Community reflects on life of David Shankles

Jessie Goodson, Campus Carrier News Editor

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David Shankles

On Oct. 10, the Berry community faced the loss of a classmate, athlete and friend. David Shankles, a sophomore pre-nursing major, was involved in many things on campus and in the community. He was known to pour himself fully into whatever he was doing and live life to the fullest. 

Shankles’ family joined Berry on Oct. 19 for a memorial service in the College Chapel. Chaplain Jonathan Huggins began the service with scripture and prayer, followed by testimonies from two of Shankles closest friends. 

“David’s life and death has reminded us that no matter where our differences are here at Berry, we share a common life, and we share a common wonderful, but fragile humanity,” Huggins said. “That’s something that unites all of us.” 

Ryan Walker, a senior from Shankles’ hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., ran track, cross country and worked in the theatre department with him in high school. They continued their friendship through their time at Berry.

“His presence on this campus was very greatly felt, just as much as it was at home,” Walker said.

Walker told a story about he and Shankles running at a track meet against higher ranked runners, and said that Shankles ran the first lap as hard as he could, because he didn’t know what else to do. He described how much that race exemplified who Shankles was.

“He lived fully and loved others deeply with the same abandon that he ran that first lap,” Walker said. “He never hesitated to give what he had.”

One of Shankles’ teammates and friends, sophomore Parker Roberts, also spoke at the service. Roberts spoke about his memories of Shankles on campus together.

“He ran at life wholeheartedly and with abandon, and he enjoyed every moment and shared happiness with those around him,” Roberts said.

Roberts told the “snake story.” While running on a trail with their team, Shankles picked up a king snake and wrapped it around his arm, scaring his teammates and other runners around him. Roberts said the story described Shankles’ fun and unique personality. 

“David was my teammate, friend, mentor and brother, and much more than I can describe with words,” Roberts said. “I will miss him the rest of my life, but I have faith that David is experiencing joy right now that we can’t quite comprehend, and that we will absolutely see him again one day soon.”

Shankles parents and one of his brothers attended the service. His mother, Karen Shankles, spoke. She described an audio file of Shankles speaking that she received. He had been preparing a talk to give to minister to high school students. 

In the recording, Shankles spoke from the book of John, and talked about how God has plans for everything. He ended it with, “God has a plan for where you’re going to be and what you’re going to be doing, so I hope that’s some comfort to you.” His mother said she felt that would be of comfort to Berry in this time. 

“God was with him through all of it, when he woke up that morning, when he went to work out, when he came back to the dorm, when he walked into the room and closed that door,” Shankles (Karen) said. “Jesus was there, every step, every breath. It was just David’s time.”

Dean of Students Debbie Heida ended the memorial service by mentioning some of the most recent of Berry’s losses, including Cathy Graham earlier this semester and Peter Lawler over the summer, but also describing the impactful loss of Shankles.

“David was Berry as he knew and exemplified that relationships are at the heart of this place,” Heida said. 

Heida talked about how “being Berry” has been seen across campus in the previous weeks and how the community has come together during sorrow and grief. 

“Berry College feels a little less right now because of David’s death, but because of his life, his impact will live on through his inspiration, faith and care of others,” Heida said.

When speaking of the memorial service, President Steven R. Briggs talked about the reaction from the Berry community.

“It’s something you hope never happens,” Briggs said. “But it’s interesting to watch how the campus responds. Amidst all the sadness and grief, there is some hope and joy, the way you hope a memorial service would be. You can see the way people strengthen one another.”

The next few weeks following Shankles’ death and the memorial were spent telling stories, sharing memories and celebrating his life. Sophomore Griffin Davis is also from Knoxville, and met Shankles in the third grade. Since then, they have been close friends, and started their first year of college at Berry as roommates. 

“He was super goofy, super funny, easy going,” Davis said. “He didn’t really have any obsession with material things.”

Davis talked about his time with Shankles and the many things they were involved in together. From campus events, West Rome Baptist Church, Young Life, College Life (college equivalent to Young Life) to grocery store runs for pop tarts, the two of them shared many memories. 

“It was the little things with him that made life so sweet,” Davis said.

When talking about the things Shankles was passionate about, Davis said that faith was a large part of his life. 

“As a brother in Christ, it’s nice to have somebody that pushes you in your faith and pushes you to spend time with the Lord, and he was that for me,” Davis said.

This is the first time Davis has experienced a loss this closely. He said that this is a new reality that he is still getting used to, but he finds comfort in knowing that he will see Shankles again one day soon. 

“I hope that we continue to celebrate David and his life, and that his life continues to have meaning,” Davis said. “His death has meaning, and that people can see that his legacy would be that if you ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,’ that this is not the end. This is not the end for you. I hope people can take comfort in that, and use David’s death to kind of reflect on that.”

Shankles was known for his service-motivated lifestyle. He did things for others without many people even knowing. Shankles volunteered at a homeless shelter while at Berry, but not many people knew about it. Sophomore Lori Beaird, a close friend of Shankles, met him on their first day of college and has seen first-hand Shankles’ life of service.

“His life displayed the life that I think all of us want to live, and to be a spirit of grace and service and joy,” Beaird said.

Beaird shared many memories with Shankles and said that his death, in a way made her rethink her way of living. She said that everyone should live life intentionally and full of love, like Shankles did.

Not only was Shankles involved in academics, athletics and campus life, but also in ministry with Young Life, a Christian organization that ministers to high school students through weekly gatherings and events.

“Going through Young Life with him and seeing his relationship with God blossom, and then eventually seeing him impact high school kids, was just mind-blowing,” sophomore Kim Lince, one of Shankles’ close friends, said. 

Lince and Shankles were involved in Young Life and many other things together, since their first day of college. Lince described Shankles as the “crazy dancing kid with messy hair and a dorky smile,” and said that if he were to be remembered by one word, it would be “happy.” 

Lince said the funeral was full of bright flowers, funny stories and praise and worship songs. Their large friend group came together afterward to be with each other and celebrate his life. 

“With God’s love holding us all together, with our love holding us all together, it just really sets your soul on fire and makes you get up and do dumb chicken dances together and be happy together,” Lince said.

Junior Jennifer Breast, Shankles’ friend and Young Life group leader, talked about Shankles’ lively personality and mentorship with high school students. Shankles drove students to and from Young Life and stayed involved in events and gatherings as much as he could. 

“He was a great friend, so supportive and very kind to everyone that he met,” Breast said.

Shankles’ bright personality, funny jokes, amazing dance moves and faith-driven presence will be heavily missed in Berry’s community. His life will continue to be celebrated for years to come.

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