by Shirley Pulawski
August 7, 2012
FREDONIA - Ann LaDuca has known for a long time that Jenn (Stuczynski) Suhr was a great athlete.
Long before Suhr was winning Olympic medals, Mrs. LaDuca saw Stuczynski taking on the boys during Mrs. LaDuca's gym classes.
"I knew she was outstanding. She was just an outstanding athlete. She was an outstanding student. ...
She is a six-footer. She asked to play against the boys. The girls couldn't challenge her. She was head and shoulders over everyone in so many ways. ... I am thrilled for her," Laduca said.
Mrs. LaDuca watched Monday's Olympic pole vault final on the computer with the gym teacher who succeeded her at Fredonia. After watching her former student - and classmate of Mrs. LaDuca's daughter in 2000 - Mrs. LaDuca said she couldn't be happier for Suhr.
"She is just a really, really neat girl," Mrs. LaDuca said. "She's down to earth, a hard worker, and the kind of person you want wonderful things to happen to."
Paul DiFonzo, Fredonia Central School superintendent, said he was so gripped by the competition, he could not bring himself to leave his office to go home and watch the live stream with his family.
"My secretary and all of the people in the office went home to watch. I was afraid I was going to miss something so I stayed. I ended up being there all by myself when she won and I ended up crying, watching her carry that flag," DiFonzo said. The victory is shared by many, DiFonzo noted. "I am elated. I am elated for her; I am elated for her husband, her family and all of Fredonia. We're so proud of her ... She's a shining star. She made Fredonia proud and today, she made the whole country proud."
Stephen Keefe, Fredonia mayor, was out of town for the weekend and returned to Fredonia shortly after the pole vault final ended Monday. Like DiFonzo, Keefe is interested in holding an event to celebrate the victory.
"I think we certainly should plan some kind of celebration," Keefe said. "I'd like to see us do an event. I think a celebration and some kind of ceremony is certainly in order."
Keefe would also like to see a permanent reminder of the victory in the village.
"I know one of the things I'd also like to see us do is work on some permanent signage at the entrances to the village," he said.
Following the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Fredonia Olympic Committee raised funds to erect a silver flagpole in Barker Common in downtown Fredonia.
Even area residents who don't know Suhr said they're excited by her Olympic gold medal. Carrie Crockett of Fredonia said she's moved by the performance and the local enthusiasm.
"I don't know her personally but I think it's amazing and something to definitely be proud of," she said.
Michelle Merritt of Forestville said she is thrilled by the victory, but added the gold medal wasn't unexpected.
"Not surprised at all. She is such a superb athlete and still the best pole vaulter in the world. Fredonia should be proud," she said.