Mari Heller walked into the fish camp late on the evening of June 14. She looked around, assessing her surroundings, and locked onto her target, a young girl named Jordan.
Ten minutes later, this happened.
Classic Mari. Fighting an 8-year-old.
“Right away I just started by just pushing her around and giving her crap for stuff. Bullying her, but not really. Just making fun of her.” Mari said. “Then she just gave it right back! She basically was me in a little person’s body. Like literally.”
Several hours later, as our crew started heading back to Bethel, Jordan ran up to Mari and hugged her with great gusto.
“I miss her already,” Mari said.
Mari Heller is spunky and strong-willed, but simultaneously caring and considerate. She’s quick to poke fun, but does it in a way that’s all inclusive, bringing people into a tighter community.
She brought these traits with her on the Creighton Backpack Journalism trip to Bethel, Alaska, and quickly became the glue that keeps the ragtag crew together. She was integral to social unity.
Mari once walked throughout the camp, telling people that Carol wanted to see everyone in the social hall.
Upon the last person’s arrival, she revealed the truth.
“Okay everyone, Carol didn’t actually need to see you,” she said.
“Claudia and I have appointed ourselves the social chairs of BackpackJournalism,” she proclaimed, “and we have a fun surprise for y’all: Superlatives.”
She and Claudia proceeded to run through a list of superlatives for the entire group, including Best at Being Dressed to Scale a Mountain at All Times (Hannah), Best Smirk (TJ), and Best at Making Everything Epic (myself).
The spectacle demonstrated Mari’s astounding ability to lightly poke fun at people and subsequently bring them closer together, her most prominent and endearing quality.
Mari was brought up in San Antonio, Texas ((she’ll be quick to argue with you about the merit of her home state’s Barbecue) Okay, maybe I instigated her a little on this, as I’m from Kansas City).
After graduating from high school there, she decided to continue her education at Texas A&M University.
“I pretty much just went to Texas A&M because that’s where kids from my high school were going. I was really close to them,” Mari said.
This proximity to her high school friends did not turn out to benefit her.
“I realized how big of a mistake that was like sophomore year,” Mari said. “I decided I was going to transfer.”
After researching and visiting several schools, she decided to attend Creighton, though she initially was against it.
“(My Mom) suggested I look at Creighton and I wrote it off immediately because it was in Nebraska and because my mom suggested it,” Mari said. “I wasn’t even happy that I got in because I was like, ‘I’m not even going there anyway.'”
After visiting, Mari decided Creighton was the right fit after all, and transferred in for her Junior year, eventually deciding on a major in PR.
“I had to admit that my mom was right, which was rough. The rest is history I guess. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done probably, getting away from high school,” Mari said.
One year into her Creighton career and craving a travel-study experience, Mari decided to head to Alaska for the Backpack Journalism program.
“When I talked to Dr. Wirth about abroad possibilities, she suggested Alaska as a good way to get to know people in the department. So, I signed up,” she said.
Before leaving, Mari had some second thoughts about the trip. She found herself unsure of the intended story and unfamiliar with the group she had become a part of.
Luckily, she found more than she expected.
“I thought we were going to just go make the film, talk to some people. It was more than that. I learned that what’s right or normal for one person isn’t necessarily right or normal for another person. It kind of reinforced the idea that not everyone should have the same lifestyle or beliefs. That shouldn’t be forced on anyone. It was intense,” she said.
“Is there any more you’d like to add?” I asked, near the conclusion of our interview.
With a rambunctious smirk and shrug, Mari answered in classic form.
“Eh. Not really.”