Alum Tragedy Leads to Scholarship Legacy

2012-10-05

The family of an AE alumnus who tragically drowned last spring has kept his memory alive by establishing a scholarship program that has benefited two current AE undergrads and will continue to benefit students in the future. 

Philip Patnaude's mother, Phyllis, displaying the quilt that commemorates her son. One of the quilt patches was made from a T-shirt saying that Philip flew solo while at the University of Illinois.
Philip Patnaude's mother, Phyllis, displaying the quilt that commemorates her son. One of the quilt patches was made from a T-shirt saying that Philip flew solo while at the University of Illinois.

Receiving the Philip W. Patnaude Scholarships, at $2,000 each, were new freshmen Ashley T. Hemmingway and Austin M. Ruf, both 2012 graduates of Downers Grove North High School in the Chicago area. The scholarships will be awarded annually to one male and one female graduate from that high school, based on their academic standings and their plans to attend the University of Illinois. Special emphasis will be given to students who will be entering the College of Engineering and, particularly, Aerospace Engineering.

“A scholarship in Phil’s name was one of the perfect ways to carry on his legacy,” said his older brother, Art Patnaude. “(Philip) was a proud Illini; proud to be among the caliber of students at the engineering school. He’ll be happy that students from his hometown will be given that extra boost to follow a similar path.”

Philip Patnaude had graduated from Downers Grove North in 2002, and earned his bachelor’s degree in 2006 from Aerospace Engineering. He was very active in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics student chapter, serving as AIAA president his last year on campus. In 2006, his AIAA team won a third-place award for Engineering Open House. He also earned his pilot’s license while in Urbana-Champaign.

Following graduation Patnaude took a position at Sargent & Lundy, a Chicago-based engineering consulting firm, and traveled the world as a mechanical engineer in the company’s fossil fuel division. While on campus Patnaude met his fiancée, Selena Nanthavong, BS 06, MS 07, Accountancy. They had made plans to marry on October 6, 2012.

“Phil was the kind of person that became your best friend five minutes after he met you,” Nanthavong said. “He was never too busy to be genuinely interested in who you are, where you came from, and where you were going. It was as if you were the only person in the room when you were talking to him and the two of you privy to a secret.”

Scholarship winners Austin M. Ruf and Ashley T. Hemmingway
Scholarship winners Austin M. Ruf and Ashley T. Hemmingway

“There were countless times when I’d go visit Phil in the Aerospace lab where he’d be studying,” his fiancée continued. “As I’d walk in, he’d be laughing with another Aerospace person in the lab. And it would turn out not to be a close classmate, but someone he’d just met in the lab ten minutes ago, or someone he was only acquainted with. It didn’t matter who it was, he just wanted to share something funny.”

Philip Patnaude’s body was found March 5 in the waters of Lake Michigan. He had last been seen two days earlier when he was socializing with friends, and had told them he was going to the lakefront. The 28-year-old’s death was an accident by drowning.

His mother, Phyllis Patnaude, said the family members’ decision to create the scholarships came to them almost immediately as they were planning the funeral. “It’s a bittersweet type of thing for us,” she said. “We’re blessed to have a community that wants to keep Philip’s memory alive.”

As many as 2,000 people attended the visitation, waiting up to four hours to express condolences to the family.

In addition to presenting the scholarships to Hemmingway and Ruf during the high school’s Senior Awards Night last spring, the Patnaudes also gave each of the students a pair of flip-flops, Philip’s choice of shoes while he was attending the university. Said the family to Hemmingway and Ruf: “We hope that you can create your own ‘life’s foot prints’ in a way that others can also follow your lead. And all the while you do that, you can be assured that you will have the goodness of Philip and the support of your community alongside of you as you blaze your path to a successful future.”