The GAA’s memorial service for the six alumni killed in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, is held annually at the 9/11 Memorial Garden on Stadium Drive, near the George Watts Hill Alumni Center, between 8:46 and 9:03 a.m., the times when hijacked planes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
(Grant Halverson ’93)
The place and timing were the same for 2020. The GAA placed flowers at the memorial, which was built as a gift from the class of 2005, who had just entered UNC when the planes crashed in New York, at the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and in a field in Pennsylvania.
Framed by a rectangle of low stone walls like those that hug the campus, the memorial garden has a plaque that bears the names of the alumni lost: Karleton Fyfe ’92, Mary Lou Hague ’96, Andrew King ’83, Ryan Kohart ’98, Dora Menchaca ’78 (MSPH) and Christopher Quackenbush ’79.
In this year of COVID-19 safety measures and remote learning to curtail the pandemic, members of the UNC community did not gather at the memorial. But Tar Heels, wherever they are, can take a moment during this current difficult period to reflect on that tragedy and how we have remained steadfast in our remembrance of that time, of this place and of the lives cut short.
Seldom has Carolina’s campus come to such
A stunned halt as it did on Sept. 11, 2001.
People were glued to TVs watching news coverage, trying to comprehend what was happening.
A big-screen TV in the Student Union was tuned to CNN for coverage of the attacks. (Photo by Dan Sears ’74)
On Sept. 12, some 10,000 people streamed into Polk Place — the largest gathering there anyone could remember — and held hands and listened for words of comfort and hope.
Then-Chancellor James Moeser led a vigil on Polk Place the day after the attacks. (Photo by Dan Sears ’74)
Students grieved at the campus vigil on Polk Place. (Photo by Dan Sears ’74)
Soon word came that six Carolina alumni were among the almost 3,000 who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks. Two were passengers on separate flights; two worked in the same firm, Cantor Fitzgerald, graduating 15 years apart. One represented the 52 alumni of the Kenan-Flagler Business School who had work addresses at the World Trade Center at the time. One had ties to UNC covering at least four generations. These are the stories of how they were remembered at the time, as reported by editor Regina Oliver ’75 in the November/December 2001 Carolina Alumni Review.
Karleton Douglas Beye Fyfe ’92
Karleton Douglas Beye Fyfe ’92 rarely traveled on business. He had been working as a financial analyst with the John Hancock Co. for nine months when he boarded American Airlines Flight 11, leaving his wife, Haven Conley Fyfe ’94, and 19-month-old son, Jackson, behind in their Brookline, Mass., home.
Fyfe, who grew up in Durham with his older sister, Tiffany Tanguilig ’89, inspired many people in his 31 years. In the days following Sept. 11, two people who knew him well — his uncle, Bill Tammeus, and a friend from UNC, Eric Schellhorn ’92 (MA) — published essays reflecting on Fyfe’s quiet wit, quick intelligence and unusual ability to say the right thing at the right time.
“When Karleton went to college, he made huge numbers of friends, all of whom, it seemed, showed up at his wedding in 1994,” Tammeus wrote in The Kansas City Star. “What good, loving, wonderful people came into Karleton’s circle. How he looked forward to staying in touch with them.”
Schellhorn had been Fyfe’s best man in that wedding. In an essay in The News & Observer, he recalled Fyfe’s deftness with words and kind touch with people. “There are people you’re proud to call friends, and then there are people whose friend you’re proud to be,” Schellhorn wrote. “I always felt I got the better end of our bargain.” Schellhorn recalled getting the flu on the morning of Fyfe’s wedding, passing out cold mid-ceremony, and later, “the vows exchanged in my absence, he … threw his arms around me, and said, without a trace of annoyance, ‘Thanks for giving us the only wedding video in history that’ll be worth watching in slo-mo.’
“My guess is that if he’d been watching Tuesday’s events on TV at home, rather than sitting on a plane bound for Los Angeles, he would have summed everything up with a vintage understatement: ‘Man, whoever did all this … they’re gonna have to give back a lot of those humanitarian awards.’ ”
“He was gentle but clear-eyed, analytical but whimsical,” Tammeus wrote, “as you might expect from someone whose dual majors at The University of North Carolina were economics and, of all things, philosophy.”
