n the 1988 fall semester, Kelly Rodoski’s freshman year at Syracuse University was like anyone else’s first year in 2016: she lived in Flint Hall, she supported the Syracuse Orange and she attended classes while working toward her English degree.
Then on Dec. 21, while she was still in finals week, everything changed when she learned that terrorists bombed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The attack killed 270 people, including 35 SU students who were returning from their study abroad program in London.
“It was just something that happened on the other side of the world to other people,” Rodoski said. “It didn’t happen to your community.”
Twenty-eight years later, Rodoski and two other staff members, Kate Hanson and Vanessa St. Oegger-Menn, are now in charge of the Remembrance and Lockerbie Scholars program. They are taking over for Judy O’Rourke, who, before retiring in 2015, has been instrumental in organizing the program since its inception.
O’Rourke is not out of the picture, though. She is still volunteering and helping the three women transition into their new roles. But Rodoski, St.Oegger-Menn and Hanson have been the ones advising scholars, organizing events and connecting with members of the victims’ families.
All three women initially became involved with Remembrance through their primary jobs and O’Rourke’s encouragement. As the senior communications manager for SU’s division of public affairs, Rodoski worked with O’Rourke to publicize Remembrance Week and related events. She said she became more involved with it every year and joined the program’s scholars selection committee two years ago.
“You can’t imagine your life or your job without it,” said Rodoski, who now serves as the liaison for the Lockerbie Scholars and handles the publicity.
Hanson first worked with O’Rourke when they developed the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising in 2012. Through the center and her job as deputy director of the Renée Crown University Honors Program, Hanson began to get involved with Remembrance Scholars and served on the Remembrance Scholars selection committee for two years. Now, she is charge of that same committee.
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While she did not graduate from SU or have personal connections to the bombing, Hanson said she admires the community that has evolved from the tragedy.
“It’s a real testament of our capacity to come together and create something powerful that transforms a single tragic event into a long-lasting force for all that is good and positive in the world,” she said.
After St. Oegger-Menn completed her master’s degree in library and information science at SU, the university hired her to assist managing the Pan Am Flight 103 archives in January 2015. Last year, O’Rourke asked her to help with Remembrance Week, whether it was planning the use of any archives for the scholars or picking up the slack wherever she could.
When O’Rourke was getting ready to retire, she asked St. Oegger-Menn to take on a more significant role. Not only does she handle the archives, but St. Oegger-Menn also tackles delegating tasks to the scholars.
Although it is only St.Oegger-Menn’s second time organizing Remembrance Week, she has enjoyed the experience because archivists have a behind-the-scenes job and do not typically spend time with people. Getting to know the victims’ families and the scholars and see the inspiration work that they do has been meaningful, she added.
“When this started, I was sensitive to what it meant but I didn’t anticipate that it was going to have the effect on me that it has,” she said. “I think it’s really changed how I feel about what we’re all doing here on campus and the importance of our work, what this really means and how closely you connect with everyone that is involved.”
O’Rourke was not surprised to see how Rodoski, Hanson and St.Oegger-Menn gradually became more involved with the program.
It’s a real testament of our capacity to come together and create something powerful that transforms a single tragic event into a long-lasting force for all that is good and positive in the worldKate Hanson, a leader of the Remembrance and Lockerbie Scholars program
“You don’t take this job, but you start becoming exposed to this program and it sucks you in,” O’Rourke said.
Even though she is no longer in charge of the Remembrance program, O’Rourke still helps out, whether it is directing them to someone that could help with a specific task or remembering how a previous class of scholars came up with a certain event.
“I don’t think anyone can ever fill Judy’s shoes,” Hanson said.
Hanson considers O’Rourke a valued mentor and said she hopes the work that she, Rodoski, St. Oegger-Menn and the scholars put into will be a testament to their respect and admiration for O’Rourke.
“If we are the advisers to the scholars, then Judy is the adviser to all of us,” St. Oegger-Menn said.
Rodoski said they now understand how much time and energy O’Rourke had put into the program.
“There’s been many times where I sit at my desk and think, ‘How did she do this? What would Judy do?’” Rodoski said.
Having each other has also been comforting as Rodoski, Hanson and St. Oegger-Menn navigate through the logistics. St. Oegger-Menn said she has tried to be mindful that O’Rourke is retired and should let her enjoy her time off.
“We shouldn’t call her at midnight,” she said, laughing. “But I can call Kate and Kelly at any time of the day or night, ‘cause they’re still here.”
Knowing that O’Rourke trusted the three of them with the program also gave St. Oegger-Menn confidence to handle her new role, she said.
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Katherine Frega, a 2015-16 Remembrance Scholar, worked with O’Rourke on Remembrance Week events and Rodoski and Hanson on the selection committee for this year’s Remembrance Scholars. Although Frega was upset when she found out that O’Rourke was retiring last year, she said she believes Rodoski, Hanson and St. Oegger-Menn will do a great job.
“Still having Judy as a resource is going to be a key to them moving forward, but I think that they are all capable and committed,” Frega said.
One challenge the three women face is how to ensure the community remembers Pan Am Flight 103 as they move further and further away from the event. Seven years ago, the program started to have scholars that were not born when the terrorist attack happened, Rodoski said.
“How do make those events relatable for people who have no point of reference?” she said.
Even now, they are at the point where students were only six or seven years old when 9/11 happened, she added.
Frega said it is going to be important to keep the Remembrance program and the memory of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims a focus and priority on a university level.
“It’s the essence and being of Syracuse,” Frega said. “Part of that is having this event happen to us and it brings the community together.”
When Rodoski was a freshman, she said she did not fully understand what the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing meant. It was not until she returned to SU as a full-time staff member and became a mother that she realized the magnitude the event had on not just the SU community, but for the rest of the world.
“I always have a little bit of guilt,” she said. “You know, I lived and they didn’t.”
Now, Rodoski said she feels like she knows the upperclassmen that were on that plane 28 years ago.
“I didn’t know any of them back in 1988,” Rodoski said. “But going through this process every year and knowing families, I feel like I know them and I hope that I am making the most out of what I’ve been given.”
Banner photo by Marisa Frigoletto | Contributing Photographer
Published on October 23, 2016 at 9:55 pm