Friends remember Northwestern student John Thumel for kind, fun-loving spirit

Julia Jacobs and Paige Leskin

John Thumel poses next to a Christmas tree at a holiday party last year. The McCormick senior died Sunday following injuries he sustained in a car crash in south Texas.
Source: Alex Christian
John Thumel poses next to a Christmas tree at a holiday party last year. The McCormick senior died Sunday following injuries he sustained in a car crash in south Texas.

At a fraternity Christmas party last year, among a sea of Santa hats and reindeer antlers, John Thumel stood out in a full-length Christmas tree suit and a wide, goofy smile.

This commitment to going all-out, to acting with abandon, was a philosophy Thumel applied to every part of his life, said Alex Christian (Weinberg ‘15), a friend.

“There was always a new memory, a new story to make with John,” Christian said.

Thumel, a rising fifth-year McCormick student from Libertyville, Illinois, died early Sunday morning following a car crash in south Texas, where he was working as an engineering intern. His mother said her son died in the hospital surrounded by family.

Thumel, 22, managed to be both hard-working and easy-going, his friends said. He could often be found buried deep in his work at the library, but his natural state was lounging beside the river near his house with a fishing rod in hand. Thumel always had a crazy story to tell from the previous night, and friends said they could always count on him to hatch a new idea that would turn into a cherished memory.

“He was wild in every sense of the word, and his nature is what drew us to him,” said rising McCormick senior Asher Goldman, who was in Sigma Chi fraternity with Thumel, in an email to The Daily. “John lived more in 22 years than most people do in a century, and that vibrance and sense of adventure is what I will miss most about him.”

To recent McCormick graduate Claire McCloskey, who met Thumel during an old Pre-Wildcat Welcome program called Elder LEAD, he was also a trustworthy friend who went to great lengths to make sure she was always safe and comfortable during her first year of college.

“There are very few people as brilliant, kind, dedicated, loyal and genuinely good,” McCloskey wrote in a message to The Daily. “I lost a best friend … and the world lost a source of so much joy and happiness.”

McCloskey said Thumel had kept her smiling through tough engineering classes freshman year using his natural intelligence and humor.


rsz_thumelSource: Cody Warner


Thumel was interning in Texas at The Dow Chemical Company through the Cooperative Engineering Education Program, a McCormick program that combines academic work with full-time paid professional experience. Katie Harvey, his co-op adviser, described Thumel as a dedicated and passionate student who managed to be at ease even when he was challenged.

“He lit up whenever he talked about working on a difficult problem,” she said in an email to The Daily. “He loved having the opportunity to work with individuals from all walks of life and backgrounds, and actively chose to learn something from each of the people he encountered at Dow.”

Goldman describes Thumel as one of the smartest students he knew, adding that Thumel went out of his way to help his peers through engineering problems and exams.

Thumel was a similar source of comfort and support in Sigma Chi, as well someone who was always looking for the next adventure, rising Communication senior Dan Rufolo said.

“He would always find a way to make me smile when it was the last thing I wanted to do,” he said. “He always found a way to put everyone before himself.”

Aside from being an engineer and fraternity brother, John’s friends knew him as a fisherman, a grill-master, an enthusiastic Chicago Blackhawks fan and a devoted customer at Taco Bell and Chicken Shack.

As a son, he was a bright and charismatic member of the family, Laura Thumel said.

“We love John deeply and mourn his loss,” she said in an email to The Daily. “His 22 years on this earth were much too short but he lived his life to the fullest and we are proud of the person he was and all that he accomplished.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Claire McCloskey’s year in school. She is a recent McCormick graduate. The Daily regrets the error.

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