Friends of Fyfe, who was active in the GAA’s Carolina Club in Boston, are preparing to set up a scholarship fund in his name at Carolina. It would go to one student each year of similar whimsy, who double-majors in economics and philosophy.
Mary Lou Hague ’96
Mary Lou Hague ’96 came to Carolina from Parkersburg, W.Va., a town not unlike Chapel Hill in size. Three years ago, she headed for a much bigger place — New York — and she lived life large. A financial analyst for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., she worked on the 89th floor of the second tower in the World Trade Center.
Her friend and Tri-Delta sorority sister Heather Fain ’96 talked to The New York Times about her friend, about how Hague loved Michael Jackson and spent $1,500 to see him the last weekend of her life. She also loved Michael Jordan; her answering machine code was “23.” The Times featured Hague on Sept. 28 in its “A Nation Challenged” compilation of profiles of the Sept. 11 victims.
In Parkersburg, as word spread that Hague was unaccounted for in the World Trade Center disaster, the town was shaken.
“You have many students, but you remember some” more than others, Roger McCune, a veteran teacher at the gifted education program at Parkersburg High School, told the Charleston (W. Va.) Daily Mail. “She is one I remember. Very polished, very poised and sure of herself. Very responsible. … She knew back then where she wanted to go in life.”
After majoring in business at UNC and before moving to New York in 1998, Hague worked in Memphis, Tenn. Her friends said she had been thinking she would like to meet a Southern guy, move back to the South and have a dog.
On the day of the attack, she made phone calls from Tower 2 after Tower 1 had been hit. One call was to her mother, Liza Adams, to tell her she was OK but scared. Adams called back and said to leave immediately. Hague said she would but then heard that instructions had come over the loudspeaker in Tower 2 for employees to stay where they were. She was very responsible. She stayed.
Afterward, Adams went to New York in hopes that her daughter might be alive. She went to the Red Cross and stood in lines with other families who were looking for their loved ones. Two of Hague’s friends and sorority sisters from Chapel Hill — Fain and Elizabeth McWilliams Kimzey ’96 — spent days searching for Hague, filing a missing persons report, posting pictures, going to hospitals and cleaning Hague’s apartment in preparation of their friend’s family.
Later, Kimzey and Fain hosted a combination cocktail party and get-together for about 50 of Hague’s family and friends. The Jackson Five was on the stereo. It felt a little like the ’80s again. “We wanted to make it something she would have really liked,” Fain said. “I think it was a good thing for her family, but I was glad we did it just for us, too.”
An endowed need-based scholarship to UNC in Hague’s memory has been established by a friend. Contributions, marked for the Mary Lou Hague Scholarship, can be sent to UNC Development Office, Attn: Arthur Gregg, P.O. Box 309, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514.
Andrew Marshall King ’83
Andrew Marshall King ’83 also had been at work in the World Trade Center in February 1993, when the blast at the Twin Towers killed five people and injured about 1,000 others. King, a partner and currency trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, walked down the 104 floors to the wintry street below. If he ever looked back to that day in concern, his friend from childhood, Phillip Schmitt ’83, never knew about it.
“He lived,” Schmitt said. “He didn’t worry much. He was so dynamic. … He’d walk into a room, buy a drink, light up a cigar and immediately the whole atmosphere in the room would change.”
King worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, commuting 90 minutes or more each way from his home in Princeton, where he lived with his wife, Judy, and three children, Ce Ce, Drew and Carly. He was avid about many things; he loved golf so much that he saved the divot from his first hole-in-one, and when Drew achieved the same feat, “the recipient line on the e-mail was two pages long,” his friend Thomas Pritchard said during a memorial service reported by the Princeton Packet. At least 700 people attended the service, where King’s brother, Spencer, said: “Simply put, he was fuel for all our hearts. He made us all feel better.”
