Most students call the College “home” during their four or five years spent working towards a degree. But for Ryan Fesko, the College was like his own personal backyard from birth until his death in a car accident this summer.
On the night of May 17, Fesko was in a car with friends. In an instant, the car spun out of control and three of the four men in the vehicle – all friends since childhood – were killed.
Fesko grew up across the lake from the College and spent most of his childhood in Ewing. He learned to swim in the pool on campus and played on campus grounds when he was young. Fesko’s mother, Kathy Brazell, taught at the College’s summer program during Ryan’s childhood. His stepfather, James Brazell, taught English at the College until he retired in May, the day before Fesko’s death.
“He had an exuberance about life,” James Brazell said while reminiscing about Fesko’s life. Kathy Brazell referred to him as a “pied piper to the kids in the neighborhood.” She remembers him always talking to the kids in the neighborhood and playing basketball with them. Fesko always had time for children. He traveled to Oregon two summers in a row to work at a basketball camp for children with diabetes. Before his death, Fesko had been selected to be a camp counselor at Princeton University Sports Camp.
Fesko, who would have been a senior health and physical education major this semester, was also a substitute teacher at Fisher Middle School in Ewing. Kathy Brazell remembers the children giving Fesko gifts, and even baking for him, out of adoration. He would tease his mother who, for 34 years, taught and won many awards for teaching in Ewing Township by saying, “You won all the awards, but they liked me better.” After his death, 10 grief counselors were called to the school to help the children cope with their loss.
“He would have been perfect as an elementary school teacher,” Edward Rockel, professor of biology, said. Rockel had Fesko as a student for only one class, but said that the two came to appreciate each other very much.
“He was the only student in the last few years that was comfortable enough to put his hands on my arm as we talked,” Rockel said. “Some people are just warm.”
Fesko was an extremely friendly person, according to his mother and stepfather. “Ryan would go out of his way to say ‘hello’ to people,” the Brazelles said. “He wasn’t the type of person to wait for you to say ‘hello.'” James Brazell said that “the phone was always ringing” and that Fesko’s friends were always over their house.
“If you were his friend, you were his friend for life,” Kathy Brazell said. “His biggest gift was to be able to make friends and keep them.” A loyal friend, Fesko “would not let a cross word be said about any of his friends.” While he made many new friends at the College, he was still very close to most of his childhood friends.
Fesko’s mom often reminisces about all the time that they spent together. He had helped her plant the colorful garden in their backyard. Now every time she looks at their garden, she does so with remembrance.
Fesko’s memorial at the College, which was supposed to be last Friday, was rescheduled due to the loss of electricity on campus.