The loss of Agnes Ragone, a well-loved former Shippensburg University French and Spanish professor, brought the SU community together in grief and mourning.
Ragone died after a battle with cancer at the age of 66 in early February.
She valued helping others in their time of need and made sure no one would be left behind, according to Blandine Mitaut, SU French professor.
Ragone began working at SU in 1998, creating a long-lasting legacy.
“She took initiative in the department [Global Languages] and changed it for the better,” Mitaut said.
Ragone was a serious educator and was unselfish in her efforts to help others.
Born in Algeria, Ragone had a difficult childhood. She moved around a lot and lived in places including England, Morocco, California, Texas and Louisiana.
Ragone once fell off of a boat and broke her ankle while overseas. Despite the incident, she continued the trip and resumed teaching before finally seeking medical attention.
Mitaut said this showed Ragone’s determination in helping others before helping herself.
Ragone became well-known for helping to spearhead work on the Haiti Project. The service-learning project was created to help those in need when a major disaster occurred in Haiti.
The Haiti Project began in 2012 when Ragone and Mitaut traveled to the country with students. Ragone wanted to give back to the community and chose to help establish the project.
The project began with the creation of a playground in Gros Mangles, a village in Haiti, on an island called La Gonâve.
Faculty and students led the construction of the playground as the end of a six-credit seminar during a winter break course.
Ragone wanted students to be able to research, study abroad and get an education during their trip to Haiti, Mitaut said. She wanted students to see what hardships other countries were facing.
Ragone loved being a hard worker and leader for a good cause, Mitaut said.
“She was adventurous, fearless, full of energy and compassionate,” Mitaut said.
Alongside the playground, Ragone also spearheaded construction of a hospital in Gros Mangles.
Ragone motivated Taren Swartz, a former student, to get involved with the project and finish the hospital.
“She inspired me to declare French as my third major and encouraged my participation with Project Gros Mangles,” Swartz said.
Swartz plans to continue her French studies in honor of Ragone.
Project Gros Mangles continued when Ragone later achieved running water and electricity for the community. The project will continue after Ragone’s death, starting with the installation of plumbing in the hospital. Other additions to the project are expected to come.
Outside of the project, Ragone volunteered for the Red Cross and was also a member of the Chambersburg Hispanic American Center (CHAC).
She also trained to be a tour guide before becoming a professor. In her free time, Ragone loved to swim, read and visit museums.
Besides her willingness to help those in need, most students will remember her in the classroom.
Eric Miller, an SU alumnus, remembers Ragone’s French class as a place full of positive experiences.
“She just had infectious energy that made going to class worth it even if it was not a class I necessarily liked,” Miller said.
Miller’s favorite memory of Ragone occurred during Ragone’s French 102 class.
“She split us into groups to work on our pronunciation,” Miller recalled. “My partner and I were joking around and I accidentally said something in Spanish,” Miller said.
“She called me out in front of the class and said this is not her Spanish class, but if I would like I could take her Spanish class next semester,” he said.
Nathaniel Powles, another SU alumnus, admired Ragone’s optimism regarding her cancer diagnosis.
“It broke her heart more to leave her students than actually getting the diagnosis, but she was always optimistic that she would beat it and one day come back to the university,” Powles said.
Powles said he will miss her tremendously.
“Her life was a testament as to how to live selflessly and with a heart for others,” Powles said.
Those wishing to help remember Ragone can donate to a fundraiser Ragone and Mitaut set up. The funds raised will go toward the villagers living in Gros Mangles and nearby communities. Visit theslateonline.com for a link to the GoFundMe.