DALLAS — Mary Jo Kopechne’s family said it was like Mary Jo “reaching into the future” to continue the work she never had a chance to complete, relatives say.
The inaugural Mary Jo Kopechne Scholarship was awarded April 22 at Misericordia University during Scholarship Recognition Day on campus.
The recipient is Chiana Fladger of Tobyhanna, a government, law and national security major with a minor in psychology. Fladger will receive her bachelor’s degree May 12 at Misericordia’s spring commencement.
Wyoming Valley native Kopechne died July 18, 1969, when the 1967 Oldsmobile she was riding in, driven by Sen. Ted Kennedy, went off a narrow, unlit bridge into Poucha Pond on Chappaquiddick Island, just off Martha’s Vineyard and near the town of Edgartown, Mass. Kopechne would have turned 29 on July 26, 1969.
Her first cousin, Georgetta Nelson-Potoski, was close to Mary Jo. She and her son, William Nelson, co-wrote a book — “Our Mary Jo” — that tells the story of Kopechne with no mention of the tragic incident that claimed her life. Proceeds from book sales help fund the scholarship in Mary Jo’s name at Misericordia.
“It was really wonderful to be able to present this scholarship in Mary Jo’s memory,” Nelson-Potoski said. “It was such a satisfying feeling — to know that this young woman is going to graduate with a degree in political science, which is the field Mary Jo worked in. It’s like Mary Jo reaching into the future and continuing to do the work she would have done had she lived.”
The book tells the reader about Mary Jo’s life — it details who she was, what she liked and even speculates on what she would be doing today.
A movie, “Chappaquiddick,” was released last month and details the incident’s impact on Kennedy’s career.
Misericordia also recognized the benefactors of the Margaret Husic Spengler Scholarship at a recent brunch on campus. Among those recognized for a family legacy of philanthropy and leadership were Thomas and Michelle Spengler, and Stephen Spengler, all of Vienna, Virginia.
The late Margaret Husic Spengler, the mother of Thomas and Stephen, was a well-respected member of the Misericordia community and one of the most accomplished members of the Class of 1936.
The two current student recipients of the Spengler Scholarship are Kailene Nye of Lebanon, a first-year mass communications and design major, and Noni Silas of Greenbelt, Maryland, a sophomore majoring in English.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.