Bench installed on waterfront in memory of Austin Vonckx

A new bench has been installed at the FGCU waterfront to honor the memory of a young Eagle.

Austin Vonckx, a 19-year-old freshman, died Sept. 14, 2014, at his dorm in South Village.

“He went paddle boarding to the lake that day with two girls he called supermodels, and that was his last sentence,” said Brenda Vonckx, Austin’s mother.

According to Mrs. Vonckx, the lake was a big reason why he chose to attend FGCU, so the bench is “a great tribute and an interesting way to keep his memory alive.”

Austin Vonckx.
Austin Vonckx.

“I know he would be so honored,” Mrs. Vonckx said. “He grew up on a lake — he was drawn to it.”

Austin Vonckx was a victim of sudden death from viral myocarditis. His mother said the medical examiner told her it is a common virus that most people process as a cold, and attacked his heart with no signs or symptoms.

“More than anything, I want people to know that Austin’s death was not drug- or alcohol-related,” Mrs. Vonckx said. “It was a virus that he didn’t even know he had.”

Judith Cassidy, senior director of advancement, says this is the second time FGCU has installed a bench in honor of a student’s memory.

“A bench was also installed for Luka Balenovic, who died in Miami in March 2013,” Cassidy said.

“It’s a great way to honor (Vonckx’s) memory since he spent his last day there, and for his family to remember him,” Cassidy said.

According to Cassidy, the benches are made up of recycled materials and were funded by the students’ families and friends. “We had to raise $20,000, and it took up until March to raise the money,” Mrs. Vonckx said.

The bench was set behind Building K in North Lake Village, and it overlooks the waterfront. A brick has been laid outside of the Cohen Center in Austin’s memory as well. On the one-year anniversary of Austin’s death, a balloon release that includes biodegradable “flying doves” is being planned.

“As much as I miss him, I take a lot of comfort in knowing how happy he was at FGCU, and I’m grateful for the good friends he made in his short time there,” Vonckx said. “He was right where he wanted to be; I don’t think I could have scripted a better last day, week or month for him.”