Columbia College awards veteran degree posthumously

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COLUMBIA - Columbia College had a special moment during the graduation ceremony Saturday to honor a student who died in a car crash.

Business management student Andrew Helmreich, 28, died in late October, just before completing his degree. The college awarded his family with a diploma to recognize his efforts. His family said they don’t know how to thank the college.

“For them to do this and to honor my brother, it means more than they will ever know,” his sister, Lauren Helmreich, said.

Lauren Helmreich said her brother worked hard for his degree and his family is proud to celebrate his accomplishments through their grief.

“It’s tragic to lose him. It was seven days after his 28th birthday and it’s just unimaginable,” she said. “The pain is really raw, but we’re here today to honor him and I can’t be more proud of the person that he was.”

Andrew Helmreich served in the United States Army for five years. He completed a tour of Afghanistan in 2014. He joined a group for student veterans when he enrolled in Columbia College.

“He decided to get involved in our student veterans club and to help take it to another level, and we were really excited to see Andrew help invigorate our student veterans,” said Keith Glindemann, director of veterans services.

Glindemann said leaders like Andrew Helmreich make a big difference in the academic success of other veterans.

“Many of these students are transitioning from combat to the classroom. They’ve had a little different experience than some of their peers who are just entering in through the traditional route,” Glindemann said. “Knowing that somebody else can help guide them and pull them in the right direction can make them not feel so alone.”

Lauren Helmreich said after he returned from service, he brother was more determined to help the family business, Downtown Appliance. She said he became more dedicated to his relationships as well.

“When he came back home, it was the closest we’ve ever been,” Lauren Helmreich said. “We would go out to dinner, and we would spend time together all the time and just hang out and have fun. I mean we had literally become best friends.”

Glindemann said Andrew Helmreich offered friendship to anyone.

“It’s amazing that in his 28 short years, he touched so many people,” Glindemann said. “That’s why I work in veterans education because of students like him.”