Marie Gebura (1961 – 1987)
Marie Gebura was born on July 14, 1961, the second child of Louis and Dorothy Gebura. From a very early age Marie demonstrated an exceptionally high degree of intelligence, ambition, kindness to others, and an infinite love for animals. As a shy child growing up in a working-class family on the east side of Buffalo, she always pushed herself very hard in school, continually striving to be the best she could possibly be. Marie also enjoyed and took comfort in the companionship of animals, and over the years her childhood home became the home to a wide variety of pets including a Miniature Schnauzer named Baron, several cats, hamsters, and an assortment of her brother’s reptiles and amphibians.
Throughout her school years Marie’s academic performance was consistently outstanding. Always at the very top of her class, she earned many academic awards including the Jesse Ketchum Award in 1975 for the highest achievement in 8th Grade. She graduated Valedictorian from South Park High School in 1979, and a strong interest in science led Marie to pursue a career in chemistry, earning a BS degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) in 1983.
After receiving her undergraduate degree in chemistry, Marie’s ambition to make the most of her life continued to grow. She was accepted into the chemistry PhD program at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. There she would continue her studies and contribute to the research required for a doctorate in chemistry, with most of her tuition and living expenses funded by scholarships and a work-study program where she served as a teaching assistant for undergraduate classes. Marie continued to excel academically and in many other facets of her life.
While living in State College, Marie became heavily involved in a local organization called “People and Animals Coming Together” (PACT), serving as vice president. One initiative of PACT was to bring animals to hospitals, senior centers, and nursing homes because this interaction provided a very positive and comforting experience to both the residents and the visiting animals.
Marie was a genuinely kind, compassionate, and caring individual. She would never forget the seemingly little things that often make a big difference in other people’s lives, and she was determined to make a difference. During her regular PACT visits around State College she befriended an elderly gentleman, well into his 80’s, who was especially fond of animals but also somewhat withdrawn due to a lack of family, limited socialization, and declining health. While PACT visits were clearly beneficial in such situations, Marie took it upon herself to do something special for him during a weekend trip back home to Buffalo. With the reluctant approval of her mother, she brought him to spend the weekend with her family at her Buffalo home so he could enjoy her mother’s home cooked meals and join her and a friend on a day trip to Niagara Falls. He had always wanted to visit Niagara Falls but never had, and Marie believed this would very likely be his last opportunity.
Her unconventional perspective and creative problem solving abilities often compelled her to undertake extraordinary challenges. Marie once “borrowed” a tortoise that her brother had as a pet for over 15 years. She believed this tortoise would be an unusual addition to future PACT visits, but her hidden agenda was to visit Cornell University on her way back to Penn State. The tortoise had gradually developed a lower jaw deformity, and she had learned that a group at Cornell was making substantial progress in the field of animal prosthetics. Marie would always take the initiative to help in any possible way, but it turned out that nothing could be done to correct the tortoise’s ailment.
In addition to all the demands of graduate school and her incessant desire to help those in need, Marie always found time to have fun and make new friends. One avenue for this was her interest in aviation. Her first involvement was at a sky diving event on July 4th, 1982 as an undergraduate student at UB, which resulted in a broken ankle. But despite that setback, at Penn State she made the decision to pursue her interest in aviation even further. She joined the Penn State Flying Lions, becoming president. She also served as secretary of the Nittany Aero Club, a relatively new organization unaffiliated with the university, named after the Nittany Valley where Penn State’s main campus is located. Always a quick learner and driven to succeed in every endeavor, Marie worked very hard on flight training and earned her pilot license. She thoroughly enjoyed flying in the two small Cessna aircraft collectively owned by all the Nittany Aero Club members, and participating in the “Aviation Days” held locally in the Penn State area. She had also hoped that flying could reduce her commute time to Buffalo, giving her more opportunities to spend time at home with the family and friends who meant so much to her.
Marie was now leading the very fulfilling life that she had always wanted; progressing toward a doctorate in chemistry, helping the community and the animals she had always loved, and experiencing the thrill and adventure of aviation. It was a life that she had forged for herself through education, determination, and hard work. But then, on the cold Sunday afternoon of February 22nd, 1987, Marie decided to accompany another club member on a short flight out of University Park Airport. Shortly after departure the small Cessna 152 aircraft crashed in a cornfield near Stormstown, Pennsylvania, about seven miles from State College. Both the pilot and the sole passenger, Marie Gebura, had died instantly. Marie Gebura was only 25 years old.
Marie’s father, devastated by the loss of his daughter, passed away just six months later. Marie’s mother passed away at her son’s home in 1996, on July 14th, Marie’s birthday.
Marie was posthumously named a contributor to a chemistry patent granted to Penn State, and some of her work was published in Macromolecule Journal, Biomaterials Journal, and presented at the 193rd American Chemical Society’s national meeting in Denver in April 1987.
Marie Gebura made the most of every day of her short life. Her legacy is the example she set of how to live life to its fullest, regardless of duration, and of how much good can be accomplished when one works hard, takes the initiative, and never loses focus on what is truly important.
It has been said “the most unpredictable events are the ones which will occur”…
In late October 2014, nearly 28 years after Marie Gebura’s tragic accident, her brother received a letter in the mail from a man whose name on the envelope seemed vaguely familiar from the distant past. It was from a good friend of Marie’s who had also been a teaching assistant and her chemistry mentor at UB. Marie’s brother remembered him. The letter said he was currently in the process of winding down a long and diverse career in research and development, having received his chemistry doctorate from UB back in the 1980’s. He told of a conversation he once had with Marie many years ago. He had promised her that he would never forget her, regardless of what may happen in their lives. He said he never has, that he still thinks of her all the time, and that he takes his promises very seriously. He had recently thought about sponsoring an endowment and memorial in Marie’s name, possibly something associated with the SPCA because of her love of animals, and decided to contact Marie’s last remaining family member. Later that month the two met to discuss this and share memories of the past over dinner. After nearly 30 years had passed they became good friends, finding they also had many other areas of interest in common.