He was a Renaissance man retired from the geology faculty. She was a graduate who always put her friends before herself.
Though professor Roddy Amenta and alum Lanie Kruszewski lost their lives earlier this summer, friends and colleagues find comfort in the memories they have of them as the school year begins.
Amenta had a nickname for nearly everyone he met during his 38-year tenure in JMU’s geology department. He would burst into his classrooms and told his students they were going to study the “Periodic Table of Elephants.” He passed out tests to students while wearing a mask to jokingly fluster them.
Amenta, 75, died July 28 of a blood disease that damages bone marrow.
He was known for making friends easily with faculty in other departments.
“Roddy broke the mold — there’s no one like him,” said Debra Warne, a mathematics professor. “He was a man ahead of his time. He will be missed, far and wide.”
Stephen Leslie, a geology and environmental science professor, said Amenta’s quirkiness was famous in the Physics/Chemistry building.
“He was a fun-loving guy with a very dry wit and great sense of humor,” Leslie said.
Bob Atkins, a retired chemistry professor, started teaching at JMU in 1974 and had known Amenta ever since then.
“The first thing he did after he retired last year was turn around and take a biochemistry course,” Atkins said. “I’d come to his house to drop off a newspaper, and we’d sit and chat, and he’d start asking me chemistry questions. He never stopped wanting to learn.”
Gina MacDonald, nicknamed “Gina Ba-lina” by Amenta, taught him in her biochemistry class last fall. Amenta came to her office hours and asked questions that never had an easy answer.
“It was always a sophisticated, big-picture question,” MacDonald said. “He never got caught up in the minutia of it all.”
Atkins said Amenta had planned on taking more courses this fall.
“He was concerned about when he’d have to get here in the mornings to get a good parking place so he could take classes,” Atkins said.
Amenta’s sharp questions affected students as well.
Matthew Huckfeldt, a 2012 earth science graduate, recalls giving his senior presentation about geophysics. Amenta was one of the symposium judges who listened to students’ presentations.
Amenta asked Huckfeldt to explain a complicated mathematical model that was designed by a Yale professor.
“I’m glad he asked it,” Huckfeldt said, “because it kept me on my toes, and I know that’s why he asked that, because he seems like he liked making people really think about what they were doing and held students to a higher standard.”
Faculty members are planning a memorial service for Amenta on Sept. 14 in the Montpelier Room in E-Hall. The time is still to be determined.
Whether it was cooking, exercising, schoolwork or her job at Dave’s Taverna, Kruszewski always put her heart and soul into everything she did.
She had the ability to make even strangers feel good about themselves.
“She took a genuine interest in other people’s lives and always left people feeling good about their endeavors,” said James Gorman, a 2010 biology graduate who met her his sophomore year.
Kruszewski, 24, died July 29 in a hit-and-run accident in Richmond. Her friend Molly Rossberg said Kruszewski was riding her bike home late at night from work.
She was a psychology major who graduated magna cum laude in May 2011. Rossberg, a writing, rhetoric and technical communication graduate student, said Kruszewski always challenged her professors and other students in discussion.
Friends and family in Richmond held a memorial bike ride for her in early August to raise awareness about bike safety, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“She was always very perceptive of people’s needs,” Rossberg said. “I wouldn’t have to give any single hint about how my day was. She would just know.”
Rossberg took a GKIN swimming class with Kruszewski their freshman year. They had a workout every day that they were determined to complete.
“Everyone else was always trying to get out [of class] early,” Rossberg said. “But especially Lanie, she always wanted to finish.”
Kruszewski attended a culinary school in New York before coming to JMU. She used her cooking talents to entertain her friends, even on her 21st birthday.
“It would normally be your friends planning everything, but she insisted on cooking dinner for us,” Rossberg said. “We all sat around drinking wine and eating one of the best meals I ever had: homemade pizza and peaches wrapped in bacon.”
Although Rossberg is back at JMU without Kruszewski, she still feels a sense of peace.
“It’s comforting at the same time to be here and to know she lived her life to fullest,” Rossberg said. “I don’t know anyone else who took so much advantage of every day.”
Contact Alison Parker at email@example.com.