He opted for bear hugs over handshakes and got to know people quickly, well and in high numbers. “He accomplished and experienced more in his 42 years than most people do in a lifetime,” Pritchard said. In King’s two years at Carolina — he transferred in after falling in love with the place during a visit to his pal, Schmitt, and majored in political science — he seemed to get to know more people than most students manage in four years, Schmitt said.
While citing King’s achievements and commitment to his family and friends, the memorial service speakers also noted his unique mannerisms, the Packet reported. Judson Linville, another friend of the family, recalled King’s penchant for wearing “a Carolina blue Tar Heels cap” with orange madras shorts.
“And then there was the kilt,” Linville added, drawing laughter from the attendants, who recalled King’s pride in his Scottish heritage and the kilt he would wear on formal occasions.
As Spencer King ended his remarks, he asked everyone to rise and repeat a refrain, because “I want [Andrew] to hear us. … We love you, Andrew. We miss you, Andrew. We will never forget you, Andrew. God bless you, Andrew.”
Ryan Kohart ’98
Ryan Kohart ’98 never missed a day of work. That’s how Geoffrey Kohart knew, in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, that his 26-year-old son, a stock trader with Cantor Fitzgerald, was gone.
It was a job Kohart loved, his father told The Durham Herald-Sun. He was in his office on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower 1 when the hijacked aircraft struck the tower.
“When I saw that it happened, I said to my co-workers, ‘Oh my God, Ryan’s up there.’ They said that maybe he didn’t go to work that day, but I knew he never missed a day of work,” Kohart told The Herald-Sun.
Kohart also loved lacrosse. Having come to Carolina after growing up on Long Island, N.Y., he majored in political science and was a four-year letterman at UNC, a winner of the Jay Gallagher Award as the UNC lacrosse team’s outstanding freshman in 1995, and he co-captained the team in his senior year. He also played three seasons with his younger brother, Brett Kohart ’99, who followed him to Chapel Hill and played from 1996-99.
His family has created a memorial scholarship fund to help a future UNC lacrosse player. His father told The Herald-Sun that it is a scholarship that Kohart himself planned to create one day.
“We’re hoping to be able to supply a lacrosse player with financial help,” Geoffrey Kohart told the newspaper. “Ryan would have really liked that.”
Kohart, the third of four boys, also loved to read, travel and collect fine wines. In his junior year, he explored Europe through the University’s study-abroad program and was drawn to Florence, Italy. He returned there a few months ago with his girlfriend, Melissa White, and while there they became engaged to be married.
Kohart’s father also recalls his son’s passion for Carolina football. Just before the kickoff of UNC’s first home game against Florida State, the nearly 60,000 fans in attendance stood quietly in a moment of silence for Ryan Kohart.
His father said, “The fact that they announced my son’s name, I know he was up there, over Kenan Stadium, smiling.”
Contributions to the Ryan Kohart Memorial Scholarship Fund may be sent to The Educational Foundation, care of Sue Walsh, UNC, P.O. Box 2446, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27515.
Dora Menchaca ’78
Dora Menchaca ’78 (MSPH) was a research scientist with a strong maternal instinct, caring for her co-workers as well her husband and two children. “She would remind all of the men, including me, how important it was to get prostate screenings, since she had worked on a trial [for a drug to treat prostate cancer],” Dr. David Goodkin, vice president of clinical research at Amgen Inc., told the Santa Monica Mirror. “She was very upbeat, very devoted to trying to advance science, particularly to find drugs to treat cancer.”
On Sept. 10, Menchaca, an associate director for Amgen, one of the nation’s leading biotech firms, met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials. The meeting represented one step in seeking government approval for a new prostate cancer drug. When the meetings ended early, Menchaca called home to her husband, Earl Dorsey, in Santa Monica to let him know she’d be taking the next available flight.
“Whenever they had a product that was close to approval, Dora would make the trip to Washington” to meet with the FDA, said Dorsey in a story reported by Newsday.
That return trip was on American Airlines Flight 77 from Washington’s Dulles Airport, the plane that hit the Pentagon.
