Obituary: Stephanie Marie Sydoriak

Stephanie Marie Sydoriak passed away peacefully on Friday, March 10th, 2023, surrounded by her loving family. At 96, Stephanie enjoyed a wonderful, energetic life in Los Alamos, New Mexico. 

A memorial will be held on July 20 from 1pm-3pm at Fuller Lodge in Los Alamos.

Stephanie Sydoriak possessed many talents. She was an engaging storyteller, published author and poet, loving mother of six, piano teacher, translator of scientific journals, avid hiker/backpacker/Nordic and downhill skier, and a great listener who gave helpful, thoughtful, loving comments to her children and many friends. She contributed to the community by doing creative volunteer work for many years as liturgy chairman and choir director during the time of Vatican II at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish. She held the office of President for the Los Alamos Opera Guild and in 2011 was designated a Living Treasure of Los Alamos. She taught piano for 35 years. During that time, she presided as president of the Los Alamos Music Teachers Association as well as the New Mexico State Music Teachers Association. She received the honor of State Life Membership in 2000. 

Stephanie authored two books—An Ocean Between and From Oceanside To Mountaintop—and a collection of poems—Inside Passage. Four of her many poems were commissioned and performed by the Women’s Ensemble of Santa Fe in 2005, written by composer Craig H. Russell.

Stephanie’s father, Elias Chopek, unhappily served time as a soldier in Austro-Hungary’s army in the year before WWI began because Austro-Hungary ruled western Ukraine. An intensely patriotic Ukrainian, he was willing to die only for Ukraine. He sensed that his unit was ramping up for a war, so he decided to go AWOL and head for America. He stopped in his village only to say goodbye to his family and tell his wife she should use the steamship ticket he would send her to join him there. Marena said she didn’t want to leave her large and beloved family. Besides, it would be too difficult to travel with their half-year-old daughter, Anna. Six months later, the ticket still in a drawer, the village priest came to her and told her, “There are painted women in America. Should Elias take up with one of them, the sin will be on your soul.” She left the next week, crossing the stormy ocean over 21 long days on the last immigrant-filled boat before the war began.

Fourteen years after Anna’s birth in Ukraine, and after WWI, in 1926, Stephanie was born in Boston. Massachusetts. In 1939, her father led eight families from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to form a Ukrainian Catholic Church. At that time, Stephen Sydoriak, with a new degree in physics from the University of Buffalo, came to work at MIT for a radar project involving British physicists. His father, recently deceased, had been a Ukrainian Catholic priest (the Eastern Rite of the Catholic church allows married men to become priests). Stephen found the little congregation in a basement chapel of a German church. His sister Helene, having joined Steve in Boston, soon formed a tiny choir which Anna and Stephanie joined.

Stephanie, having just read about Marie Curie, decided she would become a physicist, and she began asking Stephen, at choir rehearsals, questions about how to get into a suitable college. Stephen’s stories of his canoe trips and mountain hikes inspired more questions about outdoor activities which she craved to experience. Her mother wouldn’t let her join the Girl Scouts. Too dangerous! The 8-and-a-half-year difference in their ages began to feel shorter. In her senior year of high school, her physics teacher got her enrolled into Northeastern University along with a scholarship. She started college six weeks before her last day of high school. The unique program consisted of four, three-month-long semesters per year so a student could complete the five-year program in two and a half years, or she could alternate study and work. Stephanie chose the 2-and-a-half-year program.

She took time off one semester to get married to Stephen in August of 1945. As they were climbing Mt. Katahdin, Maine, on their honeymoon, they found out WWII was over. She had six months of classes left. Stephen no longer had a job in radar research. After a month of marriage, Steve left to enroll at Yale for a PhD in Physics, while Stephanie stayed at Northeastern to finish her bachelor’s in physics. A week later she joined Stephen at Yale to begin work for a master’s degree. In 1948, Stephen took his new PhD degree, son, Stephen (age two), daughter Katherine (age one), and Stephanie, to his new job at the Los Alamos Laboratory. Stephanie was one semester shy of finishing her degree. By 1957, the last four of their six children had been born in Los Alamos; Mary, Eugene, Christine, and Walter. All six children graduated from Los Alamos High School. 

Stephanie was unable to use her “almost master’s degree” to obtain a position in Los Alamos. However, she was contracted to translate scientific papers in Russian, German, and French from the lab as well as from a company in Boston until the papers began to arrive from Europe already translated. 

Both Stephanie and Stephen were avid outdoors adventurers. They spent many summers revealing the wonders of nature to their children and friends. Nearly every winter weekend involved skiing.

Stephanie is survived by her daughter Christine (Juan Contreras), sons: Stephen ‘Sid’ (Jane Riese), Eugene, and Walter (Charisse nee Bickford). Grandchildren: David Lawrence (Alicia Karspeck), Stephen Lawrence (Tiffany Pezzulo) and Cassiope Sydoriak. Great grandchild: Dmitri Lawrence (Pezzulo). She was predeceased by her husband Stephen Sydoriak, parents Elias and Marena Chopek, her sister, Anna Chopek, her daughters, Mary (Marshall Rigsby, 1977), and Katherine (George Lawrence, 2019). Please feel encouraged to share memories, pictures, and condolences for the family to cherish at Rivera Funeral Home of Los Alamos thanks the Sydoriak family for trusting them with Stephanie’s care.