Iowa State student remembered as a ‘gentle giant’ and positive uplifter


Jeremy Onyango receives his Triangle fraternity pin. Courtesy of Quinn Moran.

With a large build and defined muscles from head-to-toe, Jeremy Onyango would often intimidate people who saw him for the first time. But anyone who spoke to him would always immediately realize his welcoming nature and uplifting attitude.

Jacob DeVito, a senior studying actuarial science and president of the ISU weightlifting club, characterized him as a “gentle giant.”

Jeremy Onyango was a senior studying physics from Evergreen, Illinois. He passed away unexpectedly Oct. 25.

Onyango was a member of Triangle fraternity and the weightlifting club. He also worked at Cy’s Roost.

Jeremy Onyango as a groomsman for Triangle Brother Alex Faucz. Courtesy of Quinn Moran.

When Piotr Starzec, a sophomore studying civil engineering and Onyango’s co-worker, met Onyango through the weightlifting club, the first thing he noticed was Onyango’s positive attitude.

“He had a way of lighting up a room when he walked into it and uplifting other people,” DeVito said. “He had that positive, contagious attitude that just kind of changed the atmosphere.”

Onyango constantly had a smile on his face and had a laugh that could be heard across the room.

“He wasn’t very shy with his laugh,” DeVito said. “He was very loud and proud with it, and it was just one of those contagious laughs where you heard him laugh and you wanted to start laughing too.”

Onyango spent much of his time in the gym. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, DeVito saw Onyango in the gym every day, and they would smile at each other through their masks.

“It was very evident [weightlifting] was kind of something he just had a passion for,” DeVito said. “He had a physique that, first of all, didn’t come overnight, and, second of all, didn’t come easily. It was very evident that he was extremely dedicated to what he was doing.”

Onyango enjoyed sharing his love for weightlifting with others. He discussed lifting techniques with his co-workers at Cy’s Roost and took groups of his Triangle brothers to the gym and taught them how to lift.

Jeremy Onyango lifts weights at the gym during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy of Quinn Moran.

The dedication Onyango showed in the gym also applied to other areas of his life. Starzec recalls that Onyango always planned everything ahead of time and found a way for his plans to come together.

“He would set a goal, and he would do whatever the hell he had to do to get there,” DeVito said. “I’ve almost never seen him complain about anything. He’d show up and get it done.”

Despite Onyango’s ongoing successes with weightlifting, he was continually humble and vulnerable with those around him. He never shied away from asking others for advice with a squat even if they were less experienced.

“Even though he had this massive frame on him and so much to show for the work he put in, he never demonstrated that he thought he was better than anybody else,” DeVito said.

In his free time, Onyango enjoyed watching anime and playing board games. He and other members of Triangle frequently played Dungeons & Dragons together.

“The kind of stuff he was into just completely blows you out of the water when you find out,” DeVito said. “Most big, muscled up guys aren’t playing Dungeons & Dragons with their friends after the gym.”

Onyango also loved to meet new people and build his personal relationships. He enjoyed social environments and wanted to be everyone’s friend.

“Even if he didn’t know you, he’d greet you as if he did with that big smile,” DeVito said. “He was always kind to you and would talk to you like you were a human being.”

Onyango always asked DeVito about his personal life and would genuinely listen to the conversations they shared. If DeVito mentioned something in a previous conversation, Onyango would ask about it the next time they crossed paths.

Onyango would also ask Starzec how he was doing at work and would offer to help him with his classwork.

“He had the same impact on everybody he met of just being a role model for how we should act towards each other and the kind of attitude that we should have,” DeVito said.

ISU’s Triangle chapter held a memorial service for Onyango in their home Oct. 29. The line to sign the guest book went out the back door, and there were not enough seats for everyone in attendance, according to their Instagram.

“Jeremy was a true friend to every member of Triangle, whether you knew him for years or met him for only a few minutes,” ISU Triangle wrote in an email. “While we mourn his loss, we are committed to honoring his memory as a chapter by exuding the kindness he shared each and every day.”

Several people have left memories and photos on Onyango’s online obituary and more than 70 people have electronically lit a candle in his memory.

Donations to support the Onyango family can be made on the Triangle fraternity website.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to exclude a quote from Starzec.