How do you create something positive from a tragedy that causes tears to flow at the thought of it?
Danielle Enea is trying the best she can.
A 5-kilometer run-walk Sunday along the Animas River Trail will raise money for a memorial foundation that honors her little sister, Gena Rych.
“That’s why we’ve done this,” Enea said in an interview last week that several times showed how raw the wounds still are. “To try to make something positive about it. How tragic and horrible that day was, that it wasn’t all for nothing.”
Proceeds from the fundraiser go to the Women’s Resource Center of Durango, which will spread the money to girls and women seeking an education and needing help affording it.
You may recall the crash of a small plane in the mountains above Silverton on Dec. 3, 2011. Four people – 27-year-old Gena Rych, Tyler Black, 24, Steve Osborne, 59, and Jan Measles Osborne, 50 – were on their way to a banking get-together in Aspen.
Rych worked with Jan Osborne and Black at the Durango branch of Alpine Bank. She had just gotten a promotion to operations supervisor, and felt she needed to be at the Aspen party, which was being held to celebrate promotions such as hers.
Gena (pronounce the “e” as in “den”) was just 9 when her mother, Lynn, died in 1995. Her sister Danielle, six years her elder, stepped into the mother role as best she could. Together with a third sister, also named Lynn, the trio grew tight.
Gena graduated from high school in Easton, Pa., and then got a degree in business administration from East Stroudsburg University. She worked diligently through college, holding jobs to stay afloat while completing required classes.
Danielle, meanwhile, had moved to Durango with her husband, Frank Enea, in 2006. When the newly graduated Gena came to visit in 2008, Danielle arranged for her to meet Alpine Bank president Mike Burns. The two hit it off, and a week later Gena had a job and was on her way to Durango.
“It was just an example of how she connected with people,” Danielle Enea said.
While keeping a bit of her East Coast cosmopolitan style, as her friend Theresa Blake puts it, Gena Rych quickly blended into the Durango scene. She became an avid runner and hiker, climbing several Fourteeners.
Blake bonded with Gena in summer 2010. When the anniversary of Blake’s father’s death came that October, Gena provided counsel and restored her faith in life.
“Just the words of wisdom that she would impart to me,” Blake said. “It was amazing to come out of a 26-year-old’s mouth.”
She could laugh at herself, she welcomed challenges that came her way, and a consistent theme from those who knew her is selflessness. Need a dog sitter?
“She couldn’t really say ‘no’ to people,” Blake said. “She was always doing something for somebody. It was just her personality.”
Rych struck up a friendship with Emil Wanatka, a Durango-area homebuilder. They’d spend a few minutes chatting when Wanatka made one of his frequent Alpine Bank visits, and sometimes went to breakfast.
“Gena was one of those rare people who related to everybody,” said Wanatka, at age 59 a generation removed from Rych. “She really made you feel special.”
Enea always felt protective of her sister and wanted to help guide her through life. “But she taught me so much more than I could ever have taught her – by the kind of person she was.”
The ill-fated plane left Durango at 1:19 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2011, and a rapid change in weather caused problems for Steve Osborne, the pilot. He became disoriented, and the plane went down in the mountains a few miles north of Silverton. There was no chance of survival.
Alpine Bank created a memorial fund in Gena’s name, but her sisters weren’t sure what to do with the money. Enea’s boss at Coldwell Banker Realtors, Gina Piccoli, introduced her to Liz Mora, director of the Women’s Resource Center. The center has scholarships for women, and Rych believed in empowering and investing in women. It seemed a perfect fit, and a way that Rych’s life could continue to benefit others.
“If we can just invest in girls and women and change someone’s life, and someone can have an easier path because of her, then it wasn’t in vain,” Enea said.
Fewer than two months before she died, Rych completed “The Other Half,” a half-marathon run in Moab, Utah. The plan for a 5-kilometer fundraiser was a natural. Sunday’s event heads south on the Animas River Trail, where Rych liked to run and sometimes hung out with Enea’s kids, 4-year-old Rocco and 22-month-old Christopher.
Said Enea, “I know if she were here she’d be really proud to see what we’re doing in her name.
“She left a legacy that I can only be proud of, and thankful for.”
firstname.lastname@example.org. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.