Missing Ridgefield man
was a gentle giant
By Michael P. McKinney
RIDGEFIELD — Tyler Ugolyn
built his own car, the "typhoon,” in high school and was
proud to ride around in it.
He dunked basketballs, defying the force that glued
other Ridgefield High School basketball players to the
One day, as a blinding storm blew in his face, he
trudged two miles and showed up at a friend’s house.
"And we went sledding,” recalled the friend, Melanie
Lopes, who couldn’t believe it. "I think it’s the things
like that that I remember — it helps you get through
The memories will help many from Ugolyn’s Ridgefield
High School days get through their loss. Ugolyn, a 1997
RHSgraduate, is missing and presumed dead after a
hijacked plane last Tuesday tore through the World Trade
Center where he worked.
His was a life with great promise. Many of the known
victims who worked in the Twin Towers were twice his
age. At 23, Ugolyn walked out of Columbia University
with a degree and walked into a job up dozens of floors
in one of the twin towers.
Lopes, 22, said she worried that someone from her
class might have been injured or killed in the attack.
Her fears were confirmed last Wednesday, when she
learned the news.
Lopes knew her class was full of over-achievers, and
Tyler Ugolyn was known as one of the best students.
"You knew he was going to be successful,” she said.
"Nothing stopped him.”
But most people with a Ridgefield High degree have
the makings of a good resume. What Lopes remembers most
is a smile a mile wide. You couldn’t miss it; at more
than 6 feet tall, Ugolyn was head and shoulders above
the hallway mob.
He threw high-fives at people; he avoided cliques,
hanging out with many people.
Classmate Ryan Lumelleau, who works at UBS Warburg in
Stamford, said Ugolyn refused to be second best.
Lumelleau remembered Ugolyn as someone who wouldn’t turn
against anybody. He also remembered Ugolyn’s efforts,
things like rebuilding a rusted-out car shell into the
"It’s difficult for people 22 or 23 years old to lose
somebody,” Lumelleau said. "Any one of us could have
been in that building.”
For others, it’s a cliché, but Lopes said it really
was true that Ugolyn provoked no ill will from people.
She remembers the ski trip to Okemo. There is a photo
that shows the group bundled up.
She remembers the basketball games at the high
"We mostly went to go see Ty,” said Lopes. "Because
he really was good.”
Then they graduated and did what many people do as
time moves on: They gradually lost touch.
Then came Tuesday.
But perhaps it’s better to journey back further
still. Go to freshman year in high school. There, you
find a much younger looking Ugolyn, sporting a boyish
haircut, innocent, no stubble. He and five other guys
are standing with girls on a stairwell. The big
homecoming dance — at least, as big as dances get as a
Skip ahead to senior year. In the yearbook, Lopes and
Ugolyn share a message that is written in the
inside-joke speak of high school:
"T.U. — 12 feet of sand.”
Or as Ugolyn put it: "M.L. — The beach in two feet of
It’s the snow they’re talking about, the storm Ugolyn
walked through to get to Lopes’ house.
And she offered another yearbook message, aimed,
perhaps, at no one in particular. Or at everyone. It
quotes from "Winnie the Pooh,” the story of an erstwhile
little bear that people read long before they are old
enough to work in tall buildings.
"Pooh, promise me you won’t forget me ever. Not even
when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little. "How old shall I be then?”
Pooh nodded. "I promise.”
A service for Tyler Ugolyn will be held Saturday at
10 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church in Ridgefield.
Contact Michael P. McKinney
or at (203) 731-3358.