Last Friday I returned to Manhattan for the unfortu-nate reason of attending the memorial service of a former colleague, Chris Gruber, director of development for the College of Veterinary Medicine at K-State, who passed away in a plane accident on April 7.
Chris and I began our employment at K-State at the same time, in late 2004, working for the KSU Foundation at the College of Veterinary Medicine. Chris was a powerful presence, and at first I wasn’t sure what to make of him, but it didn’t take me long to come to really admire this dynamic individual. We learned together about the campus, Vet Med, the Found-ation, alumni outreach, charit-able giving and how it all works together.
There were seven of us in our office who worked closely so we had to be a “work family.” Chris, to me, became the consummate “older brother.” He was out-going, funny, ornery, confident and encouraging. You just liked to be around him. And he was always up for a challenge, which I admit, may be the biggest understatement ever. He was competitive because he knew just how much darn fun a challenge was.
In his eulogy Friday, Pastor Duke Wight spoke of Chris’s thirst for knowledge and how he was a relentless researcher. It always astounded me how much Chris knew about nearly any topic, and he had the most unique knack for being able to find something in common with nearly anyone. But it wasn’t just talk. He was genuinely inter-ested in other people, learning about their stories and what made them tick. He loved the connection. It’s no wonder he was successful in developing so many personal relationships with alumni and raising $25 million for KSU Veterinary Medicine.
I think he and I shared an appreciation of the small things in life. We liked to find out what each other knew and thought about in terms of the college, Manhattan, family, current events, local eateries and countless everyday aspects of life. Nothing was off limits with Chris. You always knew where he stood in his opinions, and he was prone to getting “worked up” at times, but it was never directed at anyone, because at his core he was a caring person. He was extremely pragmatic but never self-serving. Those qualities, when he became my supervisor, made him a great boss.
In any endeavor, whether it was playing golf, succeeding in his job or raising his three children, he gave a thousand percent. He could be the life of the party, but he made sure everyone was enjoying them-selves as much as he was. He embraced life unlike anyone I have known before or since. A colleague of ours said last week it was as if Chris packed 80 years worth of living into 40 years. How true.
His passing at the age of 40 is unbelievably heartbreaking, and I have no doubt those who knew him throughout the different phases of his life were touched by the power of his energy and enthusiasm.
Thank you, Chris, not just for allowing us to get to know you, but for showing us how to enjoy every moment of life as much as is humanly possible. Whenever I think of you, I know I’ll be inspired to do the same. I can think of no greater way to honor your memory, dear friend.
Brennan Engle was communi-cations coordinator for the KSU Foundation at the College of Veterinary Medicine. He now works for Mainstreet Media, a Russell, Kan.-based company that owns 13 newspapers in northern Kansas and southern Nebraska. He lives in Phillipsburg.