Graduate assistant tells family Titanic story

Jessie Trout Bortner was Kelley Senkowski's great-grandmother who survived the sinking of the Titanic.
Jessie Trout Bortner was Kelley Senkowski's great-grandmother who survived the sinking of the Titanic.
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More than 100 years after the ship Titanic sank after hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean, a Grand Valley State University graduate assistant is telling the story of one of the survivors at an exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Kelley Senkowski, graduate assistant in the Office of Graduate Studies, will be the featured presenter on Friday, giving two presentations about the story of her great-grandmother’s journey on the ship, and the story of how she survived when so many others did not. She will also be a guest at the museum’s “Night to Remember” event on February 21.

Senkowski said she had no intentions of presenting, but ended up doing so after contacting the museum late last year to ask if relatives of survivors could preview the event. 

Until now, Senkowski said there had never been interest in the story of her great-grandmother, Jessie Trout, which has only been told in Kelley’s children’s classrooms once or twice over the years. 

“I have always had an interest in Titanic, maybe even a fascination,” Senkowski said. “It has always just been a fact in the family that everyone just knew about growing up. The family tie makes it emotional to see the exhibit or the movie, just thinking that someone so close to me actually lived through the horror.”

Senkowski said that it’s also emotional thinking about the fact that her great-grandmother escaped the doomed ship, and how small decisions in the chaotic moments surrounding the sinking made a difference in the lives of others. 

“For example, she was handed a French orphan to care for (on the lifeboat) that survived the cold because she chose to bring a heavy coat when others didn’t,” she said. 

Senkowski hopes that guests to the museum exhibit develop an appreciation that your choices matter to generations down the line. 

“I hope guests take away the fact that by God’s grace my children and I are here today. It also matters that you take care of yourself and make good, smart choices and help care for others, because it can make all the difference to people who come after you,” Senkowski said. “Your choices today matter for lives later on, even those you may never know.”

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Senkowski was recently interviewed for stories about Jessie Trout’s Titanic experience by local TV stations FOX 17 and WOOD TV 8.