Sept. 23, 2019
Teaching dental assisting students at OCM BOCES is familiar and comforting to Nancy Chappell, who re-joined the Adult Education program this fall after working as the full-time instructor for 14 years, from 2001 to 2015.
“It’s a good distraction,” she said.
Those words are an understatement for Nancy, who speaks openly about a tragedy last year that took the life of her 37-year-old son, Stephen Gudknecht, a father of two.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 15, 2018, Gudknecht and a co-worker, Kristopher Hicks, 29, were killed by an ex-employee at the Chili’s Bar & Grill in DeWitt. Gudknecht worked as a manager there. The gunman, William Wood Jr., was sentenced last April to life in prison without parole. In addition to Wood, four other people have been indicted for their role in the attempted robbery. The case and the court proceedings for each suspect continue to make headlines.
Nancy says the incident has turned her into the ultimate caregiver. Since her son passed away, she is taking care of her grandchildren and raising them as her own. She is also taking care of her husband, who suffers from an advanced form of multiple sclerosis.
Still, returning to BOCES has been a blessing. After leaving her instructing position in 2015, Nancy worked as a dental sales representative and dental office manager. In total, she has 30 years of experience in the dental field and says she knows “most of the local dental offices as well as their staff."
Now that she has returned to OCM BOCES, Nancy says she finds daily comfort in teaching young, enthusiastic students who are engaged in their work and looking forward to starting a career in a challenging, high-demand field.
"I am enjoying all my co-workers as well as my students," Nancy said. “My favorite part of the job is making the students smile and laugh while learning at the same time."
Nancy is not afraid to share her story with her students, who routinely take part in community service projects as part of their studies.
This year, the students will be working hard to bring good out of the tragedy by helping with a "Feedin' With Flapjacks" fundraiser set for 8 to 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, at the Applebee's in DeWitt.
The fundraiser benefits "Two Chefs from Above," an organization spearheaded by Nancy and other survivors of the 2018 tragedy at Chili's. The organization serves as a memorial to Steve and Kris and also raises money for two causes: to feed the homeless in Syracuse, and to assist people who want to pursue a culinary arts career. The organization was started with help from the Central New York Community Foundation.
Nancy and her students are hoping for a large turnout. Anyone who is interested in attending should stop by the Applebee's at 3189 Erie Boulevard East in Syracuse, and purchase tickets prior to the event.
"It’s not remembering the horrible thing that happened, but rather finding a way to keep their memories alive by paying it forward and giving back,'' Nancy said in a recent interview on syracuse.com. “That’s what they would have wanted.”