More than 150 friends, family members and colleagues gathered on the Washington State University campus Friday for a memorial service for a graduate student and economics instructor drowned last week in a Seattle hotel pool.
Those close to Tesfaye Deboch remembered the 27-year-old Ethiopian student for his ambition, desire to learn, faith, friendliness and infectious smile.
Several of Deboch’s economics professors recalled seeing him constantly smiling in classes, despite the rigorous curricula.
“I found myself wondering, who is this tall student sitting in the back row with the ever-present, infectious smile? It didn’t compute that it was econometrics and statistics. Students typically wear a frown when crunching large data sets over and over and over again,” said Tom Marsh, WSU economics professor.
Marsh said Deboch was a naturally gifted teacher who was constantly in demand. He said it was Deboch’s dream to return to his native Ethiopia to use his education to make a positive change in the lives of people.
Marsh said in June, Deboch received a highly competitive award from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and International Livestock Research Institute for a development workshop in eastern Africa.
Marsh said because of Deboch’s academic excellence, the School of Economic Sciences has nominated him for a posthumous doctorate degree in economics from WSU.
A scholarship fund has also been established in his memory, a gesture Kifle Jikamo, a close family friend from Ethiopia, said he appreciated.
“That is really an honor,” Jikamo said
Jikamo, who represented Deboch’s family at the service, also thanked WSU for its guidance during the events following Deboch’s death. In Ethiopia, Jikamo said, the family takes the body of a deceased loved one home before burial.
Kim Kidwell, executive associate dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, said Deboch was the friendly face everyone knew and loved.
“He was the guy that said hi to everyone. He was the man who held the elevator. He is the one who told everyone to have a good day. That’s a beautiful reflection on his family and friends,” Kidwell said.
Deboch was born in 1986 in a village in southern Ethiopia. Walter Butcher, professor emeritus of agricultural economics, said Deboch was one of seven children in a family where everyone had to work hard.
Deboch’s uncle provided him the opportunity to attend high school in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. Butcher said Deboch became the first person in his extended family to continue his education beyond high school when he enrolled in Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs, Wyo.
After two years there, Butcher said Deboch transferred to the University of Wyoming where he graduated with bachelor’s degrees in economics and finance. Shortly after, Deboch moved to Pullman to begin working on his Ph.D. at WSU.
For more information about the memorial scholarship fund or to donate, visit web.cahnrs.wsu.edu/ evites/deboch.html.