September 17, 2007

O’Donnell ’09 Dies From Fall

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Keith O’Donnell ’09 died Thursday night from severe head and neck injuries following a 30-foot fall into the Cascadilla Gorge last Saturday.
While the circumstances surrounding the fall are still being investigated, his aunt, Jennifer O’Donnell, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he said goodnight to his girlfriend at around 1:30 a.m. on Saturday and was walking back to his dorm when he fell.
The Ithaca Fire Department responded to a call at 2:09 a.m. and retrieved O’Donnell by foot in a 15-minute rescue procedure. He was airlifted to SUNY Upstate Medical University and treated for severe head injuries and a punctured lung, according to his aunt.
The 23-year-old was a junior in the School of Hotel Administration. O’Donnell was an Erial, N.J. native who attended the Peddie School. He was a star wrestler in high school and wrestled for two years for Cornell in the 174-pound weight class, according to the Athletic Department’s website.
O’Donnell was known for his deep loyalty and generosity to his friends and his love of life.
“The biggest thing is he was a very loyal friend. People always wanted to be around him. His happiness was contagious. He made other people feel comfortable, and he always put others before himself,” said Charlie Agozzino ’07.
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Agozzino, who was on the wrestling team with O’Donnell, praised his selflessness and concern for his teammates and friends.
“He was generous. If anyone needed a favor, whether it was big or small, he would always be the first to jump at the chance to help them out,” Agozzino said.
His charisma on and off the mat was apparent in his easy smile and fun-loving personality, his teammates said.
“Whenever he would come by, he always had this goofy contagious smile. It was hard not to smile around him. He was a fun guy to be around,” said Jerry Rinaldi ’07.
O’Donnell was not one to make friendships casually, according to his friends. He kept in close contact with his wrestling teammates even after he left the team.
“He was dedicated to his friends, and he certainly kept in contact and was a good friend to all of us,” said Doug Weidner ’07.
“He always kept in touch with us. He was someone loyal. He made friendships and kept up with them,” Rinaldi said.
Dean Michael Johnson of the hotel school extended his condolences to O’Donnell’s friends and family in an e-mail sent out early Friday afternoon.
“He was known as a passionate and caring individual who had many friends in the school and across the Cornell community,” Johnson stated in the e-mail.
Weidner remarked upon the breadth with which O’Donnell impacted the Cornell community.
“It has become pretty evident how much he was cared for and how much he did mean to people. It goes to show what a caring guy he was, and the caring people he surrounded himself with while he was here,” Weidner said.
A community support meeting will be held today at 4:30 p.m. in Statler Hall to provide support for friends, family and acquaintances.
Donations to help bring O’Donnell’s body back to New Jersey and develop a scholarship in his name can be made to the Keith O’Donnell Memorial Fund, c/o Commerce Bank, 601 College Drive, Blackwood NJ 08012.