Sudden death of Dr. Susan Aronica leads to campus-wide mourning

By CJ Gates

Dr. Susan Aroncia was admired by students and faculty alike.

Dr. Susan Aroncia was admired by students and faculty alike.

Wednesday morning, Canisius students awoke to the news that Dr. Susan Aronica, biology professor and chair of the department, had passed away Tuesday afternoon due to heart-related complications.

Colleagues and students were shocked to learn that Aronica, who had been on campus on Friday, passed so suddenly after being admitted to the hospital Sunday night. She was surrounded by her family, including her wife Beth and her brother Tony.

The news broke on campus Tuesday afternoon when Dr. Sara Morris, who worked with Aronica in the biology department and served as co-chair until moving to Bagen Hall as the Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, received a call and informed the rest of the biology department as well as senior Ashrita Hanmiah, who worked as a research student with Aronica.

“She had a confidence in you that you couldn’t even find in yourself, but she pushed you to find it; she challenged you to think and reach your potential,” Hanmiah said of Aronica. While Aronica was admired and loved by those students who were close to her, many admitted that students initially were a bit scared and intimidated by her, but once you got past that, everyone was in unanimous agreement that she was a wonderful person.

“Dr. Aronica had a gruff exterior and she was sometimes brutally honest, especially with incoming freshman,” Dr. Lisa Morey said. “But once you got to know her, her compassion, kindness, and humor made you grateful you did.”

Hanmiah agreed that sometimes people were scared of her early on, but said, “I don’t know where that scary aspect comes from; she’s just sassy and straightforward and that was the best part of her!”

Though she wasn’t afraid to call people out on their decisions, if she did, it was only in order to advocate for the functionality of things.

“When people think of her with a temper, it’s when things are not going right,” said Dr. Katie Costanzo. “She was always fighting for functionality and that’s what I loved about her – she wasn’t afraid to call people out.”

Aronica had worked at Canisius since being hired as a professor in 1997 and became chair of the biology department in 2008.

Morris said that at Aronica’s interview in 1997, when asked to teach a lesson about renal physiology, she taught the lesson at such a high level that the interviewers had to ask her to simplify the information – but that was the type of woman Aronica was, she was so intelligent that even when asked to give a lesson in a specific subject of which she was not an expert, she was able to do so and impart a high a level of knowledge on her students.

It was at this interview that Aronica and Morris hit it off and became friends. They were both interviewing at the same time, though Morris had been teaching at Canisius for year already. When both were making their final decisions, both asked if the other had decided whether or not to take the job at Canisius. Aronica became a resource for Morris whenever a student had a detailed question on physiology, and Morris coached Aronica through the tenure process, as Morris completed it a year prior to Aronica.

“She was the third person to hold my daughter,” Morris said, speaking of their closeness. “It was my husband, then me and then her.”

She was more than just another professor to her students and colleagues. As Chair of the department, she was a tremendous ally and always had the best interest of the department in mind when making decisions.

“She had the amazing ability to see how decisions would impact the future of the department, the future of education of biology students and was always such a big advocate to make sure that decisions wouldn’t damage any of those factors,” said Dr. Elizabeth Hogan. “She was an unselfish leader. She would always make decisions based on her love for this department.”

As Chair of the department, Aronica didn’t discriminate when it came to taking ideas from those around her and putting them into practice, unless they involved raw onions, green beans, tomatoes, and apples, for which the biology professor had great disdain.

“I loved that she was open to all of our ideas,” said lab manager Larry Tassini. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned professor or a lab manager like me or a secretary, she was willing to take the best of our ideas and implement them.”

A memorial has already begun on Aronica’s office door with students and fellow professors taping post-it notes to her door with short messages that summed up years-long relationships as best they could.

A formal memorial is set for friends and family on Saturday morning at 10 a.m. at Lombardo Funeral Home, 885 Niagara Falls Bvld with a service beginning at 11:30 a.m. An on-campus memorial will be held in Christ the King Chapel on Thursday Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.

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