Turning Tragedy into a Meaningful Legacy

Kari Swartz Dilloo, a 1997 graduate of the UM School of Business Administration, shares how the community came together to remember her nephew Kole Swartz, a Griz football player who died this spring, and helped the family create a scholarship in his name.

Kole SwartzMy nephew, Kole Swartz, was born in Missoula to my brother Sean and his wife, Jennifer, when I was a sophomore at UM. All of us in the family fell instantly in love with this sweet, big boy, who tipped the scales at nearly 10 pounds at birth. Over the next 19 years, Kole maintained his large size and sweetness, growing into a handsome, 6’5” young man with a larger-than-life personality that filled up every room he entered. Kole had realized his life-long dream of joining the Griz football team as a redshirt freshman defensive end when the unthinkable happened – he died on March 15th from an accidental discharge of a firearm.  

Kole’s death is still difficult to comprehend and his absence has forever changed our family and everyone who knew and loved him. Thanks to hundreds of donations big and small from family, friends and the Missoula-area community over those first painful weeks, we raised well over the $25,000 minimum needed to create an annual scholarship in Kole’s name.  The Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship celebrates Kole’s life and passion for football by enabling other kids just like him to realize their dreams at UM. The criteria rewards hard-working football players like Kole who are native Montanans and play a defensive position. Just two months after Kole’s passing, Evan Epperly, Kole’s roommate and teammate, received the first scholarship.

Today, the momentum continues for the Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship. The Griz football team added Kole’s initials, KS, to their helmets this season. Kole’s friend, Marlee Sandry, organized a charity golf scramble to raise money for the scholarship.  There have been countless other acts of generosity, kindness and remembrance that honor Kole and show us that our sweet, big boy will continue to live on in the hearts and minds of many – and that is the greatest solace possible.

To support the Kole Swartz Legacy Scholarship, visit SupportUM.org/athletics.