His teacher lauded his brilliance.
His coach pointed to his leadership.
His friend said Phillip Rehders never met a stranger in his whole life.
Phillip Rehders ’08 died Sunday morning on campus, leaving a life unfulfilled, and a large body of friends, teammates and colleagues mourning the passing of someone who was an icon at Franklin & Marshall College. An autopsy has been performed, the results of which are pending.
Several students said the grief was still too close to speak about. Many have found comfort in each other and their memories of Rehders.
Jeff Steinbrink, Alumni Professor of English and American Belles Lettres, remembered his student, an English-Creative Writing major, as a magnificent writer.
“I think like everybody, it is a feeling of great loss: great sadness and the particular bafflement accompanying someone dying young,” Steinbrink said.
“He was a wonderful writer, who had a voice,” Steinbrink said. “He was perceptive and he noticed the small things that mattered in big ways. He could take you into a space or a moment and make you feel you were there. He had a way of looking at the world that was his own. That is what good writers have. You go to them because they don’t look at the world out the most available window.
“His attitude was ironic, self-deprecating and funny. He had a spontaneity about him that was smart. You were in good company when you were reading Phil Rehders,” Steinbrink said.
“If you were in a room with him for five minutes you knew who he was,” said Patrick Godfrey ’06. “He made a point to meet new people and he genuinely cared about you. He never met a stranger in his whole life.”
Godfrey and Rehders were teammates and close friends. Godfrey had captained the swim team his senior year, and he passed that role to Rehders, who captained both his junior and senior years. After he finishes law school at Ohio State University Godfrey plans to return to F&M next year as assistant coach of the swim team. He is here this week to prepare for the new post and to mourn the loss of his friend.
“It helps to be around the team,” Godfrey said. “I can’t imagine being stuck in Ohio and having to deal with this alone.
“Everyone is doing as well as can be expected. We are staying around each other as much as possible, remembering the good things he brought us.”
Being close to the team has been a source of strength for Swimming Coach Robert Rueppel. He remembered Rehders as an “extraordinarily talented athlete and the cornerstone of the swim team. He was one of those guys who could do anything.”
Even in death, Rueppel noted, Rehders has the power to draw the team together and push it forward, much the same way he did as team captain.
“We’ve built a team and Phil was a large part of that effort,” Rueppel said. “He was an incredible leader. He had a knack for being able to pick someone out that needed help and he’d help them.”
Rueppel and Rehders shared a love for Bruce Springsteen’s music. Smiling, Reuppel shared that this summer while he and his family took in a Springsteen concert in Philadelphia, Rehders sent him a text message that read simply, “Bruce!”
Earlier this semester, Rehders returned to campus to help his coach with team recruitment weekend, when potential athletes visited campus to meet the swim team and coaching staff. Rehders took the reins and paired up the potentials with members of the team and helped Rueppel evaluate the recruits.
“He loved F&M. He loved this College,” Rueppel said.