“I was watching the accounts on TV, and I knew that Dora was on the flight,” Dorsey said. Later that day, his fears were confirmed.
The couple, who met when they were both graduate students at UCLA, have two children, daughter Imani, 18, who is a freshman at the University of Portland, and son Jaryd, 5. “Dora enjoyed being home, working in her garden and making our house into a home,” Dorsey told Newsday.
“Dora was a very experienced and talented woman,” Goodkin told the Santa Monica Mirror. “Her job required not only scientific smarts, but leadership, and administrative ability. She was a people person, very beloved by her team members and co-workers.”
More than 500 people attended a candlelight vigil at Grant Elementary School, where Menchaca’s son has just begun kindergarten, in honor of Menchaca and the other victims of the terrorist attacks.
Christopher Quackenbush ’79
Christopher Quackenbush ’79 was “a man who wore Armani suits and wore Santa suits,” his brother, Michael Quackenbush ’77, recalled in an interview with The Durham Herald-Sun. As a founding principal in the investment banking firm of Sandler O’Neill & Partners, with offices in the World Trade Center, he had put his wealth to work for others, an attribute recalled many times by his friends and family in the weeks since Sept. 11.
Michael recalled his brother saying: “ ‘I’m the luckiest guy. I have the capacity now and the opportunity to do good things.’ ” Among those good things was his creation of the Jacob Marley Foundation; each year in its name, he took 600 children to Shea Stadium for a Mets game. The foundation’s name, from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, set the tone that Chris sought, Michael said: “Marley is the one who comes back and says to Scrooge: ‘You have a responsibility to take care of people.’
“He really got a sense of joy out of it,” Michael said.
Sandler O’Neill also has a reputation for community service and support of one another. When the firm reopened for business on Sept. 17, Jimmy Dunne, a managing partner, had a sign on his door: “Chris Quackenbush, missing, born Jan. 5, 1957, 195 pounds, 6 feet 4,” according to a Newsday article.
“He was able to reach a lot of people,” Michael said. “I’m finding out things he did.”
The things Chris did included serving on UNC’s Board of Visitors; his term ran through 2003. His family has numerous ties to Carolina, with his parents and three of his four siblings graduating from Carolina; his niece is a sophomore here now. His grandfather was a professor at UNC, and in 1996 Chris established, in his grandfather’s name, the Albert Ray Newsome Distinguished Professorship for the Study of the South. Newsome had been a history faculty member for nearly 20 years at UNC and for 16 years had served as department chairman.
“He was tremendously giving and philanthropic, and he loved Carolina,” said Arthur Gregg from UNC’s Development Office. “He believed strongly in giving back.” Among his more recent interests at Carolina was the restoration of Memorial Hall. He also endowed a scholarship for women’s lacrosse and contributed to the renovations of Finley Golf Course, Kenan Stadium, Navy field and the softball field.
Chris, his wife, Traci, and their children — Whitney, 11; Christopher James “C.J.,” 9; and Kelsey, 6 — lived in Manhasset, N.Y., the home of 22 of Sept. 11’s victims.“We’re talking soccer fields with lots of dads missing. There was such an intensity of loss,” Michael said. He estimated 2,000 people attended his brother’s memorial service.
In his “Yours at Carolina” column in that issue of the Review, GAA President Doug Dibbert ’70 wrote of the atmosphere in the immediate days afterwards, as well as the coping that followed, and how it reminded him of past events in his life, both as a student at Carolina and a particularly tragic time for his family years before.
Quietly, reverently along with 10,000 others, I departed Polk Place. Such a peaceful, silent adjournment of so many from this otherwise vibrant, active space was surreal, but then that which prompted this gathering of the University community was even more surreal.
I am referencing, of course, the poignant responses to the tragic events of Sept. 11. Standing with others, holding hands, listening to the comforting words of our chancellor, our student body president, a campus minister, a professor and others, my mind raced. The tragedies that brought us together and the size of the gathering prompted me to recall a spring 1970 Polk Place vigil in the aftermath of the deaths of four students at Kent State subsequent to the U.S. incursion into Cambodia as the war in Vietnam raged.
