The following features is from Rachel Peet, a Western Connecticut State University sophomore swimmer. She never had the privilege of being introduced to Evan Wagman, but she quickly learned how special this young man was.
You mention the name Evan Wagman here at Western Connecticut State University and you are instantly returned a smile that is nearly as big and bright as his. In all honesty, I did not personally know this WestConn Sodexo employee, dining hall friend, and WestConn soccer teams' super-fan. Nevertheless, while meeting a few, out of very many, of his friends in the last month, I've learned of his lively spirit as he and his optimism continue to radiate throughout the WestConn population.
After a long and brave battle with leukemia, Evan passed away on February 24, two days shy of his 26th birthday. It is so accurately written in his obituary that, '"Evan's personality, sense of humor and sweetness made it impossible not to fall in love with him the moment you met him."
The origin of such an infectious smile spreading across campus was when Evan, or better known as "King Evan," started helping out at the WCSU Westside Dining Hall the summer of 2014. He was a part of an internship program arranged by "Ability Beyond," a local non-profit organization that supports individuals with (dis)abilities. After one summer there, he permanently joined the Sodexo dining crew as his daily job, which never appeared as a "job" for him, but rather one of the happiest ways to carry out his day-to-day life.
King Evan most often spent his five-to-six-hour workdays packaging and labeling fresh baked goods, and ensuring he was able to socialize with the WCSU community by putting out food menus and/or clearing tables. Whenever his co-worker Angela notified him that the sweets had rolled in from the Midtown Campus bakery, Evan knew exactly what his morning duties were.
No matter how often his mother Beth warned that Evan should not be having sweets, he could always manage getting his hands on a brownie, a chocolate chip cookie, or hopefully both. His mother was right though, Evan did not need the sweet. He already had plenty of his own sweetness and positivity moving about the cafeteria and passed it on to others. In being his joyous self around the workplace, Evan formed some of the most sincere friendships at WestConn.
Evan was known for lovin' the ladies and reaching out to them in a heartbeat. His supposed "number one girl" was his go-to breakfast date, Amanda at the Daily Grind. Most days, he did not venture over to the Daily Grind adjacent to the cafeteria for a morning meal, but did so to discuss the latest details of the previous night's The Voice episode. Another popular topic of discussion were movies, in which his favorite was Mama Mia! Beyond conversing over arts and entertainment, he admired sports entertainment¾ both watching and getting to personally know those involved in the field, like one of his best friends, Cory Silver. Silver is the Assistant Director of Events at the WCSU O'Neill Center.
Walking into the Westside Campus cafeteria wearing Boston Red Sox apparel was Silver's worst but ultimately best decisions one afternoon four years ago.
See, Evan is an avid New York Yankees baseball fan, and once he spotted Silver and the Red Sox logo settling down in 'his' cafeteria, a quick debate and an inseparable bond would emerge from that moment on for Cory and Evan. What began as any other casual lunch hour evolved into hundreds of memorable hours and more. Silver was another friend to talk about The Voice, movies of any genre, and baseball, but the professional wrestling realm of WWE was their specialty.
Evan was a competitive sports fan at heart. Thus, he was undoubtedly "in it to win it" when he and Silver would propose a friendly wager on pay-per-view wrestling events, for a grand prize of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, which was Evan's top candy choice. Reese's or not, the two could never get upset with one another as they created a familial bond over the years together.
The most unforgettable memory, among many, for Silver was surprising Evan with a huge cake for his 25th birthday last year. His ecstatic glow was unmatched to any other birthday celebration I have seen, in the videos I was shown of this occasion. Silver and Evan had grown so close that their memories easily stretched beyond the borders of the Westside Marketplace. It encompassed O'Neill Center events, various sporting events at the Westside Athletic Complex, to meeting Evan's own family at home.
Evan was the oldest of three siblings at home in Bethel, CT, and Silver could obviously see him as an inspirational role model.
"He was always so incredibly happy. A great kid. I'm going to miss him," said Silver.
Besides being an uplifting role model, best friend, and brother to family members Ben, Eliza his stepbrother Paul in New Jersey as well as Cory, he was much more for the WestConn soccer teams and coaches.
In the words of the WestConn women's soccer head coach, Alex Harrison, "Evan was a permanent fixture on the girls' team."
He was a permanent fixture, in that he had ultimately joined the team in every way, shape, and form since day one of meeting the men's and women's coaches… of course, in the cafeteria!
Current men's soccer head coach, Joe Mingachos, was the Colonials' women's soccer head coach at the time of Evan's first soccer connections about four years ago.
At first, Evan really only bonded with the women's team his first couple of years here at WestConn because one, they won more games than the men, and two, they were ladies!
Every game, and many events off the field, which the women soccer players attended, so did Evan. He was unquestionably their top fan, but he was also frequently found cheering alongside them on the field, on the winning sidelines. The sidelines were not only those at WestConn's home turf at the WAC either. Coach Harrison was stunned to suddenly discover Evan cheering at a soccer game as far away as Keene State College, in New Hampshire, this past fall.
Within a short time and the rapid improvement the men's soccer team enjoyed, much to do with Mingachos taking over the reins in 2016 of a program in which he was an All-American sweeper in 1989, Evan started going the distance, both literally and figuratively, for his "brothers" on the men's team.
True teammates and brothers, whether on the field or not, was the friendship between senior midfielder Nick Kyriakidis and Evan.
"He's one of us, part of the team," acknowledged Kyriakidis.
The Sleepy Hollow, NY native joined the team alongside Evan when he transferred to WestConn two years ago from Kean University. It was the same time Evan started to support both the women's and men's teams.
In the cafeteria, Evan was constantly looking out for both soccer teams' meal choices leading up to games days by "…limiting their desserts…"
In the heart of the season, he was intertwined in the team huddles at the end of a long game, in wins and losses.
Following the Little East Conference Men's Soccer championship 1-0 overtime victory over Rhode Island College this past fall, Evan chased Nick down on the field and embraced him with overwhelming excitement for his "golden goal" all while shouting, "You did it, champ! You did it, champ!"
The exhilarating enthusiasm and fleeting moments like these will never escape Kyriakidis, as he is "forever thankful for his contagious happiness… Everything that we accomplished, could not have been done without him."
Yes, Evan was WestConn's number one fan. Rather than simply sitting in the stands, he was an ambitious worker, a dedicated teammate, a great example, a best friend, a brother, and possessed a smile that will forever shine through the many he touched here at WestConn.