As a young boy, Lucas Kimmel loved animals and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.
His mother, Walieta, said Lucas acted as a veterinarian even before he planned on being one. He was always raising “some kind of wild animal,” she said. He even took care of a bird that had been hurt outside their home by feeding it and nursing it back to health, his mother said.
“He said, ‘Mom, we’ve got to have it,’ and I said, ‘Lucas, we can’t,’” Walieta remembered. But then she gave in.
“So we fed it oatmeal and water and that little thing flew around here.”
It has been five years since Walieta and her husband, Jim, lost their 19-year-old son in the Nov. 18, 1999, Bonfire collapse. But the mother said it feels like yesterday.
“Our faith gets us through,” Walieta said in a telephone interview last week from their Corpus Christi home. “I just thank God that I will see him again.”
“The most important thing was his dedication to God,” Jim said, “and everything falls into place after that.”
A candle always burns in the window of Lucas’ bedroom, a permanent reminder of the light that shone within their son, his mother said.
The youngest of five children, Lucas chose to attend Texas A&M and join the Corps of Cadets as his brother Matthew had years before. He received an ROTC scholarship and was a member of Company D-2.
From the moment he set foot on the A&M campus, his mother said, Lucas loved everything about it.
“He never applied to any other college,” Walieta said. “He always wore A&M clothes and even wore Aggie cologne.”
That love for A&M carried over to the 90-year-old tradition of Bonfire, which was something Lucas had wanted to build since he was 8 years old, his father said. Before Lucas died, his dad got a glimpse of the hard work that went into the project.
“One of the last things we did together was go on cut,” Jim said, referring to the cutting down of trees used to build Bonfire. “I kinda experienced what all the boys were doing, and they really impressed me.”
Lucas even asked his parents for an ax the Christmas before the collapse so he could help cut down trees, his mother said. His parents eagerly complied and gave him one, she said.
The day of the collapse, Matthew called his mother at 6 a.m. on his way to work to tell her that Bonfire had fallen. She said something inside her told her Lucas was working on the stack when it came crashing down.
“I said, ‘Matt, I know Lucas was on it.’ I just knew he was there,” she said. “There was nothing he couldn’t climb.”
The family waited all day to hear from Lucas but never did. At 4 p.m. they learned his body had been pulled from the stack. A short time later they began the 3 1/2 hour drive to College Station from Corpus Christi.
“We packed his things in his dorm room and then went home,” Walieta said.
His mother remembers the last conversation she had with her son. Lucas had celebrated his 19th birthday the Sunday before the collapse and Walieta had a hard time reaching him that weekend. Then, the night before he died, he called to tell her that he was planning to go home the following Friday to celebrate with his family.
The freshman biomedical sciences major especially loved his dog, Maverick, whom he nursed back to health. His desire to go to veterinary school was one more thing that drew Lucas to attend A&M, she said, with Maverick barking in the background as if he agreed.
“He enjoyed life so much,” Walieta said. “There was so many things he wanted to do, so many different places he wanted to go.
“He said, ‘I don’t think one life is going to be enough to do the things I want to do.’ And I told him to pick the most important thing he wanted to do, and he worked hard and did.”
Taking a step closer to his dream of working with animals, Lucas volunteered for a veterinarian every day after school, which made him want to pursue the career even more, his mother said.
Not only was Lucas good with animals, he also was good with people, no matter what the age, Walieta said. When her mother lived with the Kimmels for few years, Lucas was helped take care of her, Walieta said.
At age 4, Lucas became an uncle. He was so proud of his new niece, Melissa, that he wanted to bring her to show-and-tell at school because none of the kids believed he was an uncle, his mother said.
Melissa now attends Texas A&M on the Bonfire Memorial Scholarship, one of four scholarships in Lucas’ name, Walieta said.
When Lucas was 14 he became a godfather to brother Jonathan’s son, Jonathan Jr., who is now 9 years old. Becoming a godfather was something Lucas especially was proud of because the family had to get permission from the bishop to do so because he was so young, his father said.
“He felt so special,” Jim said.
An Eagle Scout, Lucas loved the outdoors, especially camping, Walieta said. The whole family often went camping together and traveled to places such as Canada and New Mexico every other summer, she said.
“With four boys, it was not easy to stay in a motel after being locked up in the car all day,” Walieta joked. “But we always camped as a family.”
It is those memories of their son that the Kimmels hold on to as the five-year anniversary of the Bonfire collapse approaches.
Jim and Walieta said they will be at the Bonfire Memorial dedication ceremony Thursday along with two of their children and their families to honor Lucas, who friends and family described as a “kid at heart.”
“There are a lot of people who never live life,” his mother said. “But he said, ‘I’m gonna make each second count’ and he lived every day to the fullest.”