Many in the industry would agree that public transit is like a family because of all of the relationships that have been built and maintained year-over-year. So, when a health crisis hit the team at USSC Group, Executive VP Ray Melleady and his long-time friend Mark Aesch, founder/owner of TransPro Consulting, knew they needed to do something to help.
“We were at a sales meeting talking about ways we could help our Sales Executive Sonny Gordon, who had recently been diagnosed with ALS, and his family, and Mark was part of the conversation,” explains Melleady. “As we were kicking around ideas, Mark and I decided we needed to set up a 501(c)3 foundation, which gave people a legitimized forum to donate and participate in charitable events that we’d put together. It was almost instantly that someone on the team came up with the name Rays the Mark Foundation.”
The Aesch/Melleady relationship goes back to the early 2000s when they were both CEOs in upstate New York — Aesch in Rochester and Melleady in Albany. Now, as both of their careers have evolved and they find themselves in the private sector, they have formed a partnership to help those in the industry that are most in need of help.
“Our main goal is to support people in the transit industry that have made the world, and our collective worlds, a better place — people who have truly ‘raised the mark’ of society and our everyday elements of interaction — but through no fault of their own — have fallen on tough times and need the industry to rally together and support them,” adds Aesch. “We are all one minute from being that person. Together, we wanted to create a platform to precisely help those people, when our industry needs to remember them the most.”
Raising the Mark for Sonny
As its first recipient, Gordon lived a great life, making his mark not only on the football field but on the transit industry and the lives he touched along the way, as well.
Gordon starred as a defensive back from 1983 to 1986 at The Ohio State University (OSU), where he served as the team’s captain his senior season, helping the team earn a victory in the Cotton Bowl.
After OSU, Gordon was drafted to the NFL by the Cincinnati Bengals and went on to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as well as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.
Gordon would go on to eventually be part of the transit industry for close to 25 years, with stops including regional sales manager for Mobile View, at United Technologies, and national sales director for American Seating Co., before landing at USSC in 2017.
In 2022, Gordon learned of his diagnosis with ALS — a progressive neurological disease where the nerve cells that connect your brain to your muscles lose function and die resulting in progressive weakness. It was a shock to both Gordon, who had stayed fit even after his playing days, and his family.
Enter Melleady and Aesch and the Rays the Mark team, who were able to present Gordon and his family with a check for $60,000 to honor him for the value he brought to the transit industry at an event held in conjunction with the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Mobility Conference in Columbus, Ohio in May 2022.
“Beyond the financial contribution that we were able to make to his family to help pay for some of his medical bills and other expenses, the value of the event was bringing his family and colleagues together to celebrate him,” explains Melleady. “I told a story about Sonny as we honored him at dinner, where I said that I never left a conversation with him where he didn't make you feel better at the end than you did going into it. At that point, everybody in the room applauded and Sonny stood up to acknowledge the crowd. I think that moment made the entire event a success.”
“The greatest joy we have taken from our fundraising efforts was to watch the gratitude radiate back from Sonny and his wife and children because he realized that his friends, colleagues, and loved ones always meant what they said — that we'd be there for him,” adds Aesch.
This Year’s Event
Continuing to help those who need help, Rays the Mark will hold an event this year in conjunction with APTA’s TRANSform and EXPO, which will be held in Orlando, Fla.
“I am grateful to be selected as this year’s honoree,” says Cochran Scoville. “The public transit industry is so tightly knit and special. We take care of each other — especially those in need. I hope my story raises awareness about breast cancer in young adults and motivates women of all ages to be diligent about monthly self-checks.”
Cochran Scoville has built a career centered on transit innovation across roles at public transit agencies, strategic research firms, and technology manufacturing companies.
During her tenure at Foothill Transit, Cochran Scoville co-led the implementation of 100% battery-electric buses, which was the first commercial deployment of modern, purpose-built electric transit buses in North America.
As a researcher at the Texas Transportation Institute, she partnered with the Texas DOT to launch the first automated and connected vehicle proving ground transportation for public transit, before landing at Houston METRO where she served as director, contracted operations, and later director of innovation. Since 2017 she has worked at Proterra and is extremely enthusiastic about helping agencies make the transition to zero-emission vehicles.
“We’re all part of nature, whether we think of ourselves as an environmental advocate or not,” says Cochran Scoville. “I feel deeply rooted to natural spaces and am happiest outside. Zero emission transportation is a key lever to reduce emissions from this sector to help the broader fight to protect this incredible planet, our only home. Combined with my enthusiasm for public transit, the zero-emission space is a natural fit for me.”
In April 2022, Cochran Scoville was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy and surgery, which not only had a physical impact but also a financial one. Despite the challenges, though, Cochran Scoville kept an incredible attitude, making a video that was played at 2022’s APTA Mobility Conference where she told her story and urged those in attendance to be sure they or their loved ones stayed up to date with their self-checks for breast cancer.
At this year’s APTA Mobility Conference in Minneapolis, Cochran Scoville returned to thank the industry for its support and to announce that she was “disease free” and again ready to get back out on the road to continue serving the transit industry as they make the move to battery-electric buses and other zero-emission vehicles.
“Before I had cancer, I mistakenly thought of cancer as a disease that was physically taxing, you beat, and then it is over. That understanding couldn’t be farther from the truth,” explains Cochran Scoville. “While I am thrilled to be disease free, it is not easy to stay that way and I am still fighting to keep cancer from returning. Treatment for breast cancer does not end when active treatment does. I am on an endocrine therapy program for another decade and have at least two more surgeries ahead of me.”
Melleady stresses that although the event centers on golfing, he urges anybody who wants to attend, to celebrate Cochran Scoville at the event’s dinner, or donate to do so.
“Lauren has made a real impact on this industry in both the public and private sectors and is passionate not only about what she does but also about raising awareness for breast cancer,” says Melleady. “What’s great is this event in October coincides with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it’s an appropriate time to support Lauren and help her and her family through difficult times, while also recognizing what she's done for the industry.”
The Future of the Foundation
Aesch says following the event for Cochran Scoville in Orlando, Rays the Mark will have raised more than $200,000 and distributed those funds to deserving people in need, who have inspired the industry both professionally and personally.
“The real measure of success to these events and our foundation is to watch our industry come together to take advantage of the opportunity to actively and selflessly engage and support one of their colleagues,” says Aesch.
Both he and Melleady are bullish on continuing the work their foundation has done to this point.
“We are moving into year three of the Foundation and we've already been more successful than we might have imagined from a bit of a flyer idea on a Labor Day weekend, so I would say all goals have been more than met to date,” says Aesch. “The IRS says we are a real foundation, we have a functioning website, and we have raised several hundred thousand dollars to help some people that have inspired us, and really need us all today. And yet, we are definitely looking to see if we might be able to ‘raise the mark’ for Rays the Mark and do even more.”
“I think moving forward, we want to continue helping our colleagues and tying in these events with industry conferences because it makes it easier when everyone is already in one place,” adds Melleady. “Going forward, we could do up to three events a year, but right now we’re keeping it at one or two. We all hear of people who need help, and if somebody would like to suggest future honorees, they can do so directly through our website.”
For more information on the foundation, this year’s event in Orlando, or to donate, visit www.raysthemarkfoundation.com.