Friday, April 18, 2003

Tears, smiles recall Kyle

Friends speak of his innate joy

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Childhood friend Casey Finnerty pauses at a set of photo collages celebrating Kyle Raulin's life at the Beckett Ridge Country Club Thursday.
(Michael E. Snyder photos)
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WEST CHESTER TWP. - Kyle Raulin packed a long lifetime of joy into his short 20 years.

He was known to literally skip across High Street in Columbus, where he was a sophomore at Ohio State University.

He once responded to "save" a girlfriend at 3 a.m. from a spider on her ceiling - and later gave her a "Beanie Baby" spider to commemorate the incident.

He was a Cincinnati Bengals fan who never said anything bad about the team - no matter how terrible they were.

In that spirit, hundreds of people on Thursday celebrated Kyle's life with smiles, anecdotes and platefuls of the cuisine that Kyle always seemed to crave: Skyline Chili.

But inside the Beckett Ridge Country Club's Timberview room, there was a palpable undercurrent of sorrow, disbelief and outrage over the unsolved arson that killed Kyle and four other college students early Sunday in Columbus. Andrea Kali Dennis, 20, a Madeira High School graduate, and two sorority sisters perished after coming from Ohio University in Athens to attend a 21st birthday party for one of Kyle's housemates, Alan "Big Al" Schlessman, of Sandusky, who also died in the fire.

[IMAGE] Friends of Kyle Raulin and his sister Kelly made this message with paper cups at the Lakota West football stadium.
([name of photographer] photo)
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Josh Patterson, who graduated from Lakota West High School along with Kyle, was among several others who were hurt. Josh, 20, remained in critical condition Thursday at Ohio State University Hospital Medical Center.

Any mention of the fire on Thursday made Kyle's friends' eyes fill with tears - but talking about Kyle made them grin.

"Of course we're sad because we miss him, but we smile and laugh about the times we had with him because it wouldn't be fitting for Kyle if it wasn't like that," said Matt Fuller, 19, friends with Kyle since age 4. "You feel kind of awkward being that way, but that was what Kyle would have wanted."

Kyle played soccer and basketball. He golfed, skied and swam. "He was good at almost everything he did, but he never had a big ego about it. Instead, he made everyone else feel good about it, too," said an uncle, Scott Beasley, 43, of Indianapolis.

His little 5-year-old cousin, Wyatt Harwood, emulated Kyle, who would take him to Lakota West soccer practice sessions. And after winning a regional championship in 2000, Kyle sent the team photo to Wyatt's home in Vail, Colo., with a note saying, "Wyatt, thanks for your support," Wyatt's mother, Betty Harwood, said. "We're having that picture - and the note - framed," said Wyatt's dad, Bryan.

"He was a kid at heart," said Senay Araia, 19, a University of Dayton fan who would steal Kyle's University of Cincinnati memorabilia as a prank. "He would skip across High Street and he didn't care who was watching him, even the girls ... and if you didn't skip, too, he'd say, 'Hey man, why aren't you skipping?'"

Josh Patterson Fund: Contributions are being accepted at all Fifth Third Bank branches in the Greater Cincinnati and Columbus areas to help pay for the medical expenses of Josh "Pork Chop" Patterson, 20, who was critically injured in the fire that killed fellow Lakota West graduate Kyle Raulin.

Kyle Raulin Special Project Fund: Contributions for a yet-to-be-determined special project for the Lakota West High School soccer and basketball teams may be directed to the Kyle Raulin Special Project Fund, c/o Lakota West High School, 8940 Union Center Blvd., West Chester, OH 45069.

Though some people would tease Kyle about his treasured powder-blue Volvo being a "chick magnet," one girl was always especially dear to his heart: Tiffany Geiser, a 19-year-old with long brown hair and a bright smile.

"He was the first guy to give her flowers, her first kiss, her first crush, her first everything," said her best friend, Megan Dillon, 19.

Both young women said Kyle was "always a gentleman." Among many photos in a collage of Kyle's antics, Tiffany pointed out one showing Kyle giving her a piggyback ride when she visited him in Columbus. "My feet were hurting, and he carried me all over campus," Tiffany said.

Tiffany, who lives down the street from Kyle's family, said this past summer she called Kyle in a panic, because she hates spiders - and one was hovering menacingly above her on her bedroom ceiling. "He came over at 3 in the morning to kill it," she said. "My parents said Kyle was the only guy they would trust to be there at 3 in the morning."

Hearing those kinds of memories about Kyle makes his parents, Janet and Terrance, and his sister, Kelly, 23, glow with pride.

"He was a great son. He was what fathers want their sons to be," Terrance Raulin said. He said his family is grateful for the all the kind words, gestures and expressions of sympathy "from the entire community."

Especially meaningful: an arrangement of azaleas, tulips and daisies with a card reading, "To One of Our Biggest Fans, From Mike Brown and the Cincinnati Bengals," Raulin said.

Raulin was also impressed that a Columbus firefighter came to Thursday's celebration of Kyle's life and talked about the fire investigation at length; Raulin doesn't think the rescuers could have acted any faster or any more professionally, but said those firefighters "feel horrible that they couldn't save them all."

Raulin pointed out, "they saved three lives; they did everything they could."

As he reflected on the loss of his son, Raulin said the eulogy delivered by Kyle's lifelong pal, Matt Fuller, seemed to strike a chord that will resonate for a long while.

In that eulogy, Matt said: "I don't know how to adequately describe how Kyle viewed life, for most of the time, I couldn't understand it myself. He had the uncanny ability to take a vested interest in something, yet maintain a carefree attitude through it - quirks that kept you intrigued, and a presence that radiated."

"I never really figured Kyle out, partly because I never tried. With him around, things were better, and that was enough for me. Kyle was my constant - and he will be constantly missed."


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