Outside Old East I happened upon our older son, and we chatted about his own reactions and thoughts. He had been in touch with a friend and UNC alumnus who works for a U.S. senator; one of his roommates shared reactions from friends in Israel.
In the Alumni Center, the day of the attack we connected with the two alumni tours traveling in Europe, prepared to open our online alumni directory to all alumni, students and others connected to Carolina who visited our Web site (not just GAA members) and began to put together a panel of UNC faculty for a Thursday evening GAA program entitled “Understanding the Attack on America: A Public Forum.” And we waited.
We waited for that which we knew would follow but which we wished our Carolina family could be spared. We waited to learn the names of former Carolina students who perished on Sept. 11. All too soon we learned that two of our graduates died aboard two separate flights, and in the following days we learned that four more Carolina alumni were victims in the World Trade Center.
As we learned their identities, we marveled at the courage of the firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and others in New York and at the Pentagon and of the bravery of passengers aboard United Flight 93 who denied terrorists a fourth target.
That which haunted me in the early hours and days after the attack remains unshakable. Time and again I have flashed back to June 1, 1965. On that bright, Friday afternoon, a cab driver delivered a telegram to my mother at our Fayetteville home. That telegram conveyed the tragic news that my dad had been shot and killed in an ambush near Pleiku, South Vietnam. Later that afternoon, at age 17, I shared this news with the youngest two of my four younger brothers. That single bullet forever changed the lives of my mother and each of her five young sons.
On Sept. 11, all of our lives changed. And while we understandably will continue to search for answers and seek to determine the implications for our country and the world, for now we continue to ache for the sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents who lost family members. Without warning, without a telegram, with the entire world watching, these families received horrific news, which immediately changed their lives forever.
It was not until I accompanied our own sons as they visited other campuses before choosing to come to Carolina that I remembered that my dad was unable to take me on any campus tours. That made these trips very special for me. My dad never met my wife nor his grandchildren. Dad was not around to share in my accomplishments or to console me in my disappointments. And now an estimated 10,000 children are without a parent as a result of the attacks of Sept. 11.
For nearly 20 years I have written this column, and no column has been more difficult to write. I convey these personal reactions because I think each of us is dealing with the events of Sept. 11 on a personal basis.
We should be proud that our Carolina community again came together and continues to provide an environment for the expression of all views and opinions during this national tragedy. This is the Carolina way.
As we mourn the loss of Carolina alumni Karleton Douglas Beye Fyfe ’92, Mary Lou Hague ’96, Andrew Marshall King ’83, Ryan Ashley Kohart ’98, Dora Menchaca ’78 (MSPH) and Christopher Quackenbush ’79, I share the following lines that were sung by the Loreleis, Carolina’s women’s a cappella group, to conclude of the gathering on Polk Place as well as our GAA forum:
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me, to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes…
You said you’d comfort me in times like these, and now I need you
Now I need you, and you are gone…
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70
On Sept. 13, the General Alumni Association hosted a public forum, “Understanding the Attack on America,” attracting more than 700 people and bringing together prominent UNC experts in American foreign policy, business and finance, psychology, political science, national defense and military policy, and Middle East studies to discuss their views and those of the audience in response to the ever-swirling events surrounding the attack. In welcoming the audience and introducing the panelists, Doug touched on the particular role a university community can play in such circumstances.
“The tragic events of Tuesday have forever changed the lives of each of us – perhaps in ways we cannot yet know,” he said. “As a university community, we seek answers and understanding. Again, we turn to our Carolina faculty. And we do so not as an academic exercise but with deep compassion for all those who have lost loved ones – including some who are Carolina alumni, their families, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Tonight we come to be together, to learn from each other and to share.”
The next year, at a campus convocation back on Polk Place on the first anniversary of the attacks, Doug again reflected on the impact of the tragedy and the loss of those alumni.
“When we came together last year, we could not yet know who among our Carolina alumni had been lost,” he said to those assembled in remembrance. “Regrettably, in the days that followed, we learned that we had lost six very special people. They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, husbands and wives, neighbors, colleagues, friends.”
