reeling and searching for ways to commemorate her. Three years later, they found the answer.
“The memorial build started last year with a fundraising effort by Autumn’s parents to basically put together a way for her family members and some of her friends to come together around one of her passions, which was affordable housing and working with Habitat [for Humanity],” Danny Akright recalled. Akright is the director of communications for the Greater Des Moines Habitat.
This year, Habitat For Humanity and the Rupkeys decided to bring the memorial build back for a second year.
“It was sort of weird [last year] because it was COVID, and you know, there weren’t a lot of participants. But we did ultimately get some folks. And we really had a good time,” Kevin Rupkey said. “And so we were like, ‘We need to make this bigger.’ So we met with Jenna Ekstrom and then Danny Akright said, ‘You know what, we’re gonna do the same thing.'”
The Autumn Rupkey Memorial Build will take place between Oct. 12 to 15. Kevin Rupkey and Autumn’s mother, Pam Rupkey, have pledged to match $10,000 again this year. Their ultimate goal is to raise $30,000. But the Rupkeys and Habitat for Humanity are taking their fundraising efforts a step further. As a way to raise money for the build, Habitat for Humanity has partnered with local businesses to sell stickers and shirts with Autumn’s illustrations on them.
The illustrations act as reminders of Autumn’s witty, playful personality. Even the ones not included on the sticker sheet are still brightening her loved ones’ lives.
“I’m in the cubicle Autumn used to be in,” Akright said. “And on the whiteboard, there’s a preserved illustration of Autumn’s that was done in whiteboard marker, but has been there for four years or more now. And it’s never gone away.”
Perhaps Autumn’s focus on the tangible is what set her apart. Not only did she practice what she preached, she was able to inspire people to work towards visible change in the areas she was passionate about. From building houses, to selling jewelry, to putting together Walmart bags of shelf-stable items for houseless folks living in Des Moines, Autumn knew that change was rooted in action. And even though she is no longer able to do the physical work herself, the evidence of her impact is the work her communities are doing in honor of her.
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