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Scholarships established in memory of recent fire victims

May 20, 2011 : Mitzi Bible, Ron Brown/Liberty University News Service

Two scholarships have been set up at Liberty University this week to honor the lives of former students who died recently in two separate apartment fires off campus.

Aaron and Rachael Horton

Aaron Horton, 24, graduated from Liberty with a history degree in 2007. He and his wife Rachael died in a fire on April 8 at their Lynchburg apartment. The Aaron Horton Scholarship Fund will help eligible students who want to major in history.

“After the tragedy and then the funeral, I was thinking of a way I could honor Aaron,” said his father, Ken Horton. “He worked so hard and his goal was to come back to Liberty to teach. I was thinking it would be nice to have a scholarship so he would be connected to Liberty, as long as there’s a scholarship here.”

Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. met with the Hortons this week and said any scholarship funds collected will be matched by Liberty University.

Aaron Horton had just completed his studies for a master's in Ancient History and Classical Studies from the University of Wales. Barbara Horton said history was her son’s passion.

“He loved studying. He would soak up any knowledge he could. He read all the time … he had a library full of books on ancient history,” she said.

It was an interest that started back in high school. Barbara Horton said when Aaron was a senior, he was looking at a picture on the computer of the Mayan ruins in Mexico and asked her if she thought he’d ever get a chance to visit there one day.

Barbara Horton told her husband, and Aaron’s graduation gift that year was a trip with his father to see the ancient site.

“He had no interest in a beach week or anything like that,” Barbara Horton said. “ … so that was the beginning of it (his passion for history).”

Falwell established a second scholarship for first-semester Liberty student Victor Kwatemba, who died along with his friend, former Liberty student Philemon Abayo Onyango, in a house fire in Lynchburg on May 15. They were both from Kenya. That scholarship will go to a Kenyan student who wants to study at Liberty.

Philemon Onyango
Victor Kwatemba

On Thursday night, more than 100 members of the Lynchburg Kenyan community gathered with Liberty representatives and Kenyan embassy officials who came in from Washington, D.C., to honor both Kwatemba and Onyango at Thomas Road Baptist Church’s Pate Chapel.

Kwatemba, who came to the United States this year and attended Liberty this spring, was remembered as a man “determined to make a difference.”

“We have not only lost a son, we have lost a community treasure,” said Evelyn Cheluget, a representative from the Kenyan embassy.

Kwatemba was a computer engineering major.

Onyango was remembered by friends as a man always willing to help although he “could never be outdanced.”

Onyango, who worked full time at Mail America, last attended Liberty in 2009.

Both men believed in the saving grace fostered by belief in Jesus Christ.

“In talking to friends and family of Victor and Philemon, they made their reservations in Heaven,” said Campus Pastor Dane Emerick, who spoke at the service.

Dr. Jones Kaleli, a Liberty professor, talked about the joy experienced by Kenyan families when they are able to send their young people to college in the United States.

“This is a land of opportunity, where you can become anything you want,” he said. “When death takes two of them, it is very devastating.”

“There is no question that we are one,” said the Rev. Jonathan Falwell, senior pastor of Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty’s vice chancellor for spiritual affairs. “We stand here today as children of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and nothing can separate us, not country, not wars, not nationalities, not color. We worship together, we celebrate together, we feel joy together, and we mourn together … . There is no nation that I would like to be one with than the nation of Kenya.”

Victor Kwatemba and Philemon Onyango were honored in a memorial service in Pate Chapel at Thomas Road Baptist Church on May 19.
  • To donate money for either scholarship fund, contact the University’s Development Office at (800) 543-5309.