11/16/2007 AT 02:35 PM EST
Colleagues, friends and family were celebrating the life of Donda West, the late mother of rapper Kanye West, with music and tributes at a memorial service Friday at Chicago State University, where she was a faculty member for 24 years.
Through tears, one friend recalled that West, who died Nov. 10
of possible complications from surgery, was "open and friendly with everyone. It didn't matter if you had a PhD, a bachelor's degree or no degree at all. She made everyone feel important."
Another friend read a poem about mothers, which included the lines: "How shall we celebrate mothers?/How shall we call them in the winter of their lives?/What melody will cure slow bones?/Who will bring them worriless late-years?/Who will thank them for hidden pains?"
Dr. Brenda Eatman Aghahowa, the current head of the English department, which West once ran, led a call-and-response with the audience. "She was very clear that the work people are doing is not as important as the people who are doing it," Aghahowa said.
A group of musicians and singers led the crowd in a rendition of the gospel song "I Will Rejoice."
Kanye West was not in attendance; Donda West's nephew represented the family.