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 ground.

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 it.”

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 "typhoon.”

"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 school.

"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 freshman.

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 snow.”

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

at mmckinney@newstimes.com

or at (203) 731-3358.