Doug ended by invoking music that has often united and comforted the Carolina family.
“Chapel Hill native son James Taylor concludes Carolina in My Mind with these words:
Say nice things about me, carry on without me.
I’m gone, yes, I’m gone.”
At the anniversary remembrance in 2007, the class of 2005, which had just begun its freshman year when the attacks occurred, dedicated a memorial on Stadium Drive near the George Watts Hill Alumni Center as its gift to the University. Read about the ceremony.
The color guard from UNC’s ROTC units leaves the 9/11 Memorial Garden at the close of the dedication ceremony in 2007. The rock wall and surrounding plantings define the garden. (Photo by Dan Sears ’74)
At the 2011 remembrance, it was hard to believe a decade had passed. The loss still seemed fresh. Can it now already be almost another decade beyond?
First-year student Dylan Melisaratos spoke about his uncle, Christopher Quackenbush ’79.
The ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial Garden honors the lost Carolina alumni: Karleton Fyfe ’92, Mary Lou Hague ’96, Andrew King ’83, Ryan Kohart ’98, Dora Menchaca ’78 (MSPH) and Christopher Quackenbush ’79. (Photo by Grant Halverson ’93)
Dylan Melisaratos didn’t get a chance to get to know his uncle Christopher Quackenbush ’79 in person. He was only a year and a half old when the airplanes hijacked by terrorists hit the World Trade Center where his uncle was working on Sept. 11, 2001.
But Melisaratos grew up learning about the legacy his uncle left as “a wealthy yet generous man, caring for his family and friends for sure, but also caring for countless others, even strangers.”
Quackenbush, a founder of the investment banking firm Sandler O’Neill & Partners, has been described by his brother Michael ’77 as “a man who wore Armani suits and wore Santa suits,” because he was known for leveraging his success in business for his charity work. He had set up a charity named for Ebenezer Scrooge’s partner and tutor in the importance of generosity, the Jacob Marley Foundation, which each year took 600 kids who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to Shea Stadium for a Mets game.
And this year — after “years of brainwashing and constant reminders about never mentioning Duke around our family” — Melisaratos also embraced his uncle’s and other family members’ Carolina legacy, entering with the class of 2022.
“In addition to my two cousins, my mother, three uncles, grandfather, grandmother and great-grandfather, who all attended UNC, I am glad that I am able to carry on my family’s legacy here, and more importantly, carry on my uncle’s legacy in the community that he so very much valued and loved,” Melisaratos told those gathered Tuesday morning for UNC’s annual remembrance ceremony for the six alumni killed in the 9/11 attacks.
The ceremony at the 9/11 Memorial Garden near the George Watts Hill Alumni Center takes place each Sept. 11 between 8:46 and 9:03 a.m., the times when the hijacked planes hit the two World Trade Center towers. The memorial — a gift from the class of 2005, which had just entered UNC when the tragedy took place — is framed by a rectangle of low stone walls with a plaque bearing the names of the lost alumni: Karleton Fyfe ’92, Mary Lou Hague ’96, Andrew King ’83, Ryan Kohart ’98, Dora Menchaca ’78 (MSPH) and Christopher Quackenbush ’79.
In recent years, GAA President Doug Dibbert ’70 has shared families’ and friends’ remembrances of their loved ones.
“They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, husbands and wives, neighbors, colleagues and friends,” Dibbert told those gathered for this year’s ceremony. “As we continue to recall how they died, we should also remember and celebrate how each lived.”
As GAA President Doug Dibbert ’70 reads a tribute, UNC Chancellor Carol L. Folt places a hydrangea blossom in a glass vase for each of the fallen alumni. (Photo by Alex Kormann)
After Dibbert read a tribute, UNC Chancellor Carol L. Folt placed a hydrangea blossom in a glass vase for each of the first five. When they came to the tribute for Quackenbush, Dibbert handed the flower to Melisaratos, who spoke after placing it in the vase.
