Misericordia’s new Kopechne scholarship honors woman’s memory

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
Principals at the presentation of the first Mary Jo Kopechne Scholarship at Misericordia University were, from left: Bill Nelson; Gavin Nelson, Bill’s son; Kopechne cousin Georgetta Nelson-Potoski, a 1989 graduate of Misericordia; Brenda Fladger, Chiana’s mom; and scholarship recipient Chiana Fladger. -

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.

Spengler scholarships

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. She was the first editor of the college newspaper, Miss Recordia, as well as a debate team member and class officer. She earned her bachelor’s degree in home economics. Following graduation, she met and married her husband, Kenneth C. Spengler Sr., and they raised five children in Arlington, Mass. – Kenneth Jr., John, Thomas, Mark and Stephen.

Dedicated to her alma mater, she served as president of the Alumni Association from 1980-84, and in 1985 became the first alumni representative to the board of trustees. Known as Peg by friends and family, she contributed $50,000 to Misericordia by way of an annuity to the Advancing the Vision campaign.

Upon her passing, her husband initiated the Margaret Husic Spengler ‘36 Scholarship in his wife’s honor. The scholarship is awarded annually to first-year students with financial need who have an interest in writing, English or communications.

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.

Principals at the presentation of the first Mary Jo Kopechne Scholarship at Misericordia University were, from left: Bill Nelson; Gavin Nelson, Bill’s son; Kopechne cousin Georgetta Nelson-Potoski, a 1989 graduate of Misericordia; Brenda Fladger, Chiana’s mom; and scholarship recipient Chiana Fladger.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Miseri-Mary-Jo-Kopechne-scholarship-1.jpgPrincipals at the presentation of the first Mary Jo Kopechne Scholarship at Misericordia University were, from left: Bill Nelson; Gavin Nelson, Bill’s son; Kopechne cousin Georgetta Nelson-Potoski, a 1989 graduate of Misericordia; Brenda Fladger, Chiana’s mom; and scholarship recipient Chiana Fladger.
Wyoming Valley native died in incident with Ted Kennedy

By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.