50th annual Memorial Fountain Ceremony to feature daughter of athletic director

Fifty years ago, on a rainy Nov. 14, 1970, Southern Airways Flight 932 crashed into a hillside as it approached Tri-State Airport with 75 Thundering Herd teammates, coaches, staff, supporters and flight crew members on board. The loss to the families of the victims and to Marshall University and the surrounding community was immediately felt.

Lucianne Kautz Call lost her father, Charlie E. Kautz, the director of athletics, in the crash. She was 21 years old, an elementary education student at Marshall, a member of the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority and a cheerleader for The Herd. At 9 a.m. on Saturday, she will speak about what the crash and the past 50 years have meant for her: getting the most out of life, remembering and reflecting on the past and finding new, extended family among others who share her pain.

“The 50 years from that fatal night had an impact on my life,” said Call. “I became an ambassador, focused on keeping the 75 souls’ dreams alive. That is why the fountain ceremony is so special.”

Over the years, Call has become an unofficial historian for the events that unfolded on Nov. 14. She has also become an unofficial liaison for the families impacted by the tragedy. For her, there is a strong, unbreakable bond with others who shared in her experience.

Call graduated from Marshall University in 1971, taught for many years in Cabell County schools, coached tennis at Barboursville High School and coached cheerleading at Cabell Midland High School. She has volunteered for many organizations in the area and also helped establish a 9-12 stem academy. In 2000, she pursued a new dream that many may view as unimaginable, working for several years as a flight attendant at Tri-State Airport.

“The experience was exhilarating,” said Call.

Two weeks before the film “We Are Marshall” premiered, Call was diagnosed with colon cancer. Even so, she encouraged families of the victims to attend a showing of the film. Her youngest son had a small role in her favorite scene, in which Coach Jack Lengyel gives a pep talk at Spring Hill Cemetery before the Young Thundering Herd’s first game at home.

Call has also had an active role in recent years with the committee which plans the Memorial Fountain Ceremony.

“It is an amazing group of men and women who put their hearts and souls into making it so spectacular each year,” said Call. “The 75 families became one family on November 14, 1970. We are so thankful for the many blessings when we gather together at the fountain ceremony.”

The 1971 grad will forever be a cheerleader for The Herd.

“The best things in life are the people we love, the memories we’ve made and being a Thundering Herd fan,” said call. “Marshall made a difference in my life. Thanks for the memories that will be in my green heart forever.”

The ceremony is the third in a series of commemorative events this week to honor lives lost in the crash. On Tuesday, Nov. 10, the Marshall Football Memorial, which was originally housed at the Pi Kappa Alpha (ΠΚΑ) house on 5th Avenue, was rededicated in its new home on the Huntington campus near 20th Street. On Friday, Nov. 13, each student who perished in the crash will be honored with a posthumous degree in their program of study, dated with the students’ anticipated graduation date.

Due to COVID-19 safety precautions, Memorial Fountain Ceremony attendance is by invitation only and masks and physical distancing are required. Members of the public who want to attend are asked to do so virtually by clicking on the link at www.marshall.edu/it/livestream/ at 9 a.m.

For those who will be on the plaza in person, a number of added safety measures are in place, such as physically distanced seating, plexiglass installed in front of the stage and some pre-recorded musical portions shown by video in an effort to keep the number of people contributing to the program in person to a minimum.

Banners displaying photos of the 75 crash victims, their names and their connection to Marshall are now displayed on and around the Memorial Student Center Plaza.

Following the ceremony, at noon, the Marshall University football team will take on Middle Tennessee State University at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington. The 75 people who died in the crash will be honored in a variety of ways, including a moment of silence prior to kickoff. Michael W. Smith, a three-time Grammy Award winner and Kenova native, will also perform at the ceremony and at the game.

For more information on the Memorial Fountain Ceremony, to view a virtual plane crash memorial tour or view pictures of those who perished in the crash, visit www.marshall.edu/neverforget.

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Photos: Lucianne Kautz Call as a cheerleader at Marshall (left) and today.