A transfer student from West Point Academy, Aaron Wernimont came to Wartburg to study biology, with dreams of becoming an eye doctor. At Wartburg, he became a two-time national wrestling champion, three-time All-American, and three-time Academic All-American. He won his final 80 collegiate matches, including the 157-pound national titles in 2008 and 2009. After graduation, he and his wife, Kahri Heinemann Wernimont ’10, settled in Bloomington, Ind., where he pursued an optometry degree at the University of Indiana.

In 2012, Aaron died suddenly at the age of 26. His death shook the Wartburg community, especially those within the wrestling program. “Aaron lived every day to the fullest,” said Eric Keller, Wartburg’s current head wrestling coach who helped coach Aaron as a student. “He really, really enjoyed life. You never saw him without a smile. It was one of the many things I learned from him.”

Aaron enjoyed sharing his faith and wanted everyone to experience the joy and contentment of loving Christ. In his memory, a group of his close friends created the Aaron Wernimont Inspiration Fund, which has generated more than $100,000. To date, the foundation has sent more than 100 Bibles to China, awarded nine scholarships to young adults, and established three endowed scholarships.

In 2014, Aaron was featured posthumously on the Sportsmanship-Character Poster distributed by the Iowa High School Athletic Association, which usually features Division I college athletes. The organization chose Aaron because he modeled two core values: sportsmanship and citizenship. “Although his life ended way too early, we believe Aaron’s story provides inspiration and encouragement to today’s students,” said Alan Beste, assistant executive director at the IHSAA.