Just as he was building a ladder to the stars and climbing on every rung, Aaron Gregory Riley, age 21, a treasured son, brother, nephew, cousin, friend and colleague died Saturday, July 9, 2011. The cause of death was accidental drowning, believed related to an epileptic seizure, while swimming in South-central Pennsylvania. Aaron was born in Whitefish, Montana on September 30, 1989. Although he prided himself on being a native Montanan, most of Aaron’s pre-college years were divided between Ithaca, New York and Okemos, Michigan. At college, he quietly organized a UU student group and used the chalice from his high school group in their gatherings. Aaron went on to earn a BA cum laude in International Studies, Government and Economics from Ohio Wesleyan University in May 2011. He was a devoted member of the Chi Phi Fraternity, where he gained a distinct sense of belonging, throughout his time at Ohio Wesleyan. He could be a bit quirky at times and a little “over-the-top” on enthusiasm. One of his fellow students suggested, “You never got the short version with Aaron… he was not someone going through the motions of life, but rather one of the few who was truly living.”

Since graduation, he was a Demmer Scholar in a Michigan State University course based in Washington, DC on natural resource policy. He was on a course field trip at the time of his death, grabbing a quick swim before supper with fellow students. At the time of his death, Aaron also was an intern with the USA Rice Federation in Arlington, VA, where in just a few months he contributed to educational and demonstration projects aimed at sustainable agricultural. This was a young man who experienced some low spots in life, and yet sought out and embraced opportunities with zeal. Aaron ate ice cream in New York’s Central Park and crepes in Paris, guzzled stout at the Dublin Guinness factory, and munched tamales in Mexico along the Rio Grande River. He fed dolphins in Florida, chased squirrels at Gettysburg, and watched grizzly bears in Glacier National Park. Aaron spent a month in Chile ostensibly to improve his Spanish but ended up improving his soccer skills. Loving anything outdoors, he was happy catching a stringer of bluegills from a farm pond, casting to trout on tumbling Western rivers (he had a habit of falling into rivers but never lost the fish), and hoisting salmon from the Great Lakes. Proud that he got a deer his first day hunting, he was even happier when his first buck was a solid eight pointer, “Bigger than Dad’s!” Aaron skied black diamond slopes from Steamboat Colorado to glaciers along the Austrian-Italian border, and yet loved annual family ski trips to northern Michigan. He paddled through the Missouri River Breaks, skinny-dipped in Swedish rivers, and got propelled from a raft on the Snake River in Wyoming. Aaron ascended mountains in the Adirondacks, the Alps, the Andes, and the Rockies. He ventured up the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and the United States Capital Dome. “Aaron's is a sweet and genuine soul - and one of the smartest and most innovative people with whom I have had the privilege of working.”  stated a professor and mentor. 

Throughout his short, somewhat defiant life, Aaron did not want to be held back by epilepsy or try to conceal it. Courageously, he worked to bring epilepsy out of the shadows of society; Aaron wanted, somehow, to reduce the feelings of isolation and seclusion that people living with epilepsy and seizure disorders often experience. To honor his life and cause, contributions may be made to the “Aaron Gregory Riley Scholarship at OWU” for recognition, encouragement and support of students living with epilepsy. 

While honoring Aaron Gregory Riley, this enduring scholarship recognizes, encourages and supports students living with epilepsy and other disabilities at Ohio Wesleyan University. The scholarship seeks to inspire those students to live lives more fully than they may otherwise do. Although Aaron’s life was abruptly shortened by this neurological disorder, he battled to bring epilepsy out of the shadows. He wanted, somehow, to reduce the feelings of isolation and seclusion that people living with epilepsy and seizure disorders often experience.

As part of Chi Phi's continuing support of the Riley family and the scholarship they created in honor of their son and our brother, our chapter hosts an annual fundraiser to support the scholarship.  In recent years, we have hosted a chili cook-off to raise funds and bring people together at OWU. Other fraternities, sororities, other organizations, local businesses, and individuals gather in support of Aaron's legacy and celebrate his life by continuing to support those living with disabilities at OWU.

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