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Alumnus Keeps Memories Alive at Pentagon Memorial

Article - Wednesday, September 7, 2011

By Robin Herron

Ten years later, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, continue to affect the life of Jim Laychak, BS Accounting ’83 and BS Decision Sciences ’83.

Laychak’s brother, David, a civilian working for the Army at the Pentagon, died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

A partner with the consulting firm Accenture at the time, Laychak spent more than five years after 9/11 leading the effort to raise money and develop plans for the Pentagon Memorial, which honors the 184 people who died at the site. Laychak explains his dedicated leadership on the memorial by saying that his preparation at Mason, including service on the Alumni Association, his work with Accenture and his personal loss combined to make him “the right person at the right place at the right time.”

The memorial opened in September 2008. “I was grateful to Accenture, which loaned me out to the Memorial Fund for five years. But when I came back, I had to find my place again after all that time.” And in 2009, Accenture restructured and Laychak was out of a job. “Of course, that was about the time of the worst financial climate,” he notes ruefully.

After losing his job, Laychak spent about a year considering new options. “I knew I didn’t want to do consulting, and I knew I wanted to do something related to fund raising. I wanted to do something where I could make a difference,” Laychak says. In December 2010, he landed his current position as chief operating officer for Center City Public Charter Schools in Washington, D.C. The system operates six schools with 1,300 students in kindergarten through grade eight. “I’m excited to be here,” Laychak says.

“It’s a good team, good people,” he says of the staff. “Every day is a new challenge.”

During this time, Laychak continued his involvement with the Pentagon Memorial Fund, and he remains president and chairman. With an endowment of about $8 to 9 million, the Pentagon Memorial Fund provides money to help support daily operations (it is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week). Now the Pentagon Memorial Fund’s focus has shifted to education and outreach, Laychak says.

“We really felt that as people were coming to the memorial they needed to know more about what happened that day. There is a whole generation now that has no memory of 9/11.”

With that goal, the Pentagon Memorial Fund has moved into another phase and has already revamped its website to be more educational, with such additions as a phone-in guided tour. Another part of its new plan is to raise money for a visitor and education center. That effort is making progress, Laychak says, with several recent donations, including $125,000 from the NFL. A search for a site for the education center as close as possible to the memorial is under way.

In addition to his work with the memorial, another constant in Laychak’s life has been his involvement with Mason. He served as vice president of service for the Alumni Association from 1997 to 2000, president from 2000 to 2002 and past president from 2002 to 2004. This fall, he joined the George Mason University Foundation Board of Trustees. “I was thrilled to be asked, and I’m happy to serve,” he says.

On a personal level, Laychak continues to feel the impact of 9/11. “Since then, I’ve focused on living my life as best I can. Giving back; honoring Dave’s memory. Trying to be the best husband and father I can be. Remembering what’s important in life. Life is short, and things can happen very dramatically and suddenly, and turn your life upside down. Memorials are for the people who are left behind,” he says.