Dozens of Oregon State University students, faculty and friends wearing Beaver orange from head to toe traveled to Deadwood Wednesday to remember 34-year-old Shiloh Sundstrom.
Sundstrom, a teaching assistant in the geography department at Oregon State University, was killed Sunday in a hit-and-run just east of Corvallis. He grew up on his family’s farm in Deadwood, a rural town in Lane County. On Wednesday, more than 200 people gathered for a burial service at that same family farm to lay Sundstrom to rest.
In the wake of his death, more than 200 friends and family members have turned to social media to share stories of Sundstrom's generosity, caring and infectious spirit. More than 50,000 people have been reached on Facebook.
"He could talk to anyone like he was talking to their soul," said Kim Nickerson, who graduated from Mapleton High School with Sundstrom. "But he was also introspective. He was always looking to make himself a better person and everyone around him a better person."
Many of Sundstrom’s closest friends, including Jesse Abrams, said they were not at all surprised by the outpouring on social media.
“He touched so many people’s lives; it’s really unbelievable,” Abrams said. “I know when someone passes there’s always people who say tons of nice things about the person and jump to hyperbole. But in this case it’s not exaggeration. He was one of the warmest and most loving people I’ve ever met.”
Jesse Bers first met Sundstrom in kindergarten when the two played blocks together. They became friends instantly.
"He was a planet; he had a gravity that just pulled people in," Bers said. "He was a bridge-builder. He lived his life to the fullest. He was loved by everyone he ever met and he was completely genuine."
Close childhood friend Rohan Theiss said he has never met anyone else who compares to Sundstrom.
"He connected people together in a way few humans have ever been able to do," Theiss said. "He was a kind and pure person who always shared himself completely with everyone."
"He was the best friend of everybody," said Sundstrom's cousin Jordan Gross. "When you were in his presence, he made you feel like you were his best friend."
On Tuesday, OSU College of Forestry faculty and staff members held an informal gathering to honor and remember Sundstrom.
"We heard stories from students, faculty, and staff at OSU about Shiloh’s boundless energy, that he was loving and affectionate and always interested in others before himself, (and) that he helped people to feel included,” said Dr. Julia Jones, head of the OSU geography program.
In addition to his teaching assistant job at the geography department, Sundstrom also recently worked as a research assistant on a grant funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Sundstrom’s adviser, Hannah Gosnell, an associate professor in geography, said she will always remember “his generous, fun-loving spirit” along with his accomplishments in academics.
“Shiloh was truly an amazing young man, with so much promise,” Gosnell said. “He was well on his way to becoming a leader in both the international conservation community and the (Pacific Northwest) conservation community.”
In 2002, while working toward a bachelor’s degree in history from Brandeis University, Sundstrom traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, for the first time. Gosnell said Sundstrom “fell in love with the land and people there.”
Sundstrom earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Brandeis in 2004 before enrolling in the forest resources graduate program at Oregon State University. He received his master’s degree in forest resources from OSU in 2009, basing his graduate thesis on his work in southern Kenya and with the Maasai people.
“He was always looking for ways to bring wisdom from the Maasai people to American ranchers because he understood both worlds so well,” Gosnell said. “He acted as a real bridge in many ways.”
One close friend of Sundstrom's from Kenya said on Facebook that Sundstrom was "a great man, inspiration and true Maasai friend."
After receiving his master’s degree, Sundstrom dedicated himself to community-based conservation in the Pacific Northwest, and worked as a renewable energy and stewardship program assistant at The Resource Innovations Group at the University of Oregon in 2009 to 2010, and then as a faculty research assistant at the Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon from 2010 to 2012.
Gosnell recalled that Sundstrom would often speak about plans of joining the faculty of OSU after graduating.
“He had it all planned out,” Gosnell said. “Shiloh was going to be a major leader in the conservation world."
Sundstrom most recently worked as program director of the Siuslaw Institute, which was founded by his father, Johnny Sundstrom, in 1994. The group began as a response to the spotted owl wars of the early 1990s, and the challenges that timber-dependent communities in the Deadwood area faced with the loss of logging and mill jobs.
"Johnny often remarked about how much faith he had that Shiloh could stand on his shoulders and see even farther than anyone else ever has,” Gosnell said.
Nickerson, Sundstrom's high school classmate, said she was struck by how deeply he touched everyone he met and how much he accomplished in his life.
"In the short 34 years he had, it’s superhuman how much he did," said Nickerson. "If it was 134 years, it would have been a short time to do everything he did."