Updated: Friends call former Northwestern student Caleb Dayton ‘incredibly smart,’ admired

Patrick Svitek, City Editor

During her first week in the eighth grade, Hallie Lundell accidentally threw away her retainer with her food. Still new to the school, Lundell figured the pricey mouth gear was a lost cause.

Then she met Caleb Dayton.

“Caleb couldn’t believe I was going to leave it there, considering how expensive and valuable it was,” Lundell recalled in an email to The Daily.

So Dayton dug through the trash for about half an hour, finally emerging with Lundell’s retainer. She could not believe it.

About nine years later, Lundell counts the random act of kindness as her fondest memory of Dayton, a former Northwestern student who died Tuesday afternoon in downtown Evanston. His death was ruled a suicide.

On Thursday, Dayton’s former classmates from Breck School — a prestigious private institution in Golden Valley, Minn. — remembered the Minneapolis native as a compassionate friend for whom no favor was too inconvenient. They confirmed the altruistic portrait of Dayton painted in Lundell’s story.

“He was the type of person you’d hope your son would be like,” Alex Buffalohead wrote in an email to The Daily, recalling her friendship with Dayton since the first grade. “He was the person that would friend the new person, or be the first one to introduce himself.”

Dayton’s welcoming personality was contagious, according to his friends. Anne Whiting, who met him in elementary school, was one of them.

“I admired Caleb Dayton so, so much,” she wrote in an email to The Daily. “He was incredibly smart … so talented … and above all, so kind and generous.”

Family friend Manny Laureano recalled Dayton as an outgoing child who, as he grew up, “always seemed to be doing good things with good people.” Dayton practiced martial arts from a young age, taking after his mother, Laureano said.

“So, it was truly a family affair,” Laureano wrote in an email to The Daily.

Dayton came from one of Minnesota’s most prominent families, with ties to a Target founder and the current governor.

While attending Breck, Dayton’s friends said he was involved in the environmental club and cross-country ski team, natural activities for him given his interest in all things outdoors.

Whiting even attended a Sadie Hawkins dance with him.

“He was a 16-year-old’s dream date, chivalrous and handsome,” Whiting recalled.

Most of all, though, Dayton was studious, according to his friends. Whiting said Dayton was “willing to help with anything,” recalling how he once took about half an hour to explain a physics concept to her.

Hilary Kenyon, who befriended Dayton in the seventh grade, also described Dayton as a model classmate. She said she will never forget spending hours trying to understand advanced algebra with him.

“Caleb was an amazing individual, he was not only incredibly smart and THOUGHTFUL but one of the most well spoken human beings you will find,” Kenyon wrote in an email to The Daily.

Dayton’s work ethic also earned the admiration of his teachers. Susan Fischer, who taught him from fifth to eighth grade at Breck, called him an “exceptional soul” whose generosity extended to all his peers.

“I also coordinated the outreach efforts of the middle school, and there was never a time when Caleb did not step up with new ideas to help the homeless, the lonely, the outcast,” Fischer wrote in an email to The Daily.

After his sophomore year at Breck, Dayton transferred to The Blake School, another distinguished private academy in the Minneapolis area, according to his classmates from both schools. He graduated from Blake in 2009 and attended the University of Minnesota for a semester in 2010. He later enrolled in Northwestern’s School of Continuing Studies, taking classes during Winter and Spring quarters last academic year.

Although some of his friends and teachers from Breck lost touch with him, they said he left a lasting impact on their lives. Fischer said he inspired her to “teach well and teach with integrity” through his commitment to helping everyone, regardless of their social standing or how it benefited him.

“May he rest in peace,” Kenyon wrote, “and know he was and forever will be loved and admired.”

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Twitter: @PatrickSvitek