Melisaratos told of speaking at another remembrance ceremony at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York, where before a throng of TV cameras broadcasting to the nation, he nervously had read the names of his uncle and others killed. He said his mother, Dr. Gail Quackenbush ’83 (’88 MD), thanked him for reading her older brother’s name.
“As painful as the tragedy was, little did my mom know that 15 years later, her son would stand up at a podium on the very ground where her brother died, looking uncannily like him in his younger years, and call attention to his wonderful legacy,” Melisaratos said. “The resemblance, my mother says, is more than skin deep. … I am like my uncle in many ways, or so she says, especially my desire to make others happy.”
That day, at that previous memorial, he was living up to that part of his uncle’s legacy, as well.
“As we continued to walk back into the museum, multiple people came up to me in tears, thanking me for reading the names of their late relatives,” he recalled. “Although I only replied with a simple, ‘You’re welcome. I’m sorry for your loss,’ I felt such joy knowing that my words could uplift these people and be a balm to their inner wounds.
“As we remembered one of the darkest days of America’s past, I was humbled to play a small but important role in speaking the names of those we had lost, an honor that brought me inexplicable joy.”
First-year student Dylan Melisaratos, nephew of Christopher Quackenbush ’79, joins GAA President Doug Dibbert ’70 and UNC Chancellor Carol L. Folt during the annual remembrance ceremony for the six alumni killed in the 9/11 attacks.
Justin Donaton ’99 honored lacrosse teammate Ryan Kohart ’98.
Justin Donaton ’99 honors lacrosse teammate Ryan Kohart ’98 during the GAA’s annual memorial service for the six alumni killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (Photo by Ray Black III)
Justin Donaton ’99 has never been to the site of the World Trade Center, where his UNC lacrosse teammate Ryan Kohart ’98 died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Even when he occasionally flies into New York, he closes his eyes to avoid taking in the cityscape with the missing towers.
“For me, the numbness of what happened on that tragic day dissipates ever so slightly each year, but the sorrow will never go away,” Donaton told those gathered Wednesday morning at the 9/11 Memorial Garden on Stadium Drive . “I still find myself asking why did this happen, why Ryan? I am still sad for Ryan, sad for his family and sad for myself.”
The GAA’s annual memorial service for the six alumni killed that day is held near the George Watts Hill Alumni Center between 8:46 and 9:03 a.m., the times when the hijacked planes hit the twin towers. Donaton told those gathered about two other times of day that instead of causing sadness have come to remind him of Kohart’s zest for life.
“The clock strikes 9:11 twice a day, in the a.m. and p.m. Almost every day, for some cosmic reason, my eyes are drawn to my watch at 9:11,” he said. “I thought this was strange at first, and it bothered me. There are 1,440 minutes in a day. How could this always be happening? Why did I have to be reminded of the horror every day?
“I still find myself asking why did this happen, why Ryan?” said Donaton of his teammate Ryan Kohard ’98 (33). (UNC Athletic Communications)
“But I have since realized this is one of the greatest blessings, as I am reminded twice a day of the incredible impact Ryan had on my life and those who knew him. At 9:11 a.m., I have the opportunity to shape my day by remembering Ryan’s charisma, positive energy and zest for life. I use this to help make it the best day possible.
“And at 9:11 p.m., I have the opportunity to reflect on my day by holding myself accountable for being positive throughout the day, living in the present and giving the day my best effort.”
The alumni memorial where the ceremony is held — a gift from the class of 2005, which had just entered UNC when the tragedy took place — is framed by a rectangle of low stone walls with a plaque bearing the names of Kohart and the other lost alumni: Karleton Fyfe ’92, Mary Lou Hague ’96, Andrew King ’83, Dora Menchaca ’78 (MSPH) and Christopher Quackenbush ’79.
On Wednesday, GAA President Doug Dibbert ’70 began by recalling the lives and loved ones each left behind. “On Sept. 11, 2001, we lost six very special people who were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, husbands and wives, neighbors, colleagues and friends,” he said.
