According to his classmates and teachers, the world lost a bright, creative and humorous mind with the death of Kevin Rossell, ‘14, on Jan. 23.
Rossell died after a “long and valiant battle with mental illness,” according to an email sent to the SCDS community by head of high school Brooke Wells.
“He had this brilliance behind him that I think a lot of people would covet,” David Myers, ‘14, said.
A fitting example of Rossell’s love for knowledge is when he took the AP European History exam, despite its not counting toward credit at Harvey Mudd, his future college.
Nevertheless, he got a 5, the highest possible score.
“The fact that he was willing to undergo the trials and travails of getting ready for this and then sitting down for three hours and doing it, just for his love of history and to see how he could do, was heartwarming,” Daniel Neukom, the teacher of the class, said.
Members of the community will support Rossell’s family (including his brother, junior Andrew) at a memorial service on Wednesday, Feb. 8, at Mount Vernon Memorial Park (8201 Greenback Lane, Fair Oaks) at 3 p.m. A reception follows at 4 p.m.
Troy Hoddick, ‘14, said Rossell rarely worried about his grades, not only because he easily got straight As, but because he enjoyed learning. He said Rossell never seemed to be pressured by anyone to do well, even though he took five AP classes his senior year and four his junior year.
“He excelled because he loved to learn, create and understand,” Hoddick said.
“I remember he became so obsessed with computer programming (that) in a semester he designed and completed a working game engine.
“I don’t say these seemingly extraordinary statements in exaggeration – the fact of the matter is that Kevin was an exceptional individual.”
His intelligence also benefited other students.
Jaspreet Gill, ‘15, who met Rossell in physics and creative writing classes when Rossell was a sophomore, said Rossell always knew how to help him with any problems he didn’t understand.
But his skills stretched beyond STEM subjects.
Rossell was also the literary editor of The Glass Knife, the high-school literary magazine, during his junior and senior years.
“Many people found this perplexing, as they thought of him as a math and science guy,” adviser Joanne Melinson said.
“But Kevin was an everything guy.”
She said that’s why he won not only a science award at the high-school awards ceremony, but also the music award and the Alice and Herbert Matthews Creative Writing award for his work in English teacher Ron Bell’s creative writing class and his dedication to The Glass Knife.
Melinson called Rossell the “calm center” of the literary department.
“(He) was a quiet foil to Taylor (Oeschger’s, ‘13) bubbliness, putting up with Jaspreet (Gill), Zoë (Bowlus, ‘16) and Jacob (Durante’s, ‘16) bickering and affectionate teasing,” Melinson said.
“Kevin was such a good sport, most of the time laughing through it or sighing and rolling his eyes. Even if you couldn’t hear his low-pitched laugh, you could see his shoulders shaking from across the room.”
Rossell was also a gifted alto-saxophone player, going to Capitol Section Honor Band three years in a row – every year after he enrolled at Country Day as a sophomore.
Band teacher Bob Ratcliff said that Rossell seemed more interested in the music than the instrument, although he was an “impeccable” player.
Honor Band was less than one week long, and rehearsals were during the school day, which got Rossell out of classes. So the two would go out to lunch together and talk.
Ratcliff also gave Rossell private lessons and said Rossell wanted to study classical music, which was uncommon for a saxophone player.
He acknowledged that Rossell was quiet, but Ratcliff knew he had a sense of humor and strived to bring it out of him during lessons.
“Near the end of every lesson, I told him, ‘At the next lesson, I want you to come in and tell me a joke,’” Ratcliff said. “I always started my lesson with some sort of random joke.
“And he would laugh; he had a funny laugh. He had a kind of soft snicker, and he had a booming laugh.”
Ratcliff always asked Rossell if he had a joke, with no reply, until finally he did.
“When he said it, it was the nerdiest science joke I’d ever heard,” Ratcliff said.
“I thought about it, and I started laughing, and I thought, ‘Exactly! That’s Kevin; that’s the joke he needs to tell!’”
However, Rossell’s friends were quite familiar with his quirky sense of humor.
“He appeared reserved to those who didn’t know him, but when he laughed, he opened himself up to us and gave us a true sense of his unbridled joy,” Hoddick said.
“He was humorous in his own way,” Gill said. “He was always quiet, but he would crack the best jokes every now and then to people he really knew.”
Grant Quattlebaum, ‘14, said that he and Rossell had similar senses of humor.
“There was a number of times where I would say something, and Kevin would be the only person who found it funny,” he said.
“I appreciated that.”
Gill said that Rossell also had an “iconic” disappointed sigh that came out whenever Gill did something stupid.
Moments like those often happened in Quattlebaum’s Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) club.
“I remember when one of my characters died, and I introduced a new one who acted somewhat like the old one, and he was just like, ‘Oh no, this one’s like him!’” Gill said.
One of Rossell’s hobbies was playing the D&D board game, which he and his friends would play in the library’s Quiet Room.
“I cherished the little sparks of creativity that came out when we played D&D,” Myers said.
“He would be quiet, saying ‘Nah,’ ‘Yeah,’ and a little sigh or a chuckle to go along with it. But then out of nowhere there’d be this grand plan he came up with, blowing us away.”
Despite Rossell’s reserved nature, he was well-liked in the community. He was even asked to be one of the judges of the infamous lip-sync battles at Rockvember Fest.
“He was simultaneously humble and immensely brilliant,” Hoddick said.
And when Rossell was in band during his senior year, everybody loved him, Ratcliff said.
“Every time Kevin would come into class, (former student Emily Berke) would be like, ‘Kevin! I love Kevin!’” Ratcliff said.
“And she’d come up to him and put her arms around him while he’d just stand there. (Eventually) he’d get a small grin on his face.”
Memories will be shared by Ratcliff, physics and math teacher Glenn Mangold and others at the memorial service at Mount Vernon Memorial Park.
And along with the fun memories will be a sense of what the SCDS community has lost.
“You’re probably thinking about ‘When I go to college…; when I graduate college…,’ thinking that far ahead, and here’s a guy that doesn’t get that far,” Neukom said.
Gill said that losing Rossell has forced him to think much more about death itself.
“Ever since I joined the Army, I’ve subconsciously shoved the idea of death aside,” Gill said. “I’ve accepted that it happens to everyone, that at some point it will happen to my men, my friends, even me.
“It still hit me like a truck.
“It’s hard to imagine I won’t ever see him, hear him or play a video game online with him again.”
Hoddick compared Rossell’s death to mathematician and computer-scientist Alan Turing’s in 1954.
“While not necessarily under the same circumstances, I see similarities,” he said. “The difference is that the world got to both witness and enjoy the remarkable achievements of Alan Turing before his death.
“Comparing Kevin to Turing may appear to many as a stretch, although I’m sure many that knew the extent of Kevin’s intelligence will understand this comparison.
“Regardless, only one thing is certain; I sure as hell wish that Kevin would have had the chance to prove me right or wrong. The truth is the world will never know exactly what it lost that day. But I suspect it lost a great deal indeed.