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I am fully prepared for the page views of this blog to drop by 50%, because sadly we just lost our most loyal reader, a family friend who even at 90, was the living embodiment of the phrase “Carpe Diem,” (Seize the Day for all you non-English majors).

Speaking of which, for those of you who didn’t know Charlotte Melville, she might sound like a fictional character, but trust me when I say she was the realest person I have ever met. My last correspondence with her (again, it started with a reaction to a blog post) was December 2. In every contact I had with Charlotte, I always learned something (and often something extraordinary about her). In this latest instance, it was that she had once performed in Gilbert and Sullivan productions in Philadelphia during the 1930s. She was returning to her home in Bristol, PA mid-month from an extended stay with daughter Ann and husband Jeff, who currently live in Budapest working for the foreign service. Everyone would be home for Christmas. She was already planning her next international excursion, to Burma in the fall of 2013. Unfortunately, a few days upon her arrival here, Charlotte suffered a stroke, followed by a brain hemorrhage on Sunday. Very early Thursday morning, she died at home surrounded by her family.

If Dos Equis beer had a “Most Interesting Woman in the World,” Charlotte would be her. Everything about Charlotte was fascinating, starting with growing up in a privileged family in Bristol, a descendant of the founder of the D. Landreth Seed Company, which began in 1784 and introduced to the United States the Zinnia, the white potato, various tomato varieties, and Bloomsdale Spinach. Landreth remains in operation under non-family ownership as the oldest seed house and the fifth oldest corporation in America.

Charlotte's family founded the D. Landreth Seed Company, the oldest seedhouse in America.

Charlotte's family founded the D. Landreth Seed Company, the oldest seedhouse in America.

Early on, Charlotte developed an appreciation for just how wide and diverse Planet Earth is, and she became a global traveler abroad and a hostess with the mostest at home, welcoming foreign visitors to this country through various organizations. At times, she seemed like she knew everyone in every country, on every continent. This last trip at age 90 included the following itinerary: Croatia, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and to celebrate her birthday, a gondola ride in Venice.

Despite a Social Register type upbringing, Charlotte eschewed luxury accommodations for hostels, huts, and the homes of her many contacts. For instance, last summer in Lublijana, Slovenia, she stayed in a prison converted into a youth hostel. Despite roughing it, Charlotte had very few unpleasant travel surprises — one of the few was finding herself behind the Iron Curtain during a Soviet crackdown  in 1968.

Charlotte was a force of nature, proving that if you rest, you rust. Every morning, she took a long, brisk walk with her good friend, Herta Mackay. If you were a friend of Charlotte, you knew that she never stopped talking or walking. Energy drinks would be lost on her because she had so much natural get-up-and-go.

There wasn’t anything she wasn’t curious about, from history, to culture, to politics. When she was home, she wrote travel articles for the Bristol Pilot community newspaper. She attended meetings, outings, and lectures. She kept in touch with a myriad of fellow travelers, old friends, new friends, and personal acquaintances.

If you can believe it, Charlotte also squeezed in a stint in the U.S. Marines into her busy, busy life. As a result, she made a point in recent years of attending the annual USMC Ball. Most recently, she was the oldest marine there at the one held in Hungary in November. She was honored in the same fashion at an earlier USMC Ball in Beijing and got to meet President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush.

Charlotte was honored as the oldest marine at two recent USMC Balls in Hungary (here) and earlier in Beijing.

Charlotte was honored as the oldest marine at two recent USMC Balls in Hungary (here) and earlier in Beijing.

While back home in Bristol during the late 1980s, Charlotte met Gregory Peck when he was in town to see his daughter in a production at the Bristol Riverside Theatre. Charlotte had a knack for being at the right place, at the right time, with the right people. By comparison, Forest Gump was a piker.

Even now, I am having a hard time imagining life without Charlotte. She was a wonderful neighbor and friend to my in-laws. She was a great mentor and friend to my wife when she grew up with Charlotte’s daughters. She instantly became my friend, too, after my wife introduced us several decades ago. She has been a terrific role model to my kids. She has been an amazing mother to daughters Ann and Linda and a loving grandmother to her two grandsons.  And she has been both a great patriot and a world citizen. Not a bad resume for someone born to tremendous privilege, who, while enormously proud of her own heritage, chose to make her own way and her own name.

