Shock and sadness spread across the U.S. on July 20, 2012, when a shooting occurred at the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Col. Citizens throughout the country anxiously awaited news of the tragedy, and when the final list of victims was released, the tragedy hit close to home for the Whitewater community.
John Larimer, 27, a UW-Whitewater alumnus who graduated in 2008, was killed in the shooting. He was serving in the Navy as a
cryptographic analyzer and was stationed in Colorado.
After learning of Larimer’s death, senior Ryan Burbach, a Marine veteran, wanted to honor the fallen soldier.
Burbach is the president of Phi Alpha Theta, an honor society geared toward prospective history students. When Larimer was a student at UW-Whitewater, he served as treasurer, secretary and vice president of Phi Alpha Theta.
Burbach said because of all their similarities, he felt a strong connection to Larimer.
“Considering the tragedy and the way it all happened … I wanted to honor him as a UW-Whitewater alumni and as a Phi Alpha Theta member and officer,” Burbach said. “I thought it would be appropriate to have something to remember [him].”
Senior Jason Parry is vice president of Phi Alpha Theta.
“Typically you hear about these tragedies and you’re saddened, but there’s not typically a personal connection,” Parry said. “So when I found out he was from Whitewater, and then he was a history major, and then he was in Phi Alpha Theta, it was such a shock thinking we had a real connection with this guy.”
Parry said this is what inspired Ryan to come up with an idea to honor the former student.
Burbach said he originally thought to have a tree planted or a bench donated in Larimer’s memory, but he never expected what his idea would develop into.
The John T. Larimer Scholarship was created with the help of Professor Tony Gulig, history department chair and Phi Alpha Theta adviser and Mary Pinkerton, dean of the College of Letters & Sciences.
Gulig said the scholarship will recognize students who have as much a passion for history as Larimer did.
Gulig taught Larimer in multiple history classes and attended a travel study trip to Canada with him and eight other students while he was studying at UW-Whitewater.
“The scholarship really is to remember John,” Gulig said. “And in doing so, we want to create the scholarship for upcoming students who are as much like John when they arrive at Whitewater as he was when he came here.”
According to Kristen Mekemson, a director of development and liaison to the College of Letters & Sciences, the UW-Whitewater foundation is currently accepting donations for the scholarship.
Mekemson said the hope is to raise $10,000 to be invested by spring of 2014. If the goal is met, the scholarship will offer $425 per school year to its recipients in perpetuity.
Scott Larimer, John’s father, said the only criteria he asked to have added was that the student be active in the field of history outside the classroom as John Larimer was.
“John wanted to see people get to the point where they could enjoy history, not necessarily as a profession but as a way of understanding people and the way they act,” Scott Larimer said.
According to Scott Larimer, John participated in historical reenactments, and enjoyed primary source analysis and political history.
Scott Larimer said his family was surprised when Gulig and the university asked permission to use his son’s name, because he graduated so long ago.
“All of the family embraced the idea rather rapidly,” Scott Larimer said. “We’ve done things to help promote the scholarship, not only because it’s in memory of our son, but also the fact that history is one of those things that tends to be looked at as something other than interesting or important. I hope this will do something to help correct that misconception.”
Donations for the John T. Larimer Scholarship can be made at the UW-Whitewater Foundation.
Candidates for the scholarship must be members of Phi Alpha Theta. Membership in Phi Alpha Theta requires 12 history credits, a 3.1 history GPA and a 3.0 overall academic GPA.