Remembering Santa Pumpura: After her death, friends reflect on Rutgers student’s life

<p class="p1">Santa Pumpura, a Rutgers Business School student, died on March 21 in a car accident on New Jersey Turnpike.<span class="s1"></p>
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Santa Pumpura, a Rutgers Business School student, died on March 21 in a car accident on New Jersey Turnpike.

Santa Pumpura will be remembered for her Brooklyn attitude and Russian determination, said Billy Bussiere, a Rutgers Business School senior. 

The 21-year-old finance major from the Rutgers Business School died on March 21. 

Pumpura and her friend Halim Habib were changing her car’s tire on the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike when a car struck them both, according to Pumpura was pronounced dead an hour later at University Hospital in Newark. 

Habib, a School Of Environmental And Biological Sciences senior, was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries. His friend Sherif Ibrahim, a graduate student, said Habib is out of the hospital and recovering.

Pumpura’s life was shaped by her go-getter attitude. With career goals in mind, an 18-year-old Pumpura left her motherland of Latvia in 2011 to attend college in the United States.

In her student blog, Pumpura described the transition as both scary and exhilarating. 

“I knew that my dream is to enroll in Harvard, so I figured to try,” it read.

She enrolled at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, N.Y. After two years, Pumpura transferred to Rutgers, having developed her characteristic accent: Latvian, with a hint of Brooklyn.  

Her friend Amy Axelrod, a Rutgers Business School junior, said English was one of Pumpura’s four languages, which she learned by watching Cartoon Network.

America’s cultural and linguistic differences never made Pumpura lose her focus, and she consistently aced her courses.

Axelrod remembered how Pumpura was considering a career in quantitative finance and began to voluntarily attend graduate student classes to learn more about the field.

“I feel like there wasn’t a single second where she wasn’t doing something that had to do with making connections for a career in the future, or going to international business student meetings,” she said. 

Pumpura’s perfectionism was also outwardly visible — she always dressed to impress. Her friend Sohan Sheth, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, recalled a time when Pumpura pushed her car out of the snow while wearing high heels. 

Despite her personal ambitions, Pumpura allotted a great deal of her time to cultivating meaningful friendships.

“Not many people really go out of their way to try to get to know you. ... Balancing all of that with her schoolwork and her career goals — I don’t know where she found enough hours in the day,” Sheth said. “I know so many people who will just miss her so much.”

Pumpura’s outgoing personality guaranteed a good time, whether she was discussing her dream of owning a tiger or spontaneously participating in New York City’s annual “No Pants Subway Ride.” 

“[She was] no nonsense, but at the same time, she can have the best time in the world,” Bussiere said.

Axelrod pointed out that loyalty was one of Pumpura’s defining traits. Whenever Axelrod had a problem, Pumpura was all-ears. And when the conversation turned to Pumpura, she was straightforward, never sugarcoating anything. 

Bussiere remembered how even those who just met her would open up to her with their problems, and she could give them a spot-on solution.  

To honor Pumpura’s life, Bussiere and Axelrod organized a memorial service that took place last Wednesday outside Brower Commons on the College Avenue campus. They distributed wristbands and accepted donations to give to her parents.

Bussiere said her father plans to purchase a flowerbed or wreath that will be placed on her grave so her friends can be a part of her ceremony. 

“The world truly lost a good person ... maybe she was too good of a person to be here,” Axelrod said. 

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