Southern holds memorial in honor of Melanie Coleman

Hunter O. LyleSports Editor
Sam TapperSports Writer

Collages full of smiles portrayed the joy and passion many people said Melanie Coleman had for gymnastics, nursing and life in general. These were the themes conveyed in Pelz Gymnasium as the Southern community paid tribute to the late gymnast, who died on Nov. 10, after a fatal accident during practice two days prior.

“Melanie didn’t watch,” said university chaplain Jim Furlong as he opened the service in prayer and eulogy speaking of her ambitions in life. “Melanie did.”

Family, friends, teammates, peers and fellow student-athletes occupied the 100 blue chairs neatly lined on the gym floor, along with the filled bleachers just behind them. After Furlong addressed a somber crowd, the floor was then opened to those who knew Coleman personally.

Among those, was retired gymnastics head coach Jerry Nelson, who coached Coleman for her first two years at Southern, along with her sister who graduated this past spring. As a choked-up Nelson addressed those in attendance, he noted, “this is about family, and we have all lost a member of our family in this tragedy.”

“Melanie loved her family immensely. She shared that special bond that only comes from being close to your siblings and from a caring family,” said Nelson. “I wish you all the strength, courage and much love moving forward in your life.”

After Nelson spoke about Coleman’s passion for gymnastics, one of Coleman’s former nursing professors, Pennie Sessler-Branden, was next and recalled Coleman’s passion and determination to succeed both in the classroom and in the field of nursing.

“What I saw was an excellent student-nurse, beginning to understand the material and working diligently to become the best nurse she could be,” said Sessler-Branden.

Sessler-Branden concluded her eulogy with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, noting that Coleman said her passion for nursing came from her desire to change the world for the better.

“[Melanie] told me that she saw nursing as a way to change the world,” said Sessler-Branden, “and to make it better by caring for those who needed it.”

Following Coleman’s professor, two of her close friends, teammate Jenna Zakala, a junior, and fellow student-athlete Shawn Odei-Ntiri, a junior runner for cross-country and track, each provided glimpses of what it was like to be tightly-knit with Coleman.

“On behalf the gymnastics team, today and always, we celebrate our beautiful friend, teammate, sister and daughter,” said Zakala. “We are all so thankful to have had such a wonderful soul to share our lives with.”

After Furlong’s final words, closing in prayer, those in attendance followed the gymnastics team and nursing students out of the gym and congregated in front of Pelz with white balloons, releasing them into the night sky with one final tradition: “One clap for Mel,” said Nelson.

“It’s never ‘goodbye,’ it’s always ‘see you later,’” said Zakala. “She’s in the sun, the wind, the rain. She’s in the air we breathe, with every breath we take. She sings a song of hope and cheer. There’s no more pain, no more tears. You’ll see her in the clouds above, hear her whisper words of love. You’ll be together before long, until then listen to her song.”

Photo Credit: Izzy Manzo

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