Sunday, August 26, 2012

JMU loses four Dukes - The Breeze

Three major JMU organizations and one school department each begin the year with the loss of one of their own.

A physics professor and three students died this summer. JMU also lost seven members of its community last year. But friends chose to focus on the lives and accomplishments of those they loved, not their deaths.

Don Chodrow

Chodrow, was a professor in the physics department for 32 years.

He was killed in a single-vehicle car accident on Interstate-81 on June 18.

According to a blog post on the JMU Physics and Astronomy website, he was driving to JMU to teach his PHYS 150 summer session class.

He was transported to U.Va. Medical Center, but never regained consciousness, the blog said. After an organ donation, Chodrow was removed from life support.

During his life, he was influential in improving the physics program curriculum, chairing the Curriculum and Instruction Committee for more than 10 years.

His passion for physics was most evident in the classroom.

Sinead Gilmore, a senior biology major, took Chodrow’s PHYS 150 class last spring. She said he challenged students to think beyond lecture and see physics in everyday life.

“Along with the physics, he emphasized the history of how this knowledge came to be, so that we could see the logic, both correct and flawed, that physicists of the past used to come up with their theories,” Gilmore said.

She said Chodrow always kept his students on their toes.

“He gave pop-quizzes, but would sometimes reward students who attended class with easy, ‘What is 3 + 4?’ type questions,” Gilmore said. “To make physics lectures a little more fun, he would often insert quirky little jokes into the lecture material in an attempt to liven an early morning class.”

Chodrow influenced even those who never had him as a professor.

“I didn’t really know him personally, but I remember him for his passion for education,” said Drew Nutter, a 2011 graduate. “It was clear he wasn’t there just to have a job in physics. He was there because he really wanted to help students.”

The faculty members who worked closely with Chodrow are raising money to set up an endowed memorial fund in his name to help further students’ education. If interested in donating, visit

Matthew Mooers

Mooers, a junior engineering major, was involved in InterVarsity, a Christian organization.

Meredith Seamon and Mooers became close through InterVarsity and would spend time reflecting on their lives in the arboretum.

“We would always go there and talk,” said Seamon, a junior IDLS major. “We had a tree that was our tree where we would go to talk for hours.”

Police are still investigating Mooers’ death, which happened on Aug. 17. Lt. Chris Rush with the Harrisonburg Police Department said officers who responded to the scene in Hunters Ridge sent evidence to a forensics lab and are awaiting results.

Jacquelyn Nagel was Mooers’ Engineering Design I professor last year. She said Mooers was an interested student, always asking questions in class.

“We saw him as a good student, but we knew he was going to be a successful student,” Nagel said.

Seamon and Mooers’ friends said he always knew just the right thing to say.

“If you were sad, he wanted [to be the one] to make you happy,” Seamon said. “Whenever I was sad, he would always sing me the song, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ until I started to laugh and smile.”

Tiffany Newbold, an engineering adviser to Mooers, remembers a conversation she had with him about turning his life around. He was enrolled in the partial-hospitalization program through Rockingham Memorial Hospital, according to Seamon.

“He came to me late in the spring and expressed a desire to make some positive changes in his life,” Newbold said. “He knew that and set about to make plans in his academics that would benefit him greatly and allow him a better path forward.”

Elizabeth Nass

Nass is remembered as the girl who could make anyone laugh â€" even those she barely knew.

“She was going to dedicate her life to helping children who are disabled, which I think we all realize isn’t exactly the easiest career path,” said Stephanie Fowler, a junior communication sciences and disorders major. “So I think this says a lot about the type of person she was.”

Nass, who was a junior interdisciplinary studies major, was killed in a train derailment just after midnight Tuesday in Ellicott City, Md. Rose Mayr, a junior nursing major at the University of Delaware, was also killed.

Erica Chavez, a junior political science major, still remembers meeting Nass in her FrOG group two years ago. Nass quickly became friends with everyone in her hallway.

“She was one of the very few people that could make me laugh so much it hurt,” Chavez said. “When you’re having a bad day, she was always there offering a laugh and a smile. She was always the first to laugh at herself, too.”

Nass was a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha Sorority and the Operation: Beautiful campaign, which posts positive sticky notes around campus to brighten someone’s day.

Katie Szymanski, a junior accounting major, also lived on Nass’ hallway during their freshman year. The two were both from Ellicott City.

Szymanski and Chavez said one of their best memories of Nass was coming together for Sunday dinners at Chavez’s apartment.

“Coming from Maryland and all, she was a great cook,” Chavez said. “She had all of these crab recipes that were unbelievably good.”

Her humor will remain with her friends, who learned from Nass to never take life too seriously.

“The best gift you can give to a friend is a laugh,” Szymanski said. “She gave me a lot.”

Trent Hanafee

Hanafee’s friends remember him as the sociable man everyone loved. Kappa Alpha Order fraternity brothers said he was outgoing and always willing to help a friend in need.

Hanafee, a senior communications major, died Aug. 17 in his hometown of West Windsor, N.J. Medical officials at the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital and New Jersey police didn’t have any information regarding the cause of death.

Jack Dennehy, a junior sports management major, has known Hanafee since middle school.

“He had a real distinct giggle that everyone knows him for,” Dennehy said. “Freshman year at JMU, he really helped me get adjusted to everything, and he introduced me to a lot of guys that I still hang out with.”

Resources on campus can help those who are grieving.

“Our office is working with the chapters to provide resources through the Counseling Center for their members,” said Jill Courson, assistant director of University Unions for Fraternity and Sorority Life. “We are deeply saddened by these tragedies and wish to support our members and their families in any way that we can.”

Varner House, JMU’s free group and individual counseling center, welcomes those who may be affected.

“People may experience a variety of reactions including sadness, anger, fear and uncertainty,” said Melinda Morgan, a counseling outreach coordinator for Varner House. “What is important to remember is that intense emotions are a normal and healthy response.”

The center isn’t just for students who need to talk to someone.

“We encourage faculty and staff to contact us if they have questions about facilitating conversations in their classrooms and grieving as a community, especially in the midst of their own emotional reactions.”

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