McCandless Remembered at Memorial Service
By Steve Harmic, Penn State DuBois
DUBOIS – Nathan McCandless, the Penn State DuBois graduate who tragically lost his life in a work-related accident this summer, was remembered during a memorial service on campus Wednesday. An American chestnut tree that McCandless planted on campus during his time as a student was also dedicated to his memory.
McCandless, 21, of Butler, died July 29 while working in Sullivan County as a summer wildlife technician for an independent company. He had graduated from the Penn State DuBois wildlife technology program and planned to continue his education in wildlife and fisheries science this fall at University Park. He was a dean’s list student and won the College of Agricultural Sciences Alumni Society’s Outstanding Student in Wildlife Technologies Program Award in 2011. He graduated from Butler High School in 2009, where he ran track and field and played soccer.
Friends, family members, fellow students and members of the campus faculty and staff filled Hiller Auditorium for the memorial service and subsequently gathered around the chestnut tree for the dedication. Among those who spoke about McCandless during the memorial were Chancellor Anita McDonald; Wildlife Technology faculty members Aaron Stottlemyer, Keely Roen and Hoagy Schaadt; Campus Minister Kyle Gordon and Christine Voorhees of Wildlife Specialists, a company with which McCandless had interned.
“Nate was a member of our family, and we feel a tremendous loss,” said McDonald. “I find it personally difficult to accept the death of our student, our friend, our family member. We have all been truly blessed to have Nate come into our lives.”
Those who spoke at the service, as well as those in attendance, all remembered McCandless as a happy, outgoing individual with a zest for life, a deep love of animals and nature, and an intense interest in the natural world around him.
“Every kid goes through a ‘why’ phase, but somewhere along the way they lose that. What I loved about Nate is that he never lost it. He had an insatiable curiosity about everything,” Roen said, noting the love of learning McCandless possessed that made him an exemplary student.
Numerous friends attending the memorial knew McCandless as the guy who seemed as though nothing ever got him down, and as the one who could always cheer up a friend.
“He was just one of those people. You could be in any mood, good or bad, and he could just lift you up,” said friend and former Penn State DuBois classmate Michael Coleman. “He could always bring a smile to your face.”
Another former classmate from the campus, Brian Grove, said of McCandless, “Regardless of circumstance, he was always happy. We would be out for Wildlife labs, and it didn’t matter if there was rain, snow, mud, he just always had a smile on his face and was happy to be out there.”
Stottlemyer led the dedication of the chestnut tree during the outdoor portion of the memorial. For several years, Stottlemyer has contributed work and research to efforts aimed at bringing the American chestnut tree back from near extinction. His students participate in studies of the tree species and field work in an area chestnut orchard as part of their course work.
In 2010, McCandless had the honor of planting an American chestnut tree on campus. The American Chestnut Foundation provided the tree, which is the product of 26 years of research that was dedicated to developing a chestnut that is resistant to the disease that wiped the tree from the American forest in the early 20th century. Thanks to generations of cross breeding with the disease resistant Chinese chestnut, the tree on campus is still growing strong today, and it could be one of the first American chestnut trees to thrive on this continent in the last century. Fittingly, it now stands as a tribute to the memory of McCandless.
“Since I heard of his passing, so many thoughts have crossed my mind,” said Stottlemyer. “At the forefront was the fact that we memorialize people with trees all the time. Here’s a unique opportunity to memorialize a person with a tree they, themselves, planted.”
The American Chestnut Foundation sent a letter to the McCandless family offering condolences, and the foundation’s blessing for dedicating the tree to their loved one.
The family has established the Nathan McCandless Scholarship to benefit other students who are aspiring wildlife professionals. The privately established scholarship will be available for sophomores in the Penn State DuBois wildlife technology program.