BY ASHLEY SZATALA
An Oswego State alumnus collected $10,000 from Fraternity members and friends for the college fund of Brian Cudnik’s, OSWEGO STATE 1993, daughter
Cris Bengis, OSWEGO STATE 1992, always wondered what happened to his Fraternity brother Brian Cudnik, OSWEGO STATE 1993, after they graduated college. As the years went by and still no word about Cudnik, who was known as “Bundy” for his resemblance to the character Al Bundy from the sitcom Married With Children, Bengis and other brothers assumed that Cudnik was busy with his job and family and had no interest keeping in touch.
Bengis decided to Google Cudnik in June to see if he could find out more information about Cudnik and possibly reconnect with him. What Bengis learned shocked him. Cudnik, 33, had been killed by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle in Tucson, Arizona, in 2004. He left behind a wife, Jackie, and infant daughter, Samantha.
“I was really down and depressed about it for a while. We have a private Facebook page for our chapter from Oswego State, and I shared the news there,” Bengis says. “People were really upset and couldn’t believe it. That turned into people sharing funny stories about Bundy. Bundy was just a great Fraternity guy.”
Bengis did some research on Facebook into the family Cudnik left behind and saw a picture of Cudnik holding his daughter. That picture made him heartbroken. He learned that girl, nicknamed “Sam,” was 17 and starting her senior year of high school in New York, wants to play soccer in college and that her mother never remarried.
“I thought, ‘We’ve just got to do something for this little girl in honor of her father,’” Bengis says.
Bengis set up Venmo and PayPal accounts in July and started a fundraiser to raise money for Sam Cudnik’s college fund. He figured a few Fraternity brothers would donate and at most $1,000 would be raised. More than 100 Oswego State brothers and others who didn’t even know Cudnik ended up contributing $10,000. For his effort spearheading the fundraiser, Bengis has been named the winter quarter Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award recipient.
A FUNNY, CARING MAN
Many Fraternity brothers were close to Cudnik, and they recall him being a funny and caring man.
“As Brian’s big brother in the Fraternity, I was supposed to help him manage his academics and pledging. He could not for the life of himself remember the Greek alphabet, remember the Founders or remember their hometowns,” Jim Flanagan, OSWEGO STATE 1991, says with a chuckle. “So, we would sit and work through that. No matter what was going on during the day, anytime you ran into Brian or sat with Brian, you came away with a smile. He was laid back and put everyone at ease.”
Flanagan still has the paddle Cudnik made for him for being his mentor. The message on the back makes him choke up: “Thanks for taking me under your wing. You’ve helped me more than you’ll ever know. I also want you to know that I’m always there for you too. Just say the word and I’ll be right there by your side. Bundy.”
Bengis, who was roommates with Cudnik in a house they rented, recalls him having a mature aura.
“I remember how many nights I would sit out on that porch with Bundy just talking about life and getting deep,” he says.
Although the chapter charter was suspended in 2004, alumni have stayed in touch and continue to look out for each other. Pam Karathomas can attest to the giving and supportive nature of the Oswego State brothers. She was the girlfriend of Kevin Kretser, OSWEGO STATE 1994, and stood by his side through a cancer diagnosis. He entered the Chapter Eternal at age 41 in 2014.
“The whole time we were together, Kevin liked to talk about the Fraternity and his brothers,” Karathomas says. “Friends and brothers visited and called while he was in the [intensive care unit]. I was inundated with love and support.”
Kretser’s Fraternity brothers were concerned for Karathomas while she stayed with Kretser in the hospital. They ended up paying for her to stay in a hotel across the street, and after Kretser died, they raised money to help pay the bills she accumulated while not working in order to take care of Kretser.
“Their outpouring of support helped with the healing process,” Karathomas says.
Likewise, Jackie and Sam Cudnik say the Oswego State brothers’ kindness and generosity has made a difference in their lives.
‘IT’S SUCH A TRIBUTE TO HIM’
A Zoom videoconference call to the Cudniks was made on Sept. 1 and featured Bengis, several Fraternity brothers from Oswego State, and Brian Cudnik’s brother, Shawn. The men shared stories of Brian and reminisced about the time they shared together. The check presentation was planned for the end of the call.
“The whole idea was to share with Sam some really great, funny stories about her dad, and we wanted to introduce her to her dad from his college days, have some fun with it and just make her laugh,” Bengis says.
Jackie Cudnik recalls being hesitant at first when she heard that Fraternity brothers wanted to connect with her. She had never met her husband’s collegiate friends.
“It was a bizarre timing. Sam looked at Oswego [for attending college], and the [soccer] coach’s name is Brian,” she says. “Then I get an email from Shawn about a Cris from Oswego.”
At the time of the Zoom call, Jackie Cudnik had no idea how much money had been raised for her daughter’s college fund. She and Sam gasped in amazement when Bengis pulled out an oversized check in Sam Cudnik’s name for $10,000.
“My heart is so full of joy. It’s such a tribute to him and the wonderful person he was,” Jackie Cudnik says. “It’s exciting to hear [the brothers’] stories and know that [they] feel the same way about him that I do inside. I feel like we just made lifelong friends.”
Adds Sam Cudnik: “It means so much. It’s cool that after so long [they] came together, and I got to know things that I didn’t know and Mom didn’t know [about my dad].”
Bengis says the fundraiser has strengthened the Oswego State brotherhood.
“It’s really been wonderful reuniting our brotherhood in Bundy’s honor,” he says. “In all of the sadness, it kind of has a happy ending because we know we did the right thing to honor a fallen brother.”
A person with good character shows trustworthiness, respect and fairness to others, as well as responsibility and citizenship. Those members who go out of their way to help others and those who overcome obstacles and lead with integrity are good candidates for the Mark V. Anderson Character-in-ActionTM Leadership Award.
Sigma Chi introduced the award to recognize the selfless acts of brothers. A formal recognition by the Fraternity allows non-members to appreciate the scope of the organization. For information about the award, see sigmachi.org/character.