Students, faculty and staff celebrated the life of Milton Chester, assistant dean of students for off-campus programs and services at Binghamton University, at a memorial service held on Saturday in the Anderson Center.
Chester, who died in his home of natural causes in January, began working at BU in 2000, launching his career in the Division of Student Affairs. He was known for passionately advocating for the success of men of color on campus and for University outreach to youth within the community, according to a B-Line announcement released on Jan. 7.
At the memorial celebrating Chester’s life, a number of his former colleagues and students he mentored over the years volunteered to speak. Nicole Sirju-Johnson, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, said she worked very closely with Chester in the Office of the Dean of Students (DOS) for more than four years.
“I will share with you that we disagreed often … often,” Sirju-Johnson said. “However, I am grateful for the times that we were able to agree on what work needed to be done for our students, and also what was important for communities of color … I could always count on him to support me in one way or another.”
Others at the memorial shared poetry and art in Chester’s honor. Stacy Marrow, director of College of Community and Public Affairs (CCPA) career and professional services, sang for Chester, and Khaleel James, Student Association (SA) vice president for multicultural affairs and a junior double-majoring in economics and human development, read a Maya Angelou poem titled “Still I Rise.” Former students and colleagues shared their stories of how Chester positively affected their lives.
Chester’s passion for his community was admired by many in attendance. Randall Edouard, assistant vice president for student affairs and interim dean of students, said Chester was constantly challenging and pushing his colleagues and students — pushing them to do and be better.
“[Chester] was always there for students,” Edouard said. “What I loved most about [Chester] is that he would challenge anyone, but, in the same light, he would help anyone … Let’s celebrate Milton Chester. Let’s remember that he was a powerhouse, a fierce warrior … an agitator … a mentor, but most importantly, let’s remember that he was a giver, that he was generous and let’s remember that he was a blessed, kind soul.”
Edouard shared a story about Chester’s giving nature, telling the audience that after his death, the authorities found that Chester’s car was filled with Christmas gifts and toys for children, although he did not have any kids of his own.
“When I think about [Chester], the character, the person, the man — he did what made him come alive,” said Greg Johnson, a Protestant chaplain at the Greater Binghamton Health Center. “I am often reminded that our lives teach us as we live — but those who leave, the lives that they leave, also teach us. The lesson that Milton’s life teaches is that we ought to be doing what makes us come alive.”
Former SA President Jermel McClure, ’18, was mentored by Chester during his undergraduate years. McClure spoke about cherishing those in your life while they are able to feel your appreciation.
“It’s important that we are able to uplift and embrace the people that we care about while they’re still here,” he said. “It’s important that we commit ourselves, to really bring it upon ourselves, on inspiring others, to do more, learn more and be more.”
McClure said he believes Chester would want everyone to live their lives this way in his absence.
“Life is extremely uncertain — you can be here one minute and gone the next — but what lasts forever is the impact that you’re able to have on your community and on the people you care about most,” McClure said.