ECC photography leader and professor dies at 66

ECC photography leader and professor dies at 66

El Camino College photography professor Darilyn Rowan has died at the age of 66 due to unknown causes on Oct. 19.

Rowan was a leader of the El Camino College (ECC) photography department and a tenured professor according to her Linkedin profile.

Associate Dean of Fine Arts Walter Cox told The Union that the fine arts department was emailed information of Rowan’s death by Vice President of Academic Affairs Jacquelyn Sims.

When calling the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office, a phone representative told The Union that Rowan’s cause of death is currently unknown and is pending.

Rowan worked at ECC for 32 years, first hired in Sept. 1989 and taught classes up until her death this semester. During her time at ECC, Rowan taught various forms of arts and photography classes, including film photography.

Throughout her time as a professor, Rowan supported various students with her love and dedication to teaching photography, including portrait photographer Lyn Watanabe.

“I actually was waiting to apply to dental school because I wanted to be a dentist. I always wanted to learn film photography, so I took a class at El Camino and I loved it,” Watanabe said.

After a year of Watanabe trying to focus on dentistry, Rowan was able to convince her to take another photography class at ECC.

“Before I knew it I took the next class and the next class and then she was like ‘well you only need two more classes to get the degree.’ So eventually I got the degree,” Watanabe said.

This kind of focus and nurturing would continue throughout Rowan’s career at ECC for all of her students.

“She treated each student with respect, and she liked everyone’s work. She was trying to be encouraging to everyone,” Linda Detwiler Burner, ECC classified systems programmer and alumni said.

Cox, who also took Rowan’s class as a student at ECC in the mid-1990s, described the class as very hands-on.

“It was all wet lab, there weren’t any computers yet and it was also located in the communication building,” Cox said. “[The class] is really teaching you how to use the camera and how to operate, how to develop film.”

As for working with other instructors, Rowan’s interactions with professors in her division were one-on-one oriented, as she solely focused on the individual during discussions.

“I say every year, we probably have two or three meetings over coffee to discuss the coming year for plans, my plans, she wanted to know how I was doing, how my enrollment was. So she was very supportive and caring in that sense,” Gary Kohatsu, former ECC photojournalism professor and Warrior Life magazine member said.

Supporting not only those in her department, Rowan also kept in contact with individuals in the ECC community, from the President to the custodians on campus grounds, she let them know that their work was appreciated.

“That’s a person who is really investing in a community, not just ‘I’m coming to work, I’m doing my job and I leave,'” ECC Music Professor and close friend Joanna Nachef said.

Support also came in the form of creation, as Rowan and ECC Public Access Librarian at the time Ed Martinez, started creating photography shows at Schauerman Library. Both students and alumni, some of whom worked at ECC, were able to showcase their works for family, friends and the community.

“She didn’t have to do that. But she wanted to do that for the students and to give them that experience,” Burner said.

Burner says she appreciated the experience received from the photo shows at the library, as Rowan was able to give feedback and information about her photos and the process that was done.

“I felt like I had 100% of her attention and it was really nice because you don’t get that very often anymore from anybody because everyone’s so busy,” Burner said

Rowan was also responsible for creating the certificate of achievement in the photography department, giving students in the department opportunities for academic accomplishment.

“She was a force of nature that was evident in her passion to teach, to grow the program, it was a thriving photography program,” Nachef said. “It was incredible to watch her develop something from nothing.”

While teaching was a focus for Rowan, she was also in charge of the photography department and ran it by herself, as she was the only full-time photography professor at ECC.

“She did everything that was needed to be done. Making sure SLOs [student learning outcomes] are taken care of, program reviews, anything that had to be administratively done,” Nachef said.

Other than teaching photography at ECC, Rowan would support the college in many different ways. Nachef said Rowan would always lend a hand in order to help students in different departments and classes.

“Over the years, I’ve taken my groups to Carnegie Hall to perform there and I had to do a lot of fundraising. Well, Darilyn was right there helping to fundraise for my choral group, to give scholarships to students and facilitate having that experience come into fruition because she believed in what we all are doing for our students,” Nachef said.

Rowan faced some of her own personal struggles while dealing with the responsibilities of teaching, such as the sudden death of her husband, as well as battling and defeating breast cancer. During these moments, she continued to do what she loved and help others.

“Without complaint, I mean, she was at work, she was teaching. You know, she never missed class,” Cox said.

With current struggles such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Rowan continued to make the most of the situation, working to give students an avenue to learn photography online.

Cox said that Rowan was able to create clever ways to help her students during their time online, enabling the students to take photos without the aid of special equipment.

Contact with students even occurred outside of the classroom, as Rowan continued talking with previous students and brought up what they had discussed when given the chance.

“If she heard from somebody, she would always say, ‘oh, guess what, I heard from so-and-so, they’re doing well doing commercial photography,’ or whatever it might be,” Kohatsu said.

Besides phone calls, Rowan would actually meet with students, providing moral support, and discussing what each of them had done since they last met.

“She supported me through everything I’ve done photographically, all my own shows, she made a point to show up to every single one no matter where they were located,” Watanabe said.

Maintaining friendships was also important to Rowan, as she always tried to make time for others and check to see how they were doing.

“I just could not imagine that I will never see her on that campus again, or hear her voice coming down the hallway in the Music Building [saying], ‘Joanna!’ Just checking to see I’m in my office where we would just want to spend five minutes, we’d end up spending two hours,” Nachef said.

Outside of ECC, Rowan was an established photographer, having photos make it into multiple libraries and collections throughout the world on topics that she was passionate about.

According to emails between Watanabe and Rowan, some of Rowan’s photo collections on holocaust survivors are in the Harvard University Library, the New York Public Library and the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, France.

Rowan also gave back to her community, having talks at the South Bay Camera Club, a photography club located in Torrance. One topic that she would speak about was the history of photography.

Burner said that Rowan’s talks were fascinating and how Rowan was even scheduled to continue her talk about photo history on Oct. 25.

Although the death of Professor Rowan has come as a surprise to those in the ECC community, many remember a person who was nurturing not only in her teachings and interactions but as someone who loved teaching and helping others through any situation, from students working on assignments, to friends going through stressful situations.

“She’s given me so much. I could never actually repay her, so I told her how I would repay her is to be expressful with my photography, to continue my photography and do whatever I can to keep it alive,” Watanabe said.


Editors Note Nov. 3, 2021, 6:49 p.m.: Headline was adjusted for grammar and clarity.

Editor’s Note Nov. 4, 2021, 11:03 a.m.: Story updated to correct a spelling mistake.

Editor’s Note Nov. 14, 2021, 10:05 p.m.: Headline and lead paragraph mentioning age of Darilyn Rowan updated for accuracy.