Syracuse University Ski Club
RUSSELL WILDER 1923 – 1951
Syracuse University ’48
The New Jersey seashore isn’t the likeliest place you would go to find avid ski jumpers. For a family whose roots are in Upstate New York, scratch us, and you’ll find serious winter sports enthusiasts. My grandfather, “Pop,” grew up in Syracuse and Utica and was on a bobsled team that raced down the original Mt. Van Hoevenberg bobrun. He was quite a figure/speed skater as well, which he was still doing when he moved his family to New Jersey. My dad was born in New Jersey, along with his older brother Scott, his sister Jeannette, and his little brother Russ. I learned to ski on winter vacations usually in Maine. I learned to jump in college at Syracuse University at the hands of Elt Fairbank, the S.U. ski coach. I had gone there for the business school, the skiing and family that still lived in Syracuse.
My Uncle Russ was born just in time for a depression and a world war, not the most joyous time to experience life. They struggled like everyone else and when the war started Scott, Dad, Russ and even Jeannette served. Russ received his commission in the Navy and went off to Pensacola, Florida to become a Navy pilot. He had finished so high in his flight school class that he was made an instructor. He separated from the Navy in 1945 and went back to get his degree at the Newhouse School of Journalism at Syracuse. It was in Syracuse that they had all learned to ski and loved every minute of it. As much as he loved to fly, for Russ, skiing was one of the greatest joys he had ever had the chance to know.
The three brothers had started a publishing business in Manhattan. Living in New Jersey meant making the commute by train into New York daily. They generally rode together, Pop going with them. This up until February 6, 1951, when just Pop and Russ left together to ride home. Within minutes, they rode through the town of Woodbridge into the worst rail disaster in New Jersey history. Pop and Russ were lost that night. It would not be the only tragedy that would strike our family.
Insurance settlements were made for the family. Dad and Scott took one to Syracuse University to establish a scholarship in Russ’s name. Today, the award pays for one year’s tuition for a Journalism student. Being a member of the former United States Eastern Amateur Ski Association, Scott approached them about donating a memorial award for Service to Youth Skiing. The Russell Wilder Award is given every year to the person or group who has best served youth programs. He wasn’t a war hero; not an Olympic champion; just a regular guy who lived life to the fullest during the short time he had on this earth.
I guess I made a family tradition of S.U. when I got there in the Fall of ’68 (and my niece went in 1987.) I wanted to race, but everyone was better prepared than I was. So Elt taught me how to jump. Then he introduced me to his college buddy Earl Murphy. Lo and behold, Earl and I discovered we were neighbors on the New Jersey shore, and we got to be pretty close. Ski Jumping became a source of healing for me, and I caught on after a while. It even took me to Europe twice. I know Russ is watching after me. We both learned to fly in the service. We were even lifeguards on the same beach on the shore. I’ll always thank him for some of my own best memories.