By Julian Routh | News Editor
More than 530 balloons were released above Academic Walk Saturday afternoon in celebration of the life of Ryan Fleming, the Duquesne sophomore business student who died of cardiac arrest on Jan. 26.
“Float On, Flem,” an event sponsored by the Red and Blue Crew, brought together a number of campus organizations to raise money for the Ryan Fleming Scholarship Fund.
Student groups raised over $1,700 for the fund by selling balloons, wristbands, raffle tickets and food. The Crew gave away free T-shirts with the phrase “If it’s free, then it’s for me, and I’ll take three” on the back, one of Fleming’s favorite sayings.
The balloons were released during halftime of the Spring Football Game. Fleming’s family, the Duquesne football team and dozens of others gathered on Rooney Field to commemorate Fleming’s life.
Linda Fleming, Ryan’s mother, said the balloon release was “bittersweet.”
“Ryan’s death was a sad event in our lives,” Linda Fleming said. “The tribute was a very sweet reminder of how loved our son was on the Duquesne campus. That’s a wonderful memory for us to have.”
The scholarship fund, set up by Fleming’s parents, Linda and Tom Fleming, will be used to award a student each year from both Duquesne and Richland High School in Johnstown, Fleming’s alma mater.
The scholarship will be given to students who excel academically and show an interest in sports and community service. The money will also be used to fund special projects that “Ryan might have liked,” Linda Fleming said.
To date, the fund has collected over $35,000 in donations.
Fleming’s girlfriend Angela Palchowski, president of the Crew, spent two months organizing “Float On, Flem,” and said it was perfect.
“There’s nothing I would have wanted to make it go any different,” Palchowski said. “It was a good way to help Duquesne students, but also the football team and football staff, to let go.”
Fleming, 20, of Johnstown, Pa., was an avid football fan, and spent his last year and a half as an assistant to the director of football operations for the Duquesne football team. He was also an active member of the Crew.
Last Friday evening at a banquet, the Dukes football team gave Tom Fleming a Conference Championship ring to honor Ryan’s work during the 2013 season.
“That was difficult,” Tom Fleming said. “At the same time, there were a lot of heartfelt emotions. I had the opportunity to meet with some of the players and the coaching staff.”
Palchowski estimates that more than 1,500 people came out for “Float On, Flem” and that members from at least 20 student organizations volunteered.
“Duquesne students don’t have to know someone personally in order to be supportive and serve others,” Palchowski said. “The Duquesne family is a strong, service-oriented and giving support system.”
The balloon release was preceded by a moment of silence, one of the few somber moments from an otherwise-upbeat day. The Crew plans to organize the event again next year.
“We just want to convey how deeply grateful we are to everyone who worked so hard to make this weekend a success,” Linda Fleming said. “It did represent everything that’s wonderful about Duquesne.”
For Palchowski, organizing the afternoon helped the healing process, but her boyfriend’s death is still hard to deal with.
“They say time heals all wounds, but it’s been a few months, and it’s still crazy,” Palchowski said. “I can’t believe it happened. I want to wake up and realize it’s all a dream, but it won’t happen.”