Building Our Future
Author: Katrina Ratzlaff
Posted: January 19, 2005

Honoring a gentle warrior

David Weisenburg

Intelligent, honorable, compassionate, and respected.

That’s how those who knew him remember David Weisenburg. The energetic 26-year-old filled his life with the people and work that mattered to him most: his family, his education at Portland State, a promising business career, mentoring others, and serving his country. On September 13, 2004, the young staff sergeant, described by his father as “a gentle warrior,” died in a roadside bombing while serving with his Oregon National Guard unit in Taji, Iraq.

David will also be remembered by people who never met him, thanks to Portland businessman Barry Schlesinger. He and his brothers, Paul and Mark, have established the David Weisenburg Memorial Scholarship to assist PSU students with financial need. It was an easy decision for Schlesinger and his family, who also fund a scholarship at PSU in memory of their parents.

Building Our Future logo“I noticed right away that the kid had a spark,” he recalls. David started out with Schlesinger’s company as a restaurant parking valet, but advanced quickly to an assistant operations manager role at StarPark. “David had so many qualities that we don’t see as much anymore in our society. Caring for fellow humans, courtesy, responsibility, compassion—we lost a lot when we lost him.”

The son of Jim and Marilyn Weisenburg, David grew up in Portland with twin brothers Jason and Daniel and sister Elizabeth. A swimmer and a soccer and tenor sax player throughout his teens, he joined the Army after graduating from Benson Polytechnic High School in 1996. After four years of service that took him to Kuwait and Korea, David returned to Portland to start his college education at PSU and begin building a career.

David also found time to serve as assistant coach of the St. Mary’s Academy swim team. “He was a brave man,” says team coach and lifelong friend Liane Brakke-Pound. “He agreed to work with me and 60 teenage girls.” His sense of fun quickly endeared him to the team. “The first few days at practice he kept changing his name—Chris, then Kevin, then Bob. The girls just decided to name him Fernando. He put up with it, he even had it printed on the back of his sweatshirts.” The team is dedicating its 2004-2005 season to “Fernando.”

Student David Weisenburg was a friend to children both at home and in Iraq, where he died in September.David’s playful spirit and kind-heartedness with the St. Mary’s team is just another example of why Schlesinger and his brothers established the memorial scholarship. The endowed fund also advances a top priority of the University’s Building Our Future campaign. PSU serves more students with high financial need than any other university in Oregon. Tuition, books, and living expenses can top $13,000 per year; if a student also has family to support, this figure can skyrocket. Over 60 percent of PSU students work 16 to 35 hours each week in addition to tackling a full academic schedule. Approximately 70 percent receive financial aid—primarily loans. If the only aid a low-income student can procure is loans, often the only alternative is to work more—not a prescription for academic success. Evidence shows a direct correlation between the hours a student works and grade averages—earn more, learn less.

Schlesinger wants the Weisenburg Scholarship to accomplish two things. “You know, humans are built to withstand just about anything life throws at us—we’re tough, we endure—but we’re not programmed to lose our kids. I hope this scholarship helps give David’s parents some peace, and the comfort of knowing that something good is continuing in his name. Second, I hope the scholarship affords a bright young person who doesn’t have a lot of financial resources the opportunity to go to college—so that they can make life better for themselves and others.”

Just like David did.