On a Tuesday during Winter 2019, Brenden Nichols invited his friend, Megan Milburn, to hike the ‘P,’ a popular landmark on campus just beyond the South Mountain residence halls.
“He was just saying, ‘Megs, we have to go hike the P right now, we have to go,’” business sophomore Milburn said.
Nichols was so excited and persistent about the hike that she decided to ditch her laundry and go with him, she said. It began to hail as they hiked up, but they continued to hike past the ‘P’ until it began to snow on them.
“It was just such a fun moment because I wouldn’t have been there if he didn’t convince me to do it. He just got me so excited and put me in such a happy mindset,” Milburn said. “I’m so glad we had that moment to just experience the snow while looking over the whole beautiful campus. I was just in awe.”
Snow is one of those beauties you don’t find too often in San Luis Obispo. The same can be said about Nichols; he was just one of those people you don’t meet everyday.
“How I would describe him is the best friend anyone could have.”
Nichols was originally from Orangevale Calif., where he attended Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks. Nichols passed away in his apartment Sunday, Nov. 10. The cause of death is not being released at this time, according to the San Luis Obispo County Coroner. He was entering his fall quarter of his sophomore year, studying agricultural business.
A sense of adventure was at the top of the list when describing Nichols. His ambitious energy was seen through his love of volleyball, as well as his pastimes spent surfing and hiking. He even could be found singing along to the show ‘Victorious.’
But above all, Nichols was awesome – a word he absolutely loved to use.
“I just vividly remember Brenden being like ‘Guys, this is awesome. This is that best day ever! It’s such a beautiful day to have a great day’,” psychology sophomore Alexis Eliopoulos said.
Eliopoulos recalled a road trip to Sacramento this past summer with Nichols along with a group of their close friends that had formed in college. She was a good friend of Nichols, along with many whose lives he touched in such a short time just at Cal Poly.
“We met first week of school, and it was really from that moment on we spent like every day together,” business sophomore Katherine Marotto said. ”We lived life side by side, all the good moments and the hard ones too.”
Marotto met Nichols during Week of Welcome (WOW) and lived downstairs from him in Yosemite Tower 5.
“I would say Brenden’s like my first friend, and my best friend,” Marotto said. “He’s really the first one to show me unconditional love in a pure friendship, and that someone my age could be that happy for my successes and mourn my losses. He’s just so all in for me. He’s sort of that best friend-brother role.”
From the beginning of his time as a Mustang, Nichols’ positive impact radiated in his orientation group.
“Brenden was one of the few that was very open and encouraged that inclusive environment, just by being himself,” Ryan McMullen said.
McMullen, one of Nichols’s WOW leaders, said he noticed that Nichols was a unique individual right away, always able to include everyone, even in such a diverse group of freshmen.
“Even when everyone else left, he’d still be there, willing to participate in whatever activities we had planned, even if they were boring bored games,” McMullen said.
He said Nichols was genuine and truly embodied the WOW philosophy of ‘dropping his cool card’ during the week.
“I speak on behalf of my whole WOW group when I say he was one of the most positive, fun, and energetic people in our group and he got along with everybody,” McMullen said.
This fall, Nichols led his own WOW group with Milburn.
“How I would describe him is the best friend anyone could have,” Milburn said. “The best ‘co’ for WOW, and overall just such a positive and enthusiastic person.”
“Looking back, the only things I think about him are just awesome things. He’s just always had the best spirit, he always put a smile on my face, he always made me laugh and he always just made me feel awesome,” Milburn said.
Nichols’ ability to carry his positive energy transitioned well to deep talks during WOW, such as the Awareness Gallery, Milburn said, where he was able to create a safe environment for their group of WOWies.
“During the week and just in his lifetime, he always made everyone feel so special and so important, and just lifted everyone’s spirits,” Milburn said.
Carson Mullarkey, a civil engineering sophomore at Cal Poly, attended high school with Nichols and remembered his love for water sports as well as time with his friends.
“Any time that everyone could get together, like all of his friends, he would just be so happy,” Mullarkey said. “If there was ever one person missing, he’d just be like, ‘What the heck? Where are they? We need to get them here like right now, we need to be together.’ He did such a good job of bringing all his friends closer together it was actually pretty amazing.”
Nichols is also remembered for his love of music.
“I definitely feel closest to him when I’m listening to music,” Marotto said. “He loves to dance, and his favorite, favorite thing was just seeing me happy. Like, if [he saw me] across the room dancing or having a good time his face would really light up like his whole week was made.”
“Talk Too Much” by Coin and “Come on Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners were some of Nichols favorite songs, Marotto said.
Business sophomore Isabella Dossola went on the road trip to Sacramento this summer and remembered Nichols to have an appreciation for the little things in life.
“When I think of Brenden I think of someone who has the little boy alive so well in him,” Dossola said. “I took him to The Dollar Store and he was so excited about the idea that everything was a dollar in The Dollar Store.”
Nichols’ aunt, Megan Kincheloe, set up a GoFundMe for Brenden’s family with a goal of $30,000 which was met in less than 24 hours. Just five days later, that number reached $47,548.
Whether you knew him from a class, danced with him in the dorm, or just simply passed him on campus, Nichols was someone who touched the lives of many and who will not be forgotten.
Cal Poly will host a Celebration of Life for Nichols on Monday, Nov. 18 at 4 p.m. in the Advanced Technology Lab, building 7.
“I think the biggest joy was living life alongside someone who loved life so much and loved me so much.”
“I think the biggest joy was living life alongside someone who loved life so much and loved me so much,” Marotto said. “Even if you didn’t know him, you can probably carry on his spirit by loving your life.”
“There was so much that the world has lost with him, but so much that still can be shared because of his spirit,” Dossola said. “Living the way he wanted to live was living like everyday was the best day ever.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include that the cause of death is not being released.