Manchester University
Oak Leaves

February 26, 2016

Memorial Flowers

‘Hold a True Friend with Both Hands’

Manchester University Holds Memorial Service for Brook Dagnew, Nerad Mangai and Kirubel Hailu

Oak Leaves Staff

Near Cordier Auditorium’s stage graced by the flags of Ethiopia and Nigeria, floral tributes, and photographs from happier times, students, faculty, staff, alumni, community, friends and family members gathered on Wednesday night to honor the lives of three Manchester University students who died early Sunday morning following a car crash on I-69. 

Nerad Mangai, Brook Dagnew and Kirubel Hailu were returning from a visit to Ball State University and Taylor University, along with four other students, when they had a flat tire and were struck by another vehicle while they were outside changing the tire. A fourth student, Israel Tamire, is being treated at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne. Three other students, Nebiyu Alemu, Amanuel Gebreyohannes and Dagmawi Tadesse, were not physically injured and returned to North Manchester. All of the students were from Addis Abba, Ethiopia, except Mangai, who was from Jos, Nigeria.

As Campus Pastor Walt Wiltschek welcomed the gatherers, he noted that “grief unites us across the sea.” But he offered solace too, telling the grieving attendees that “our fabric is torn, but the threads of community draw around the holes.”

That community was evident tonight as speakers lovingly remembered their students and their friends.

Michael Dixon, director of Intercultural Services, told of how he felt like a father looking for his children as he sought to learn what happened to the seven international students who drove to Muncie and Upland over the weekend.

Anthea Ayebaze recalled Nerad Mangai’s humor (the “worst humor,” she said, fondly), her laughter, and the ineffable quality that sparked someone in a grocery store to offer college student Nerad $10 to help with her purchases.

Nebiyu Alemu read a letter from Kirubel’s best friend, who flew from California to attend the memorial service. He offered his “best man” speech, because he had planned to speak at Kirubel’s wedding one day. In it, he noted how much Kirubel loved Manchester.

Ruth Woldemichael, Biniam Taddesse and Dagmawi Tadesse all spoke in remembrance of Brook, who had nicknamed himself BK. “We tease him so much about that,” Bini said. 

Ruth met Brook when they both arrived at Manchester. They spent that first day together, and became fast friends. She called him her “brother.” 

Bini, Brook’s roommate, remembered how much they had in common, even the same coffee drink—a “white chocolate mocha.” 

Dagmawi remembered he thought that Brook was an 8th grader instead of a first-year college student when they met, but after getting to know him, realized that BK was, in fact, “perfect” as himself.

President Dave McFadden offered words of strength to the grieving friends and attendees. He referenced a tapestry hanging in his office, saying that the horizontal weave might provide the decorative aspect, which is akin to all the visible accomplishments that students might enjoy, or programs that the university offers, but the vertical strands, which remain practically unseen, provide strength and support. That support, he said, is evident in the Manchester community that has gathered to provide strength to families and students and friends.

Throughout the service, Dr. Debra Lynn’s Chamber Singers and A Cappella Choir and Friends presented music to lift people’s spirits and to offer consolation of their loss, including “Nkosi, Nkosi” (Lord, Lord); “Ipharadisi” (Paradise); and “Sing Me to Heaven,” by Daniel Gawthrop.

Pastor Witschek closed the service by inviting the gatherers to participate in a call-and-response, with “We Remember Them.” 

As he began the blessing, he offered a Nigerian proverb: “Hold a true friend with both hands.”