The air hung heavy with affection and memory at Memorial Chapel Tuesday night.
Students and families filled the pews at the memorial service for Ross Korzeniewski.
There were pauses between speakers.
The attendees sat in silence until Brent Korzeniewski, Ross’s seven-year-old brother, clambered onto the end of a wooden pew like a stage. Holding his small blonde head steady, he pulled on his sweater and explained how Ross would tuck him in each night.
Ross’ friend, IJ Wittenberg, a freshman theatre and food science major, explained Ross’ love for 4’33, also known as John Cage’s “Silent,” in which performers mount the stage and stand in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds with their instruments to create a nexus of disorientation and meaning.
Wittenberg seemed to think this love for a silent symphony displayed a unique depth in Ross’ friendly nature.
Before those in attendance filed out of the chapel, they gathered together, hugging and sharing love and warmth.
“He was really happy all of the time; he was an optimist,” said Trey Parker, Korzeniewski’s boyfriend of nine months in a separate interview.
“He would always do this weird dance,” said Parker, a sophomore psychology major. “It was the same dance over and over, and it was just like,” he paused to move his elbows in a rhythmic, downwards semicircle to the left, and then to the right.
“He always wanted people to feel happy and just know that they were loved,” he said.
Parker said Korzeniewski was very particular about things, one of the many qualities Parker found endearing. “He was always obsessed with random things I feel like other people wouldn’t be that involved with,” Parker said.
One of those things was Korzeniewski’s affinity for tea, according to Parker. He also liked to play what Parker described as “really complicated board games,” like Settlers of Catan and Dominion.
On their second date, Korzeniewski invited Parker over to his apartment. When Parker arrived, he was surprised by the desk Korzeniewski turned into a makeshift dinner table, he even used one of his blankets as a tablecloth.
“[He] had his phone set to the side with a candle app and had microwaveable pizza on plates,” Parker said. “It was so cute … he always did little stuff like that.”
Kelly Fernandez, a senior electrical engineering major, was Korzeniewski’s fraternity big in Theta Pi Sigma, this university’s LGBTQA+ Greek organization. They first met through Parker, who is in the same pledge group as Fernandez.
Fernandez interviewed Korzeniewski as her little for Theta Pi Sigma, as it is a ritual for bigs and littles to ask each other questions. She said these interviews are usually short, but her and Korzeniewski’s conversation lasted for hours.
“I think we really clicked together, like, personalities and humor and stuff,” Fernandez said. “A lot of the memories are just us … being happy and talking to one another.”
On the night when Theta Pi Sigma members officially announced the big and little pairs, Fernandez said she was nervous because she had never been a member’s big before.
Her and Korzeniewski stood in the basement of the host’s house later that night, looking at a painting Fernandez said depicted College Park more than 100 years ago.
Her last remark said the painting was beautiful.
“Yeah,” Korzeniewski said. “It was a shame when the dust came.”
Fernandez broke into laughter, repeating the punchline. “He was just like, ‘when the dust came,’ and I was like this is so funny … you’re so funny.”
“It’s just classic Ross,” she said.
Korzeniewski calmed her nerves that night, and it was in that moment she knew she made the right decision in choosing him to be her little.
“I was really excited,” she said. “Because I was like, I think I’m going to have a really good friend here.”
Emily Kelly met Ross at Poolesville High School in Montgomery County, Md. Before track practice, they would walk to a pizza restaurant named Cugini’s, which sells cheesy bread, and walk back to practice after eating the snack.
“We were always so out of breath,” the junior environmental major said. “Just after the warm up lap.”
Kelly was happy to find out Korzeniewski transferred to this university last semester, and they became close again after losing touch.
She said one of Korzeniewski’s quirks was how much he loved to drink tea, echoing off of Parker’s sentiment.
“He loved tea – he was a huge tea snob,” Kelly said. “I say that lovingly, but he would only drink loose-leaf tea that he brewed himself, at home, in a specific mug.”
She said he had a French press to make the drink in and would invite her over for tea. His assortment of what Parker described to be “25 different cans of teas in his apartments at all times” lined his windowsill.
“He always seemed so comfortable, and so he had a way of making everybody else feel very comfortable,” Kelly said.
She said that with Korzeniewski, whether they took the bus or just walked around, he would stop and start talking to people. Kelly would ask who the person he spoke to was, and Korzeniewski would say he didn’t know, he’d never even met them before.
There was one day when Korzeniewski and Kelly travelled back to his apartment after eating brunch at a vegan restaurant. While walking, a woman stopped them and asked how to get to the Visitor’s Center for a wedding she had, and handed Korzeniewski confusing directions.
“Ross looks at me and he says, ‘Do you want to just get in the car with her and show her where she’s going?’ And I was like, ‘I mean, I don’t have anything else to do,’” Kelly said.
They spent at least an hour being driven by the lost woman, finding out where to go from her unclear directions. They travelled from the Visitor’s Center to the Chapel and then to the Grand Ballroom of Stamp.
“She was so upset and so stressed out and Ross was like, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll find our way, we know what we’re doing, we’re students here.’”
“He just cared so much about [others], and always wanted to do things for people,” Kelly said. “I just thought that was a really funny thing about him, that just really shows how generous and caring he was.”
Editor’s Note: Emily Kelly was misquoted when she said, “He loved tea, he was a huge snob.” The quotation should read: “He loved tea, he was a huge tea snob.”
Raye Weigel is a sophomore multiplatform journalism and English major and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alex Carolan is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at email@example.com.
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