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ISSUE 117 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/23/2004

Lertsachanant remembered

By Jane Dudzinski
Executive Editor

Friday, April 23, 2004

Students, faculty members and friends celebrated the life of Pongsakorn "Pong" Lertsachanant '06 in a Thai Buddhist-inspired service Thursday, April 15 in Boe Memorial Chapel. An international student and second-generation Ole, Lertsachanant died in a car crash while visiting his native home of Thailand April 4.

The service started with the lighting of memorial candles and incense, along with a prayer. Associate Director of Admissions Luyen Phan began by explaining that combining Christian and Buddhist religious traditions served as "an intermediary between Lertsachanant's culture and religion and what we know here at St. Olaf."

The congregation then viewed a brief slide show of photographs from Lertsachanant's memorial service in Thailand two weeks ago, where he was cremated in the presence of his family members.

After singing "For the Beauty of the Earth," which was set to the tune of a Buddhist folk song, some of Lertsachanant's closest friends and mentors offered remembrances.

Steve and Karen Watson, friends of Lertsachanant's father who live in the Twin Cities, spoke first. As Lertsachanant's "American family" during his two years at St. Olaf, Karen Watson recalled the close bond with Lertsachanant that she cherished.

"He was a friendly, easygoing young man who liked to laugh," Watson said. "He was like a son to us."

Watson said Lertsachanant regarded Minnesota as his second home, and often laughed at the extreme climate differences between Thailand and Minnesota.

Watson said that she and her husband are grateful for the opportunity that they had to get to know Lertsachanant.

"We thank Pong for coming here and giving us a chance to meet him," Watson said. "Our lives are richer, and bonds of love are eternal."

Lertsachanant's roommate, Pat Nelson '06, spoke next, remembering both the times that he and Lertsachanant spent playing video games and watching movies, as well as the times they supported each other.

"Pong was a great friend. Again this year we shared a lot of fun times," Nelson said. "He was there for me and when I needed him most."

Nelson commended Lertsachanant's work ethic during the semester, acknowledging the amount of effort he put into his studies.

"Pong was working very hard this semester and I was proud of him," Nelson said. "He lived to make his dad proud. It inspired me to work as hard. He was an inspiration to all of us."

Assistant Professor of Chinese and Asian Studies Shannon Cannella offered memories of Lertsachanant's "easygoing manner and friendly smile" that she often saw in her Chinese Literature class.

"I had a soft spot for him," Cannella said. "He never complained and he did the work."

To conclude the remembrances Phan spoke again, this time on behalf of Lertsachanant's father Chartchai Lertsachanant '72.

"Pong was my only son, a great kid with a promising future who always tried to do his best," Phan read.

Lertsachanant's father's words sought to offer comfort to those present at the service: "I admire Pong. I am very proud of my son, Pong. There is no need to worry anymore."

Phan said that Lertsachanant's father plans to visit the campus in May to meet his friends. He has also created a memorial scholarship in his son's name.

After the remembrances Campus Pastor Bruce Benson invited those in attendance another chance to light incense, saying that everyone was "invited to let the incense speak if your voice won't." Almost every single person in the audience lined up to commemorate Lertsachanant in this way.

Another slide show of photographs of Lertsachanant and his friends at St. Olaf, followed before those in attendance proceeded to the Memorial Tower to hang a chime in Lertsachanant's name, light incense and commune in a closing prayer.

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