Kien Tran had been struggling to make friends during freshman orientation until Christopher Dinkel reached out and invited him to play table tennis.
Dinkel quickly became Tran’s first friend at UCLA, and the two eventually became roommates their second year.
This kindness and enthusiasm are some of the main qualities friends and family remember Dinkel for.
Dinkel, a rising third-year marine biology student, died Aug. 17 in Westwood. His family held a memorial Aug. 24, which around 300 to 400 people attended.
At UCLA, Dinkel was an active member of the sailing and ski teams, and he had been staying in Westwood over the summer to take classes and work as a FITWELL consultant at Bruin Fit. The UCLA sailing team will be holding its own memorial for Dinkel on Sept. 28 in Marina Del Rey.
Kathy Fogarty, Dinkel’s mother, said her son learned to sail during annual visits to Carlyle Lake, Illinois, where Dinkel’s grandfather owned a boat. She said Dinkel went to sailing camp every summer from when he was 10 to 16 years old and always tried his best to become as good a sailor as, if not better than, the other children who had more experience than him.
Fogarty said her son viewed sailing as a source of intellectual challenge and remained driven to become the best sailor he could be when he joined the UCLA sailing team immediately in his first year of college.
However, what Dinkel may have loved even more than sailing were the friends he made along the way, Fogarty said.
Dinkel was elected the UCLA sailing team’s social captain and social media coordinator in 2019. He was always a very enthusiastic and supportive friend who liked bringing people together, said Maddy Kuhn, a rising fourth-year economics student and member of the sailing team.
She said everyone on the team was very close with Dinkel and around 30 of them, including most of the current team and several alumni, attended his memorial.
“Everyone is really sad and shocked,” Kuhn said. “It’s hard because for me, he’s the first friend I’ve lost, and this is only the second memorial I’ve ever been to.”
Tran, a rising third-year psychobiology student, said Dinkel always tried to be friends with people and never judged them. Whenever a new group of friends came over to hang out in their room, Dinkel would always try to make them feel included and comfortable, Tran said.
He said his fondest memories of Dinkel involve participating in simple activities together every day, such as going to the gym, getting meals and going on ski trips.
“He had a lot of dynamics to him,” Tran said. “If you needed him to be critical or serious he could, and if you needed him to be funny or goofy or supportive he could. He was just very adaptable.”
Rick Dinkel, Christopher Dinkel’s father, said his son cared deeply for each and every single one of his friends.
“He could see below the surface of people, and thus people would confide in him, and he would do whatever he could to make things better,” he said. “For that I think he was special, and it was why so many people attended his memorial.”
In addition to his involvement in athletics, Dinkel was also known for his passion for the visual and performing arts.
Fogarty said her son was interested in theater and had performed in every school production throughout all four years of high school.
Rick Dinkel said his son first became involved with theater in eighth grade when he acted in his school’s production of Footloose. He immediately fell in love with acting and went on to perform in a wide range of productions, ranging from serious plays like Hamlet to silly musicals, Rick Dinkel said.
He added his son had a great sense of humor and loved to make people laugh, which was evident in the comedic roles he would take.
His son had expressed interest in pursuing professional acting on television after graduating from college, Dinkel said. Upon hearing his son’s aspirations, Dinkel told him he would be pleased to serve as his unofficial manager and support him in whatever way he could.
Robert Dennis, a longtime family friend of the Dinkels, said Christopher Dinkel had also developed a passion for photography from a young age. Dennis introduced photography to Dinkel when he was around 9 or 10 years old because he saw Dinkel had taken an interest in Dennis’ own landscape photography.
Dinkel first got behind the camera when Dennis lent him his camera and took him to the Carrizo Plain to photograph wildflowers.
Throughout Dinkel’s life, he and Dennis frequently went to Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge, California to photograph nature, and Dennis said he could see Dinkel’s artistic eye develop over time.
Dennis said Dinkel was like a surrogate nephew to him and always cherished the times the Dinkels would come to visit him throughout the past 20 years.
One of Dennis’ fondest memories of Dinkel was running trains on a model railroad in the garage with Dinkel when he was 6 or 7 years old.
The last time Dinkel and his father visited him before he died, Dennis had found an old slot car race set and set it up to run it one more time before tossing it out. When Dinkel came over and saw the car set, he immediately sat down with Dennis to play with the slot cars for an hour.
“Here’s this 20-year-old kid and this 58-year-old guy just sitting on the floor and playing with slot cars and having a blast,” Dennis said. “He could go from partying and hanging out with his UCLA buddies to hanging out with a couple old fuddy-duddies here in Burbank. To know that he enjoyed hanging out with us as much as we did with him, I feel like it’s something we’ve already missed in the short time he’s been gone.”
Dinkel’s parents traveled to Italy on Monday, as part of what was supposed to be a family trip to celebrate his 21st birthday. They plan to go sailing and scatter their son’s ashes in the Mediterranean Sea and at Mount Etna, an active volcano on the eastern coast of Sicily.
Rick Dinkel said he hopes the trip will help him figure out how to best honor his son’s life.
“He was the best part of my life absolutely,” Rick Dinkel said. “I never had any intention of becoming a father and never knew I could love anyone or anything as much as I did him, and he gave me such joy.”