Current and former New Paltz students found themselves mourning the death of a beloved professor yet again on Jan. 25, when adjunct history lecturer John Palencsar passed away. An email addressed to students on Jan. 27, just two days later, stated that the history instructor “was a highly respected teacher with a reputation for helping spark students’ interest in topics related to American history.”
Palencsar is unfortunately not the first professor to pass away in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. On Dec. 31 of last year, students were notified of the passing of Palmer Kocher, an adjunct professor of Mathematics that had lectured at New Paltz since 1997 and was an alumnus himself. Kocher was a member of the West Hurley fire department and was incredibly proud of his therapy dog Sandy, who was by his side when he passed. He was 77 years old.
On Jan. 12, students were notified that a former professor of physics and astronomy Jozef Gembarovic, 67, was no longer with us. Gembarovic was an immigrant from Slovakia and taught on campus with his son-in-law Matthew Friday, a graduate coordinator with the art department.
Another message from SUNY New Paltz on Jan. 20 confirmed that Joe Paparone, former professor of theater arts, had passed on as well. Facebook tributes poured in as the family took time to address the New Paltz community and wrote that “New Paltz and the theatre were his home and all of you his family. He was so proud of all of you and loved telling stories of all the shows, and his classes.” As of Sunday, Feb. 7, there were 264 comments and countless shares on the post.
“Godspeed, Joe Paparone. You were one of the greats,” commented SUNY New Paltz student Kevin Theis.
In addition to professors and countless others locally who have lost their lives during this moment in history, transfer student Cassidy Flood, 19, passed away in her home on Nov. 30, 2020.
And while this is not an exhaustive list, it does remind us that tomorrow is never promised.
This pandemic has taken over 469,000 lives in the U.S., and continues to ravage the country day by day. While many of us may have never had the opportunity to learn under these dedicated professors, there is an opportunity for us to take a moment of remembrance for the lives that have been lost within our New Paltz community. Rest easy, Joe Paparone; Cassidy Flood; Josef Gembarovic; John Palencsar; Margaret Lucy Hayes Taylor; Lawrence Rowe; Arthur Hack; Steven Ziskind; Selden Spencer; Palmer Kocher. All of these and many others who need not be forgotten.
Emily Dickinson has said that “unable are the loved to die, for love is immortality.” We do not have finite love to give, and as a community we can send good wishes and peace to the families of those affected most deeply by these losses. Our infinite love is in their hearts.