Zuzu Verk remembered at Sul Ross memorial

ALPINE Hundreds of Big Bend-area residents joined the family, friends and mentors of Sul Ross State University student Zuzu Verk at the new Sul Ross outdoor amphitheater Thursday evening to remember the life of the late natural resource management student.
The crowd that had gathered, each wearing an article of green clothing or a green ribbon pinned to their shirts, lined up at the entrance to the amphitheater to honor Verk by writing well wishes on sheets of paper as music from The Beatles (Verk’s favorite group) and Bob Dylan welcomed them to their seats.
Verk’s body was found a week ago in a remote area near Alpine after having been missing since October 12, 2016.
Her boyfriend Robert Fabian and his friend Chris Estrada have been charged with second-degree felony tampering with evidence related to concealing a human corpse.
The venue, Sul Ross President Bill Kibbler told the audience, was chosen by the family, as Verk was an avid outdoorswoman who loved the landscape and vistas of the West Texas desert.
“Zuzu was drawn to the majesty and wonders of this land and chose to live and work and study with others who also love this place,” he said, extolling the friendly atmosphere of the tight-knit community.
As the sun sank behind the Twin Sisters peaks, a photo of Verk, in which the young, blonde-haired woman is smiling into the camera, her face framed at an angle, began to show on a large white screen on stage.
Through the grief and sorrow of Zuzu’s death, Alpine Police Department Chaplain Ray Bullock said, her life should be used as an opportunity to learn.
“If we had our way this evening, we would whisk you up as her family and we would take you away from here. We would take you away from the pain and the grief, but we can’t,” he said, adding that though we must all go on, we should take lessons from Verk’s love of life. “I want us to know hers is a wonderful life. Each breath of her life was enjoyed.”
Several of Verk’s classmates also took to the podium to speak of their experiences with Verk, in and out of the classroom; each talking of her vitality, intelligence, and altruistic nature.
“”I believe she was on a path to enlightenment and was about to become a self-actualized person,” classmate Mike Black said. “My wife said ‘Zuzu has a light and I believe she will shine on us forever,’ and I believe it.”
Zuzu’s propensity to also make friends quickly reverberated with April Crowder, who met Verk on the first day of class.
“She was the type of person who would take you under her wing and nurture you,” she said. “I will never forget how caring she was. She will live on in all of our memories.”
Bonnie Warnock, professor and chair of the Natural Resource Management Department, also spoke of Verk’s ability to shine in the classroom and in the field.
Alpine Police Officer Aaron Villanueva, who was first to respond to Verk’s disappearance, also spoke to the audience.
“When I was asked to speak, I did the first thing I always do when I’m not sure how to do something and Googled it,” he said to light laughter from the audience. “But I know it’s not good enough for Zuzu.”
Verk’s disappearance, he said, has led the city to embrace each other and the Verk family as their own.
“We all hugged our kids a littler harder and little tighter. Once the town got over the initial shock, the ‘Zuzu effect’ kicked in,” he said, using a term coined on social media which has been used to describe the propensity of the community to band together in a time of need.
For Fort Davis State Park superintendent Karen Sulewski, Verk’s personality and willingness to take on any duties quickly made her shine, leading to Verk’s internship at the park.
“I was so struck with her charm, politeness, and radiance, just through [speaking with her on] the phone,” Sulewski said, explaining that her decision was made almost instantaneously after interviewing many other prospects.
Though she left the mortal coil early, Sulewski said, Verk seemed ageless.
“In her 22 years, she lived an entire life,” she said.
Glenn Verk, Zuzu’s father, addressed the audience while flanked by Zuzu’s brother Milo and her mother Lori with good humor and fond memories of his late daughter. Often smiling and cracking jokes, he spoke of Zuzu’s intellect and penchant for friendliness, sassiness, and having fun.
Zuzu, who Mr. Verk said got her name from the Frank Capra Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, was a track athlete in high school, an award-winning artist, and sang in the choir.
“Growing up, she excelled in anything and everything she set her mind to,” he said.
It was her ability to connect with others, however, which really set her apart.
“No one is poor if you have friends,” he said. “Zuzu is the richest person I know.”
Zuzu, he said, will always be remembered.
“We did find her,” he said, alluding to #findzuzu; a social media hashtag used to spread the word of her disappearance. “It’s my prayer that we continue finding Zuzu in our hearts always and forever.”
The memorial service concluded with a slideshow spanning Verk’s life set to two of her favorite songs: The Beatles’ “There Are Places (I Remember)” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
A scholarship fund has also been set up in the memory of Verk, in which the family has asked for donations in lieu of flowers. Donations can be made to:
Zuzu Verk Memorial Scholarship Fund in Natural Resource ManagementC/O SRSU Office of External AffairsPO Box C-114Alpine, TX 79832432.837.8892.
The family has also asked that additional funds be donated to:
Borderlands Research Institute for Natural Resource ManagementLouis A. Harveson, Ph.D.Dan Allen Hughes, Jr. Endowed DirectorP.O. Box C-21Sul Ross State UniversityAlpine, TX 79832432.837.8225