GENESEO, N.Y. - On Nov. 16, Eric Grammas, a SUNY Geneseo graduate and resident of Geneseo, died suddenly at his home. He was 24.
Grammas had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a degenerative disease primarily affecting voluntary muscles, which he had dealt with since he was young. According to Melanie Blood, assistant director of the School of the Arts and Grammas' academic advisor, "he was in a wheelchair by high school, and in college he increasingly lost the use of his arms and upper body."
Grammas graduated from Geneseo Central School in 2001 and SUNY Geneseo in 2005 with a B.A. in Musical Theatre. He had acted, directed, run the light board, stage managed, and written plays while he was a student, and he was an active member of Chamber Singers.
Grammas had also performed with Livonia Community Players and Geneseo Community Players. He was the first and only undergraduate student chosen to direct for Geneseo Community Players. In 2005 he directed Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon, in which he was able to cast his mother, stepfather, and high school teacher and director, Geneseo alumna Bettina DeBell. He was also named outstanding lead actor in Into the Woods and outstanding supporting actor in Bye Bye Birdie by the Rochester Broadway Theatre Guild.
Professors and students alike were inspired by Grammas and have wonderful memories of him. "In Acting II I introduce tai chi chuan for actors but I couldn't teach it to Eric. What we did together, therefore, was to work out a way for me to guide his hands and arms through the exercise and for us to breathe together as we did it. It was an amazing experience," said Randy Kaplan, associate professor and coordinator of Asian Studies. She directed Fiddler on the Roof in which Grammas was cast in the role of Motl the Tailor. "Eric was able to make everyone in a theatre see him dance in that wheelchair, and that is the honest truth," stated Kaplan.
Senior John Kaczorowski, a friend and castmate of Grammas said, "Eric was ambitious, friendly, funny, smart, talented and most of all, selfless. His compassion and generosity could be seen not only in the time he devoted to his community and friends but to the betterment of the world in general."
"One thing I remember about Eric was for his Alpha Psi Omega induction. He and Bizzy Coy did a dance in his wheelchairs," said senior Kathryn Foster, another friend of Grammas. "It was so funny. He had such a great sense of humor and love for life."
Grammas was known for his easy-going nature and his sense of humor. "He was a positive, outgoing, and nice kid that everyone loved," said Blood. "He was hardworking and loved to learn and find out new things that he hadn't encountered before and loved to read and wanted to direct very accessible plays that would encourage a wider appeal."
Alan Case, vocal coach, accompanist, and director of Vocal Miscellany, explained how Grammas had left a great legacy to future Geneseo students. "Because he was here, the campus moved closer to the ideal of full accessibility. The job is not yet done." Currently, only one of Brodie's doors is wheelchair accessible, and the stages in Wadsworth and Sturges auditoriums remain inaccessible. "However progress was made, and we can thank the persistence of Eric and his family for that," continued Case.
Grammas is survived by his mother and stepfather, Teonna and Stan Janczak; his father David Grammas; his sister and stepsisters; grandparents; and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.
His parents played an immense role in enabling Grammas to have a normal college experience. Blood reminisced, "At the end of the semester, I invite students to my house," she said. "Eric's mom came early to drop off the ramps he needed to get into the house just so she didn't have to be around when he and the other students showed up. He could be just like any of the other students."
Kaczorowski stated that "Eric was the kind of guy everyone aspired to be. No matter what, he had a smile and always gave his best." He added that Grammas was always very optimistic and cheerful. "If anything, his hardships gave him more of a desire to go out, live and love life, and make sure you were living yours too," continued Kaczorowski.
Memorials may be made in Eric Grammas' name to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, 1425 Jefferson Road, #19, Rochester, NY 14623.