Chris, as he preferred to be called was from a wealthy suburb of Detroit. He went to one of the well-known private schools and excelled at basketball and baseball. His room was 2 doors down from mine and we had little in common but became quick friends. At 6’4” with an athletic build he was an imposing figure who was popular with the girls and knew many older students at the school through older siblings who could buy beer and spirits, particularly before Saturday afternoon football games. He was quick with stories or jokes that could leave the entire floor laughing so much it hurt. He was a good guy to know. He worked hard and played harder. His athletic talents were not enough to compete at intercollegiate sports at our Big 10 University but he was an asset for intramural sports in the dormitory. Back when the Big 10 had 10 schools…in the Midwest. If a group of us from the dormitory went somewhere, Chris was the guy who made sure everyone’s whereabouts were accounted for at the end of the evening – he made sure you were on the walk home to the dorm or had a good excuse for not doing so. The next morning he made sure to knock on doors to see if you were back.
He was to be a general business major, to take back upon graduation to run the family business in the Detroit suburbs, perhaps as the third generation in his family to do so. Through this he had “connections”. Tickets for the Detroit Pistons or Detroit Red Wings were at his disposal and he shared them willingly with anyone who wanted to make the drive.
That first Winter in the dorm seemed particularly long and cold. Everyone in the dorm seemed to get a cold or the flu at some point, particularly down at our end of the hall. Chris complained of “swollen glands” and fever and abdominal pain. He was sent home with “Mono” before Christmas break and returned with the rest of us in January.
By Spring Break, when the snow started to melt and you could rollerblade on the paths around campus again, Chris’s symptoms reappeared and once again Chris was sent home for “Mono” while many of us headed for Ft. Lauderdale.
Sometime passed before Chris came back to school, if only to clean out his dorm room. I wasn’t there when his parents came back to collect his belongings and help him move them down the elevator from the 11th floor of our dorm. Chris said he would be back in the Fall. We considered being roommates if I stayed on campus.
That Summer, Chris was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease (now lymphoma) and he told me he wouldn’t be returning to college. By the following Christmas break Chris’s condition has worsened and by that Spring Break Chris had passed away. The school newspaper had a short story about Chris on the third page on the lower right. Of course there were several stories like this published from time to time about students, faculty and staff who were part of the college community who had passed. His is the only story I seem to recall now ever reading. His local high school held a memorial service.
As the years have passed I have questioned his diagnosis given his clinical course. Not responding to therapy and worsening, essentially going from having “Mono” to dying from “Hodgkin’s disease” in 18 months. For the past 50+ years due to the pioneering work of Dr. Henry Kaplan (no relation) and Dr. Volker Diehl, Hodgkin’s has become one of the most curable cancers. Chris would have had access to the best oncologists in Detroit with easy access to regional centers of excellence in nearby states. He would have been able likely to withstand prolonged chemotherapy given his overall health and no other conditions. At the time it was difficult to comprehend someone so full of life and vigor could die so quick.
A few of us from the 11th floor the year before got together and visited one of Chris’s favorite bars and toasted the guy who was essentially our intramural basketball team and who looked after everyone and who could make you laugh so hard it hurt.