Ben Van Handel: Surrounded himself with friends to the end

Van Handel, a 23-year-old economics major, was the victim of a hit-and-run in the early morning hours of April 15.

by Mike Mullen

As a freshman at the University of Minnesota, Ben Van Handel usually left his door open. That way, Van Handel could welcome friends into his room, or at least say hello to them as they passed in the hallway.
Now his friends will gather to honor his life.
Van Handel, a 23-year-old economics major who will graduate posthumously in May, was the victim of a hit-and-run in the early morning hours of April 15. He survived several days in Hennepin County Medical Center but was taken off life support Thursday afternoon after doctors observed little brain activity.
âÄúBen was a selfless, loving person who cared deeply for others,âÄù his family said in a statement released Friday.
The familyâÄôs sentiments echo those of undergraduate Lauren Randall, who first met Van Handel when the two were in the same residence hall as freshmen.
âÄúHe was the kind of guy I would call when I felt sick, unsafe or just needed a hug,âÄù Randall said, âÄúbecause I knew he would be there, no questions asked.âÄù
Randall said she was one of many friends who took advantage of Van HandelâÄôs open door. Randall and another friend would always beg him to play Mario Kart with them, which, she says now, was probably just an excuse to hang out with Van Handel.
Scott Engstrom knew Van Handel since they were middle school classmates in Wisconsin. Engstrom stayed close to him while both were undergraduates at the University and said Van HandelâÄôs warm personality and âÄúgoofy sense of humorâÄù where instantly recognizable.
âÄúHe was always one of those people that just brought an energy around him,âÄù Engstrom said. âÄúHe always made you feel welcome to be around him.âÄù
Though they took different classes in college, Engstrom said Van Handel always made time to catch up over a meal. There, theyâÄôd talk about sports or class, but more often the conversation turned to their mutual friends.
âÄúHe was really interested in his friends,âÄù Engstrom said. âÄúHe had such a passion for life, and thatâÄôs really what you got from him âÄìâÄì that he was really glad to be in the moment that he was in.âÄù
Randall saw Van Handel on his last conscious night, as the two spent time at Blarney Pub and Grill in Dinkytown.
She remembered Van Handel challenging her to shake hands for as long as they possibly could. After two full minutes, Randall pulled her hand away, and Van Handel won. They hugged, and he said heâÄôd see Randall at a party she was planning.
âÄúI guess I just want so badly to go back to that handshake, go back to that hug,âÄù Randall said. âÄúIâÄôll replay those moments over and over for the rest of my life.âÄù
Randall said âÄú80- or 90-someâÄù University students were planning to caravan to Appleton, Wisc. for Van HandelâÄôs funeral, which will be held Tuesday. A visitation will begin at 2:30 p.m. with a mass scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at St. Bernard Parish.
The Web site the family had maintained to post updates on Van HandelâÄôs condition had received more than 38,000 visits as of Sunday. In an announcement Friday, the family explained that Van Handel had chosen to be an organ donor and that his liver, pancreas and kidneys would be donated to patients in need of a transplant.
âÄúThree families got very happy phone calls today to let them know a transplant would happen âĦ because of Ben,âÄù the statement said. âÄúWe love him deeply, we miss him deeply.âÄù