By Adam Pracht, Coordinator of Development Communications, McPherson College
Respected. Ready and willing. Talented. Passionate. Ready with a smile. Extraordinary. Loving. Loved.
As the McPherson College family learned Sunday of the tragic death of Paul Ziegler, a sophomore from Elizabethtown, Pa., these are just a few of the words that students, faculty, staff and members of the community used to describe him.
"He was the best of us," said Dusty Kitchen, a 2012 alumnus, director of student activities and resident director of Dotzour Hall. "Everything that was a good human being, he was."
At about 1 p.m. on Sept. 23, Ziegler was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle just south of McPherson. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
"Paul was an outstanding member of our campus community," said McPherson College President Michael Schneider. "So many love and respect him. I can't express how devastated we are upon learning of his death."
Ziegler was deeply involved in the life of McPherson College as a member of the tennis team and through his work in the sports information office - where part of his work was to keep statistics for the Bulldogs. Just days before the accident, Dr. Steve Crain, campus pastor, said that Ziegler attended an organizational meeting for a new campus ministry leadership team.
"He was there, ready to begin work," Dr. Crain said. "This is an extreme loss. Losing any person is a terrible loss, but he was so multi-talented and willing to give of his time and energy."
Kitchen said it was like learning of the death of a little brother. The two worked together in the sports information office and they spent free time together in Mudhuckers - the McPherson College Ultimate Frisbee team. Among the ways students are remembering Ziegler is with a "Mudhuckers" Frisbee, which has been set out for everyone to have an opportunity to sign.
"Paul was one of those people who touched everyone's lives on campus, whether they knew it or not," Kitchen said. "If nothing else, he was that person you walked past one day and he gave you a smile because that's the kind of person he was."
Jeff Benito, head men's and women's tennis coach, said that Ziegler's death has been particular hard on his fellow teammates who played on the courts with him.
"Words cannot express how deeply saddened our team and our campus community is regarding the loss of such an extraordinary individual as Paul Ziegler," Benito said. "He exemplified the best in all of us with his fierce passion for his teammates and to the people he knew and loved. Paul was always so excited to be at practice and worked harder than most to improve every day. He loved being a part of our team and we will greatly miss him. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family, friends and loved ones."
Dr. Crain said the campus community is now finding ways to deal with the tragedy and heal. Counseling services are being made available on campus from Kelli Johnson, McPherson College personal counselor, as well as from counselors from PrairieView in McPherson. Dr. Crain is also offering spiritual guidance and counseling.
"It's not a time to be alone," Dr. Crain said. "Spiritual life and seeking a counselor help you realize you're not alone. You're part of a community."
Pastor Chris Whitaker of the McPherson Church of the Brethren has expressed to the campus community that the church will be open for those seeking a space for prayer, quiet reflection and grieving.
Harnly Garden in the center of campus has also become a special place for prayer and reflection and to find comfort and strength. Tea lights are being made available in the garden to aid visitors in the grieving process.
Kitchen called on all those who love Paul to honor him in a way that's difficult right now, but is also the way that best mirrors his soul.
"What we need to do now is just smile," Kitchen said. "We will have fun just like Paul would want, and we'll live great lives knowing he made us better people by just spending a small time with us."