After paying tribute to each individually, Dibbert placed a blue-and-white hydrangea blossom in a glass vase sitting behind portraits of the six. When he last came to Kohart, who had worked in the World Trade Center as a stock trader with Cantor Fitzgerald, Dibbert handed the flower to Donaton to place.
Donaton, who lives in Kure Beach and is a real estate broker in Wilmington, said he came to this year’s alumni remembrance to share how he has dealt with the loss of his friend and the lessons about living he learned from him during their time at Carolina.
He recalled first meeting Kohart on Stadium Drive shortly after they arrived on campus as freshmen. Donaton was walking along Stadium Drive with other freshmen when a car pulled up, and Kohart, having recognized them as classmates, rolled down a backseat window and told them they would all be going out that night to He’s Not Here.
“This night would be the first of many adventures, good times and hard work that we would share in together,” Donaton said. “Ryan was not afraid to step out of his comfort zone. He would approach anyone, talk to anyone, engage anyone. Ryan was not afraid to take chances, knowing if things did not go his way, he had the ability and resolve to deal with the circumstances in front of him. I always admired him for this.”
Flowers left Wednesday morning at the 9/11 Memorial Garden on Stadium Drive (Photo by Ray Black III)
Kohart would become Donaton’s roommate and friend as well as the captain of the lacrosse team. Donaton described Kohart as a hard worker and fierce competitor.
“He had a way of getting things done,” Donaton said. “He did not have to study the most to do well in school. He did not have to be the fastest, the strongest or the most talented to be the best defenseman on the field.
“His confidence shined liked a Carolina blue sky. It was a good, healthy confidence that would radiate and make you want to be around him. His presence would make those around him more confident as well. This is a trait that is not easy to have and a gift that is very hard to give but one that Ryan shared with all those who knew him. For this, I am eternally grateful.”
Donaton said a day will come when he will visit the World Trade Center site to pay his respects. “I look forward to that day, and although I’m not expecting it to provide closure, it will be another step in the healing process,” he said.
Until then, he will continue to draw inspiration from Kohart’s life.
“It reminds me, as best as I can, to be grateful, kind and patient,” Donaton said. “It reminds me to celebrate my accomplishments. It reminds me to be confident and to do my best to share this confidence with those around me. It reminds me to step out of my comfort zone, as it’s better to regret what you have done than what you have not done. It reminds me to take care of my family, as a time will come when I will need them to take care of me.”
And going forward, Donaton said, “we can remember Ryan, his family and those who died on 9-11. … We can show our appreciation for first responders. We can share the lessons we each individually learned as a result of that day, whatever they may be, with those who did not experience it firsthand.
“We can work hard, we can laugh, we can smile, we can be kind, we can be tolerant and we can show gratitude. And by doing so, we each can live a better and more fulfilling life. And by living a better and more fulfilling life, we honor Ryan and his passion for life. …
“Ryan Kohart, thank you for living in the present and for bringing us along for your ride.”
The ceremony ended with five current members of the Loreleis student a cappella group singing Wanting Memories, the same Sweet Honey in the Rock song that their predecessors sang at the campus memorial on Polk Place the day after the attacks in 2001.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
Since you’ve gone and left me, there’s been so little beauty,
But I know I saw it clearly through your eyes.
The Ryan Kohart Memorial Scholarship Fund
Soon after Ryan Kohart’s death, a scholarship fund was established to support a men’s lacrosse player each year. This year’s recipient is Matt Wright, a freshman from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The scholarship fund has reached more than $155,000. The principal of Rams Club’s scholarships stays intact and the interest is used to pay for the cost of educating the student-athlete. As such, contributions are still accepted in an effort to grow the principal to $400,000. To contribute, make checks payable to The Educational Foundation and mail to PO Box 2446, Chapel Hill, NC 27515, with a notation for the Ryan Kohart Memorial Scholarship Fund or contact Sue Walsh ’84 about stock gifts.
Justin Donaton ’99, teammate of Ryan Kohart ’98, joins GAA President Doug Dibbert ’70 during the annual remembrance ceremony for the six alumni killed in the 9/11 attacks.