Caleb Huisingh was a lot of things in his short life.
An emergency medical technician, a firefighter, a landscaper, a door-to-door salesman.
He worked at Magill’s in Pasco as a cook. He worked in an Alaska fish cannery.
He was a budding journalist — a good one, with talent, guts and promise to spare.
He played rugby — tough and relentless on the field. When he went in for the tackle, the other player went down.
But he could be tender, too. Children adored him. He had a multitude of friends.
To his family, he was a bright light — a complex, authentic, beautiful soul.
“That’s what I’ve always called him: my beautiful boy,” said his mom, Sharon. “He really was.”
Huisingh, 23, who grew up in Pasco, died last week in a hiking accident in Alaska.
The Western Washington University student had gone to the city of Hoonah, west of Juneau, to work at a cannery for the summer.
A memorial service is planned at 1 p.m. Aug. 19 at Faith Assembly in Pasco.
Huisingh graduated from Chiawana High School in 2012.
At Western in Bellingham, he was studying journalism. He was a standout.
Carolyn Nielsen, one of his professors, said Huisingh showed maturity and sensitivity in his work.
Before enrolling, he’d traveled, he’d held a variety of jobs, gained life experience — and that showed, she said.
Sources trusted him. “You don’t open up to someone unless you feel respected. He was authentic and sincere, and I think that led people to talk with him,” Nielsen said.
Huisingh wrote for the university’s newspaper, The Western Front. His work on a pair of tough stories — a student’s re-admittance after a sexual assault conviction and a troubling incident involving a volunteer track coach — won him praise and respect.
“He was dogged. He did not flinch at all when we assigned him these giant stories,” said Alec Regimbal, who was his editor-in-chief.
Nielsen said Huisingh wasn’t “in it for the glory. He was in it for the chance to tell stories that would make people’s lives better.”
He would have excelled in journalism, she said, though he also talked of joining the Peace Corps or doing something else “where he was more on the ground helping,” she said.
“That was a driving force in his life,” Nielsen said.
Every once in a while, she said, a student will come along who possesses something extra special.
“Caleb was one of those students,” Nielsen said. “He will be greatly missed.”
Paul Horne coached Huisingh on Western’s championship rugby squad.
Like Nielsen, he highlighted the Pasco native’s maturity and leadership. When Huisingh spoke, his teammates listened, Horne said.
“He was no-nonsense. He came to train and he trained hard. You could always count on Caleb to step up and make a play, to lead by example,” the coach said. “At the end of the day, if you ask just about anybody on the team, who was the toughest guy to practice against, they’d come up with the name Caleb Huisingh.”
Huisingh is the son of Gregg and Sharon Huisingh, both Tri-City educators. He has two sisters, Kristina and Erin.
About a decade ago, when Caleb was in middle school, the family — minus Kristina, who was in college at the time — spent a year in Papua New Guinea. Gregg and Sharon taught at an international school.
Caleb was a hit with the village children, leading games of soccer and finding ways to connect even across a language barrier.
“He always had a kid holding his hand. The village kids would bring him gifts,” Erin recalled.
Another time, a few years back, Caleb and Erin were riding their bikes by the Columbia River.
They came across a mother struggling to pitch a baseball to her two young sons. “Caleb said, ‘Erin, I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to help them,’” she said.
And he did, pitching to the boys and delighting as they got hits.
“He had a helping heart,” his sister said.
Gregg Huisingh said his son was strong and charismatic. He left an impression on people. He was true to himself, utterly authentic.
“He was always present, wherever he was,” the father said. “He was all in.”
The Huisinghs are touched and humbled by the outpouring of support they’ve received since Caleb’s death, they said.
Many people have reached out to share how he touched their lives. That’s meant a lot.
“He will be missed by many,” Gregg said.
“None more than us,” said Sharon.
“We loved him fiercely,” added Gregg.
And, his family said, he’ll live on in them.
“He had this bright future in front of him. He’d want us to go on and brighten the world the way he would have. We’re going to honor him that way,” his mother said. “We’re going to love deeply and fiercely and authentically. And take him with us when we do.”