Matt Zika ’11, a beloved employee at RPCC dining, tremendous athlete, talented poet, and caring friend, died Friday afternoon after he is believed to have dropped from the suspension bridge over Fall Creek Gorge. A junior operations research major in the College of Engineering, Matt was scheduled to graduate early this May and already had a job lined up with an insurance company in Madison, WI.
“He was a wonderfully energetic young man eager to laugh,” said Beth Brown, Zika’s high school swim coach and English teacher. She commented on his love of movies, music, and added that she never knew anyone with such an enthusiasm for food. Zika had also coached Brown’s sons in summer league baseball teams. “My sons had adopted him as their big brother,” Brown said.
In high school Zika was a member of the National Honor Society, won numerous writing awards, and was a star on the varsity baseball team – holding hitting records that still stand.
At Cornell, Zika worked his way up to become a student manager at RPCC dining. According to co-worker Lucia von Reusner ’12, Zika spent around 30 hours a week at the Robert Purcell center, where he worked since freshman year.
Von Reusner and Zika would frequently go snowboarding on the weekends at Greek Peak.
“He would always talk to the workers, make sure they knew what they were doing, and joke around during work time. He would make working here really fun,” said Nicole Huynh ’13, who had worked with Zika since the fall.
Last semester Zika helped to organize a party for all the RPCC employees which was attended by over fifty people. However, to fellow employees and those who knew him at Cornell, Zika was much more than a good student manager. He was a friend eager to play basketball, ultimate frisbee, poker, video and board games.
“He was always there for you if you needed him for any conversation at any time,” von Resuener said. “He gave really good advice and had really good words of wisdom.
“Whenever there was a problem he would always talk them through it and help them find a solution,” Huynh said. Huynh spoke of one instance when Zika drove her to Gannett. “I had been sick and he noticed something was up … if it weren’t for him I probably wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Zika was also a volunteer firefighter for the Cayuga Heights Fire Department his freshman and sophomore year, but stopped after a shoulder injury from playing basketball. In addition to remembering his deep concern for other people, Huynh also spoke to the quality of his character.
“He always was trying to improve on his mistakes and always trying to do his best and work hard.” Zika was described by Huynh as someone who lived by his actions and believed in “giving it your all.” One of his mottos, Huynh said, was “never put off until tomorrow what you’d be okay having never done.”
Original Author: Michelle Winglee