Short life of LOHS graduate is honored
Outgoing, genuine and well spoken, Aaron Schulte made and maintained friendships with ease during his relatively short life.
He rarely missed an opportunity to party, dance and socialize.
It's no surprise, then, that Aaron - who left Lake Oswego in 1999 to attend the University of Washington - felt quite at home among his fraternity brothers.
He lived in the Phi Gamma Delta (or 'Fiji') house all four years of college and kept his grades up all the while.
After graduation, the frat brothers dispersed to pursue careers or travel. But their devotion to each other never wavered.
When Aaron died in April after a yearlong battle with small intestine cancer, his pledge class gathered in Lake Oswego to remember their friend.
'They all found a way to get here,' said Aaron's father, Steve Schulte. 'They all feel the loss, because they haven't lost anyone else in their peer group. It's very hard.'
Although Aaron saw that he was deeply loved in the weeks before his death, some of his closest frat brothers decided they should do something long-term to honor his life.
They knew Aaron loved to explore and take risks. Aaron's junior year semester abroad in Florence, Italy, with his close friend Ben Adams had a profound impact.
The experience 'sort of exemplified his desire to explore things,' said Adams, who grew up in Lake Oswego and attended University of Washington. 'He always had the energy to try new things and that was unique to him.'
Together, the frat brothers set out to create the Aaron Schulte Memorial Foundation with the aim to financially support the travel abroad experience of at least one Washington student each year.
'We could remember Aaron's life in a way that he would be very happy with,' said Jeremy Kuhlmann, Aaron's frat brother. 'It allows his close friends to have a reason to get together and raise money in Aaron's memory.'
This year, committee members hope to raise $20,000 to $30,000 in donations to get the foundation on its feet.
They plan to award the first $3,000 scholarship to a member of Fiji who best exemplifies the character, social responsibility and love of adventure that Aaron possessed. In five years, they hope to distribute five scholarships and double that number within a decade.
The scholarship is appropriate because Aaron dreamt big and pushed others to go out and get the most out of life, Kuhlmann added.
'He was never too tired to do anything,' Kuhlmann said. 'He wanted to do it all … that's why people were drawn to him. He made people's lives better.'
Aaron will also be remembered at Lake Oswego High School, too, where he participated in sports and received the prestigious Gary Ragen 'Lakerism' Award at graduation.
With the approval of Steve Schulte and his wife, Kathy, a group of parents created the Aaron Schulte Memorial Scholarship at LOHS.
The $500 honor will go to the graduate who shows a strong academic record, volunteerism experience and an interest in health care. In June, the first scholarship went to Conor McWade.
Additionally, Aaron's co-workers at Northwest Kinetics formed a Tacoma Relay for Life team in his memory, and his name will go on a children's playroom at the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital in Tacoma.
'He would embrace all of those (causes) because they're right in line with what Aaron would have done,' Steve said.
Born in Kirkland, Wash., in 1981, Aaron and his family moved to Lake Oswego in 1990, where he and his two brothers attended Oak Creek Elementary School, Lake Oswego Junior High School and Lake Oswego High School.
At LOHS, he participated in football, track and soccer and was elected treasurer of his class. During May Fete, he performed a memorable skit as his favorite movie character, Rocky Balboa.
'Everyone loved Aaron,' said Adams, who now lives in Australia, in part because of Aaron. 'He was basically voted the most popular kid in school. He played a huge part in helping me grow as a person. I trusted him more than anyone.'
While at Washington, Aaron completed the required pre-med courses to get into medical school and graduated with a bachelor's degree in mass communications.
Building on his dream to work in health care, he moved to Tacoma and became a pharmaceutical research coordinator for Northwest Kinetics.
In his spare time, he volunteered with young cancer patients at Mary Bridge. He ran Bingo games, worked in the playroom and formed a close bond with a 5-year-old cancer patient named Courtney.
Courtney and her family would later play a supporting role in Aaron's own fight with cancer.
'A lot of volunteers were slow to go in,' Steve said. 'Aaron would go right up to the kids and say, 'Hi! I'm Aaron. What's the matter with you?' He had a natural and sincere way and … the kids loved him for it.'
In early 2006, Aaron began experiencing persistent stomach pain. The doctors found a blockage in his small intestine and thought he might have Crohn's disease. During surgery, however, doctors found cancer that had been growing undetected for months.
The news was difficult to take - for someone Aaron's age, intestinal cancer is virtually unheard of. Plus, Aaron was in good shape, a healthy eater and a triathlete with no history of cancer in his family.
'He had his priorities straight,' said his 24-year-old brother Matt, now a history teacher in Yakima, Wash.
Inspired by the 'Rocky' series, Aaron underwent a six-month schedule of aggressive chemotherapy and a series of surgeries.
His brothers Matt and Jeff (a junior at University of Oregon) said he never complained and saw beating the disease as a challenge.
'His attitude was to never give up. He had good faith in God, a fighter instinct and great confidence in medicine,' Steve said. 'He firmly believed those three things would pull him through.'
The treatment left him weak and gaunt, but by October 2006 Aaron was feeling better and back to work. The Schultes thought the worst was over.
Around Christmas time, a check-up brought more bad news. The cancer had returned and spread. Aaron's doctors were shocked and baffled.
'We believe we had the very best medical help possible, but it just wasn't meant to be,' Steve said.
Eventually, Aaron was brought home from hospice, where he could be cared for by his family. A lot of long, heartfelt talks were held in those final weeks.
One day, Aaron picked up the phone. On the other end was Sylvester Stallone, calling from a movie set in Thailand. Aaron's final 'Rocky' dream was realized - he told Stallone how much the movies encouraged him to keep fighting.
'He didn't want to die, because there was so much more he wanted to do,' Steve said.
A constant stream of friends and relatives came through the Schulte house each day. Many left visibly distraught.
'Aaron actually helped everyone out,' Steve said. 'He did everything he could to comfort his visitors.'
Because Aaron didn't want a dreary funeral, the Schultes scheduled a 'Celebration of Life' at the Oswego Country Club. An estimated 500 people attended.
The packed room was a reflection of how many lives Aaron touched, Adams said. Aaron's online memory book is filled, too, with anecdotes about his life, including letters from his closest friends.
'For some reason, life kept testing you with its punches,' Adams wrote in his entry. 'But even when life knocked you down, you got right back up. You kept fighting, you kept pushing and eventually you won.
'Aaron, I need you to know that you won. You won because even on your toughest days you never gave up. You always believed in yourself and didn't let anything hold you back from living your life. You define courage and nobody will ever forget that.'
To learn more about the Aaron Schulte Memorial Foundation or to donate, go online to www.aaronschulte.org. To learn more about the Aaron Schulte Memorial Scholarship at LOHS, contact the school at 503-534-2313.