On May 20, 2009, young biotech James Abram Schneck, had just moved from Ohio to South Dakota for the summer and was on his way to count waterfowl as part of an internship for the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFW). He never made it to the site. Schneck was driving distracted, failed to yield at a stop sign and drove into oncoming traffic. His pickup was struck by a tractor-trailer, killing him instantly. His passenger, Kelson Vaillancourt, 21, who was also interning with the USFW, died the next day.
James was born in Orrville, OH, and was the son of James A. and Rosalee (Diffenbach) Schneck of Terre Hill. He was a home school graduate with a PHHA diploma and also a 2008 graduate of Messiah College with a bachelors degree in biology. He was a member of Rockville Mennonite Church, Honey Brook, and enjoyed music, drama, and the natural sciences.
Wildlife biologist, Bridgette Flanders-Wanner, who interviewed Kelson and Abram for their positions with the USFW and worked with them, wrote a memorial tribute to Kelson and Abram on The Wildlife Society website. “In Abram’s interview, he was congenial and quick-witted. His references described him as brilliant”, writes Bridgette. Abram was informed that due to an uncertainty in funding, the USFW might not be able to offer him a position. He called back a few days later and said that he would volunteer as he would like to gain the experience before going to graduate school. “We were struck by an individual who was willing to travel halfway across the country to volunteer because he wanted to gain experience for his future career aspirations. To be that focused, sure of himself, and willing to take a risk shows true passion and commitment”, said Bridgette. Bridgette goes on to state,
Kelson and Abram started work on the same day. It was evident every day that I worked with them that they both were invested in their work and wanted nothing more than to do a great job. They did not hesitate in their willingness to leap into a new task and do it well. Their commitment ran into the evenings of their off-work hours, when both would sit down and study their birds so they would be sure to be prepared for the survey work they were hired to do.
Bridgette furthered described Abram as intensely inquisitive. “He quizzed me regularly on our outings in the district on myriads of topics. You could tell that learning was a passion for Abram.”
In June 2010 in memory of Kelson and Abram, the USFW dedicated The Vaillancourt-Schneck Memorial Nature Trail in the Huron Wetland Management District (WMD) in South Dakota. View photos from the dedication here.