SigEp chili feed honors Zach Mesch’s legacy

A volunteer prepares cookies during the Zach Mesch Chili Feed on Friday at noon in the Sigma Phi Epsilon basement.

Tim Mesch remembered the times he got to see his son, Zach Mesch, as WuShock during Wichita State basketball games.

“He was so animated,” Mesch said. “We got to see him in a couple of games and it was so funny.”

Zach started his freshman year at WSU in the fall of 2008, and soon joined Sigma Phi Epsilon, became the WuShock mascot, was involved in Student Activities Council and engaged in multiple philanthropic efforts through SigEp.

He was diagnosed with leukemia during Thanksgiving break in 2009. Zach died after fighting cancer for nine months on July 4, 2010.

About 500 students, faculty and staff gathered over the weekend to eat bowls of chili and raise money for Zach’s Wishes for Miracles during the annual chili feed hosted by Zach’s fraternity.

Zach’s death sparked a new philanthropy, said Christine Schneikart-Luebbe, associate vice president of Student Engagement and dean of students.

“When Zach passed away there was such an outpouring that we chartered a bus to go to the funeral (in Denver),” she said.

The Zach Mesch Chili Feed first started through the joint efforts of SigEp and Delta Gamma in the spring of 2010 after Zach’s diagnoses in order to help raise money for hospital bills.

After Zach’s death, SigEp and Delta Gamma continued the chili feed in his honor, but the proceeds went to Zach’s Wishes for Miracles — the name is based on Zach’s initials, Zach Walter Mesch. The Mesch family started the fundraiser to grant wishes to young adults with cancer.

During Zach’s treatment for leukemia at The Children’s Hospital in Colorado, he learned many of the young adults there had not participated in Make-A-Wish because they were over the age limit, Tim Mesch said.

“Zach said that’s so unfair because even though they’re considered adults, they’re still kids,” Tim said. “Parents are taking care of you still; you can’t even walk because chemo messes with you so much.”

Zach’s wish, a five-day cruise, was granted to him and his family after he was first diagnosed with lymphoma cancer at the age of 16. His father said Zach wanted others to have that valuable experience.

Six years of chili feeds have contributed $10,000, said organizer Reid Williams, to Zach’s Wishes for Miracles and have helped give valuable experiences like a trip to New York City or a Cleveland Cavaliers game to four young adults diagnosed with cancer.

This year’s chili feed was Friday and Saturday, and about $5,000 was collected and will be presented to Zach’s parents Monday night during SigEp’s Balanced Man Scholarship Dinner, said Jaren Johnson, president of the fraternity. About $4,000 was collected at last year’s chili feed.

Though none of the current SigEp members knew Zach, Williams said Zach’s legacy still influences members.

“He’s the one we look up to,” said Williams, a junior at WSU said. “He’s a role model for us.”

Schneikart-Luebbe said Zach was memorable because of his love for WSU.

Tim Mesch said he always thought it was strange that Zach wanted to go to WSU, a place so far from his home in Denver.

“He walked on this campus and thought, ‘This is it,’” Tim said. “The campus was gorgeous and he said, ‘I just feel at home here.’ This is a place where he was touched by so many people that inspired him to go in so many directions. [Now] part of our heart is here.”