MU community’s resilience extolled at plane crash ceremony

By TAYLOR STUCK

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Through speeches and song Tuesday, the pattering of water against the copper tubing of the Marshall University Memorial Fountain could be heard until the last drop fell, signifying the end of 75 lives the copper represents.

Fisher Cross of Huntington was the keynote speaker during the 47th Annual Memorial Service on Tuesday at the Marshall University’s Memorial Student Center Plaza in Huntington. The service honors the 75 lives lost in the 1970 plane crash.
(Herald-Dispatch photo by Lori Wolfe)

“We will turn off the fountain to remind us of the tragedy, and we will spend the cold winter months walking by the empty fountain,” said Marshall President Jerome Gilbert. “But just as the emptiness of winter’s cold wind causes us to long for the rebirth of spring, the empty fountain reminds us that in the spring we will turn on the flowing waters and once again celebrate rebirth here at Marshall.”

The Marshall family on Tuesday honored the 75 football players, coaches and fans who died in the tragic crash of Nov. 14, 1970, with the annual ceremony. For the first time, the ceremony’s guest speaker was not alive for the tragedy; instead, he was a descendant whose life was still shaped by the fateful day.

Today, Courtney Cross’ son is a senior sports management major who travels with the Thundering Herd as an athletic videographer. On Saturday, Fisher Cross witnessed freshman defensive back Nazeeh Johnson make a 45-yard interception return for a score while wearing the name of Cross’ grandmother on his helmet.

“I will never forget seeing Nazeeh in the locker room, him giving me a hug and saying, ‘I told you I was going to ball out for her, bro,'” Cross said.

Cross said the best way to honor those who lost their lives is by choosing to live a life that makes the community better.

“What’s important about Marshall is symbolized by the program but is not about football,” Cross said. “It is about heart, resilience and determination. It is about caring for each other. We are here today to remember and honor those we lost, but we are also here to celebrate what was accomplished so many years ago during such a hard and sad time. People decided to go on and rebuild, and that is a lesson every son and daughter of Marshall University can take from this.”

Cross credited his loving, supportive childhood to the grandparents he never met and shared memories of growing up in the Joan C. Edwards Stadium, learning to cheer on the Herd with his family, including his great-aunt and -uncle who raised his mother and subsequently became his grandparents.

His great-aunt, Patricia Wendell, “bravely and selflessly stepped in to raise her sister’s children after the plane crash,” Cross said. “She gave them a loving home and she gave me my first bath – that was her favorite story to tell me. She was the matriarch of my family, and she was not alone in having to step up to the plate. Many, many people in this community had to step up and take care of their loved ones. Thank you all. You are the reason this generation of descendants of the 75 is here to honor, and to continue to honor their legacy, and will be until the day that we go.”

Sharon Blevins Anthony, sister of wide receiver Dennis Blevins who died in the plane crash, said it was remarkable to hear from a young man who wasn’t even thought of when the plane crashed that night.

“Him knowing and not even being here and can remember – everyone kept his grandparents’ memory alive,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

Wearing her brother’s No. 80, Anthony said coming to the ceremony each year is like visiting family – it’s warm. She said she has three nephews who hope to attend and maybe even play for Marshall.

“They want to finish where their uncle left off,” she said.

The entire ceremony was live streamed by Marshall and can be viewed at www.livestream.com/marshallu.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

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