Zak Schwartzapfel, a rising College senior known for his upbeat personality and friendly nature, died on June 22. He was 21.

Multiple sources declined to comment on the cause of death, though one said the death was not from natural causes.

Schwartzapfel’s father, Steven Schwartzapfel, wrote in an email to the Wheel that his son enjoyed snowboarding, wake-boarding and studying English and philosophy.

“He was an inspiration and role model to all those that knew him,” Steven wrote. More than anything, Steven added, he will miss his son’s smiles and “bear hugs” the most.

Schwartzapfel, who was from Lloyd Harbor, N.Y., planned to go to law school and take over his father’s law firm afterward, said College senior and Sigma Chi president Hank Ashforth.

Goizueta Business School senior Justin Tennenbaum, also his friend and fraternity brother, wrote in an email to the Wheel that Schwartzapfel was “truly [his] brother.” Since the second day of freshman year, they were “inseparable” – determined to get into the same fraternity and become sophomore roommates.

Tennenbaum added that Schwartzapfel knew him better than anybody else does.

“Anyone that knew [Schwartzapfel] was truly blessed, and their life is a little lighter because of it,” Tennenbaum wrote.

Steven added that many of the letters he has received from family and friends of Schwartzapfel express almost identical sentiments and phrases to each other. 

“[He] possessed a calm sense of grace even when times were tough,” he said about the content of the letters. “He was loved by all for his friendliness, his upbeat and positive attitude, unique independence and quiet confidence … [He] has a gregarious demeanor, captivating smile and an infectious laugh. [He] was a caring and compassionate man.”

Tennenbaum also saw a similar compassion in his friend. He had seen Schwartzapfel offer car rides and clothes to friends. One time, he recalled, Schwartzapfel had folded his clothes out of the laundry for him.

“He truly strove to make everyone happy,” Tennenbaum wrote. “Every time he entered a room, he always had a huge smile on his face and instantly brightened the mood of those around him. He was the most carefree and selfless friend I could have asked for.”

Ashforth wrote that Schwartzapfel often left his residence hall door open and always had a room full of friends. He was, Ashforth wrote, “by all accounts, one of the happiest students at Emory.”

“He will be remembered for his smiling face, his infectious laugh and his many ridiculous pairs of pants,” Ashforth wrote, describing Schwartzapfel as a “significant personality in our pledge class.”

Andy Wilson, senior associate dean and director of Campus Life external relations, wrote in an email to the Wheel that the Emory community is “deeply saddened” by Schwartzapfel’s death.

“Every student contributes in no small measure to the community we create together at Emory,” he wrote. “The loss of any student grievously wounds us all. We extend our heartfelt condolences to all who loved him especially his family.”

Wilson added that counseling and support services remain available, and faculty and staff may reach the Faculty Staff Assistance Program.

The Sigma Chi fraternity house plans to hold a memorial in Schwartzapfel’s honor, Ashforth said.

Schwartzapfel is survived by his mother, Marie; his father, Steven; and his brothers, Max and Dan.

–By Karishma Mehrotra

+ posts

The Emory Wheel was founded in 1919 and is currently the only independent, student-run newspaper of Emory University. The Wheel publishes weekly on Wednesdays during the academic year, except during University holidays and scheduled publication intermissions.

The Wheel is financially and editorially independent from the University. All of its content is generated by the Wheel’s more than 100 student staff members and contributing writers, and its printing costs are covered by profits from self-generated advertising sales.