Charlotte passed away at home, less than half a mile from where she was born. That’s a pretty poetic circle of life for someone who has been one of the great globetrotters and goodwill ambassadors. Semper Fi, Charlotte. Semper Fi.

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Susquehanna University. Just follow the river up from the Chesapeake Bay to Selinsgrove, PA and you're there.

Susquehanna University. Just follow the river up from the Chesapeake Bay to Selinsgrove, PA and you're there.

Our blog update is late this week thanks to a time warp — college reunion weekend. It was a minor milestone year for me since graduation from Susquehanna University in 19??. The beauty of aging is that those of us who were never good with numbers now have a built-in excuse for deep-sixing dates.

But Susquehanna University is an institution with proud traditions dating back generations. My own family now boasts four generations of SU alumni with our oldest son a 2010 grad. As a result, I have witnessed many of the recent campus changes firsthand that may represent bigger shifts to some of my classmates.

With the cost of higher education continuing to ascend, and recent graduates emerging to a very tough employment market, the competitive challenges faced by small private colleges have never been greater. Over the past two decades, many institutions have done impressive jobs of upgrading facilities, technologies, and academic departments. College has become such an American rite of passage from high school to young adulthood that parents and alumni have been willing to keep writing checks to fund whatever has been needed. However, it will be harder to keep these ongoing improvements going year after year given present economic realities.

Susquehanna University beat cross-state rival Muhlenberg 17-0.

Susquehanna University beat cross-state rival Muhlenberg 17-0.

For now, Susquehanna University continues to resemble the school and experience I had back in the 19 ____s. It is a little like Brigadoon, an idyllic campus in the small town of Selinsgrove, easy to miss (if you don’t get off the 11/15 bypass) between Harrisburg and Lewisburg, PA. Homecoming is still a big fall weekend of football, luncheons, and even a parade through town (no sign of the giant “Eat Me” cake float/Deathmobile from Animal House).

Susquehanna still stages a Homecoming parade every fall.

Susquehanna still stages a Homecoming parade every fall.

Perhaps the most welcome change is a far more diverse campus community. The numbers of minority students and minority faculty and administration members are definitely on the rise. Successful integration requires all parties to get out of their comfort zones to make new friends and find common and not-so-common ground. There was a lot of evidence that at least on a beautiful fall Saturday in central Pennsylvania, this is now old news. While no one is ever going to classify Selinsgrove as urban, the appearance of Snoop Dogg for a fall concert is one such sign of the times. And with that, I will let a band from my era (who never made it to campus except in countless albums sold) close out this week’s blog.

Snoop Dogg is coming to Susquehanna!

Snoop Dogg is coming to Susquehanna!

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Your help is needed. Immediately! Urgently!! The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s primary fundraising program, the Light the Night Walks, are on Saturdays starting in October and you need to do your part. If you, your family, or one of your friends has been affected by one of the blood cancers, you don’t have to be asked twice. If you have not been personally affected, you need to say thanks for your good fortune, then step forward and help out someone who is suffering through leukemia or lymphoma treatments. Once diagnosed, it is scary, demoralizing, debilitating, and draining. For many, it is also a death sentence.

You can certainly make an online contribution (here is my fundraising page), but I encourage you to personally participate in one of the area walks.

Each one is a family event that will be uplifting for you to see so many who are suffering take positive action toward finding cures. All those electric candle lit balloons identifying lost loved ones, those who has conquered the disease, as well as those still fighting the battle represent an inspirational moment for the ages. The overwhelming majority of funds raised during Light the Night walks go to research and patient support and advocacy.

Balloons lit by electric candles highlight Light the Night walks.

Balloons lit by electric candles highlight Light the Night walks.

Blood cancers do not respect race, religion, or status in life. You can even have your own hit tv series and find yourself in the fight of your life. Just ask Michael C. Hall, star of “Dexter”, who is this year’s lead ambassador, after being successfully treated for Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010.

When you have a life threatening illness, you need all the support and hope you can get. This current article indicates that hope is very much alive and local through research at Penn with some especially promising results. Many of the advances in treating childhood leukemia over the past 30 years have taken place right here in the Delaware Valley at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. That’s something we can all take civic pride in. The early breakthroughs in Penn’s research demand additional funding and wider trials. Anyone currently diagnosed does not have time to wait. Please help now!

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