Army Staff Sgt. James A. Justice, killed in Afghanistan April 23, was not a Drake graduate. But he was part of the Drake family.
Married to alumna Amanda (Sand) Justice, JO’05, James was known on campus as a devoted boyfriend. The couple met at The Library (the University Avenue Library, not the Cowles), and their courtship became something Amanda shared with her sisters in the Alpha Phi house.
“James was around campus and he did have a close tie to Drake through Amanda,” sorority sister Laura Zieske said.
Their pledge class and the classes a year or so ahead and behind had started an e-mail chain to keep in touch. News of Justice’s death traveled quickly. The Des Moines Register reported Justice was killed while trying to rescue the crew of a helicopter that crashed in eastern Afghanistan.
When Zieske heard of Amanda’s tragic loss, she remembered the days in college when James would send videos from his deployments and the Alpha Phis would gather to watch them.
“It’s awful that something like this would being us back together, but it really is a testament to the high caliber of the individuals and of Drake,” Zieske said. “There’s a sense of community with Drake and Alpha Phi that you want to help those who are going through a tough time.”
Although Zieske currently lives in Philadelphia, she and other Alpha Phis have joined together in a fundraising effort to help support Amanda and the Justice’s 3-year old daughter, Caydence.
“There’s a sense of giving — a sense of community that is always a part of being a student at Drake,” Zieske says.
Drake’s current Alpha Phi members feel compelled to contribute. The organization set out a donation box for the family at their annual Relays Alumnae Luncheon and at Drake Stadium; funds will go toward Caydence’s future academic goals and college aspirations. Donations are also being accepted through Veridian Credit Union, James Justice Benefit Account, 5910 University Ave., West Des Moines, IA 50266.
“Our chapter strives to maintain bonds with our alumnae membership,” said Molly Bassford, president of Drake’s Alpha Phi chapter. “Part of the bond of sisterhood is feeling pain when our sisters feel pain. This is an extremely grievous time for Amanda, and we’d like to try and lessen her pain if at all possible. We’d like to let her know that she and her daughter are not alone; her sisters are here for her.”
Bassford said this kind of very personal philanthropic effort is in keeping with the Alpha Phi mission of “a sisterhood of outstanding women supporting one another in lifelong achievement.”
“When we take the vow of sisterhood, this extends to all women who are Alpha Phi’s in all places and of all ages,” she said. “This means that we support each other in times of crisis as well as times of celebration.”