Friends and mentors bear witness to a life lived with joy and led by faith

Compiled by Cole Thornton ’21 and Olivia Doran ’21, Perspectives Editors

Photo courtesy of Olivia Doran ’21

On August 1st, Isaac Scharbach, a rising senior, was struck by a car while biking in his community in Baltimore, Maryland. One sentence feels a harsh and unfitting summary of a life that shone so bright and gave light to so many.  

Isaac was a much beloved member of the Davidson community as a respected leader and member of the arts and classics departments, Davidson Outdoors, and Catholic Campus Ministries. He was a talented artist, a dedicated biker, and an individual very committed to his faith and to his friends. His passing leaves a hole in the hearts of the Davidson community, and he will be fiercely missed. 

We have collected pictures, memories, and reflections from those who knew him while at Davidson. We hope these words, and Isaac’s own, are a comfort in this incomprehensible grief, as well as a meaningful glimpse into the joy Isaac embodied and brought to those around him. 

Photo courtesy of Cole Warlick ‘19

Harrison Dinsbeer ‘21, Sam Lindsay ‘21, Wilson Reynolds ‘20

In the Union, on the walls facing the stadium, a plaque quotes Jeremiah 9:23 – 24. It says: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercised loving kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.” While many Davidson students have passed through the doors by that plaque over the years, few lived out the message of these verses more intentionally than our late classmate, Isaac Scharbach.

On August 3rd, an email was sent out to the student body announcing the death of our dear friend Isaac. The email described him as a “bright light both on and off campus.” Isaac’s bright light stemmed from his deep love of Jesus, which caused him to live out a worldview and lifestyle dramatically countercultural to the rest of our campus. At Davidson, where there are plenty of students who are wise, mighty, and rich in many ways, and still more who seek those qualities, Isaac brought a refreshing perspective to campus that had an eternal direction. Those who knew him closely saw that he took his practices of spiritual devotion very seriously. In fact, his studies and his social life revolved primarily around the way he followed his faith. His interest in art was to cultivate a knowledge of a heavenly beauty as revealed by God. His sacrificial love for his hallmates and friends served to reveal the joys of a relationship with the person who, to him, was so much more than a crucifix on his desk.

Many of you knew Isaac as an artist. Others knew him as a leader of campus ministry. Some as a hallmate. Isaac touched so many people’s lives so deeply because of his devotion to loving Jesus and glorifying God constantly, even through his thoughts.

Isaac once told us about his struggles during the process of painting for class. His struggles did not originate from a lack of ideas; rather, he was struggling because he could not find a way to exalt God through his work. Whether while painting, praying, working, or spending time with friends, Isaac was focused on serving and glorifying God. This desire ruled his everyday life — that’s what made him such a bright light. Whether you knew him as an artist, friend, or roommate, you likely learned a lot from Isaac. As for us, what we learned from him was how to glory God in all aspects of life.

In many ways, Isaac also taught us how to look for light even when the world seemed quite dark. He would often spend hours praying in the dead of night, at times when many of us would be studying, partying, or sleeping. He continually sought spiritual illumination by a different kind of light — as he would say in one of his favorite prayers, “the pure brightness of the ever-living Father in heaven.”

Isaac taught us to pray like the martyr Stephen, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” If you are struggling with his seemingly unexplainable death, we hope that you find peace in this: his greatest wish is fulfilled now that God has welcomed him to glory. We were not ready for this, but Isaac was. We hope that you can find hope in knowing that he is finally where he longed to be.

Photo courtesy of Addison Sharp ’21

Courtney Clawson ‘21

Isaac Scharbach was one of my first friends at Davidson. The weekend before classes started, the Catholic Campus minister connected us so we could carpool to mass together. I was beyond grateful to have already found a Catholic community at Davidson after only being on campus for a few days.

Isaac and I led a bible study and faith sharing group for freshmen during our sophomore year. Although I was technically a leader of the group, I felt like just another member, as I was learning from Isaac. 

Isaac was deeply committed to his faith and was loving and accepting of everyone around him, regardless of their belief system. Isaac was a true servant of Christ on Earth. He was a light in a broken world. We are all heartbroken and devastated.

I reached out to Professor Anne Wills following Isaac’s death, asking for recommendations for books to read for trauma and grief. We are now working together in an independent study, reading faith-based texts related to love, trauma, and hope, each of which Isaac brought to our lives. We are dedicating this course to Isaac; it is serving as a small resurrection moment amidst our grief. 

Rest in Peace, Isaac.

Photo courtesy of Cole Thornton ’21

Michaela Gibbons ‘22

While Isaac and I had very different callings from God, we bonded over our enthusiasm for the Gospel. Our bible study group would discuss the parable of the week in a disorganized fashion, and Isaac would sit back and listen intently. When the conversations came to an end, Isaac would turn to a page in his Bible, recite a line of scripture, and simplify the parable’s lesson to one virtue. He made it all seem easy…particularly practicing patience, which was something he continued to teach me throughout our friendship. 

While I cherish the lessons and memories, I miss my dear friend and his jolly smile. Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Photo courtesy of Prof. Katie St. Clair

Addison Sharp ‘21

Many of you probably know that Isaac took issue with being called “beautiful” because he found it emasculating. Objectively, Isaac was beautiful – the contrast between his dark hair and light eyes, the symmetry of his face, the redness of his cheeks, and his likeness to Antinous, the most beautiful man of the ancient world. But he hated when I told him he was beautiful, so much so that one night last spring a debate over the adjective turned into a battle of epic (think Iliad) proportions. Isaac acted as Helen of Sparta; Deen Haleem, Sam Lindsay, and Harrison Dinsbeer acted as Achilles, Hector, and Agamemnon (they can assign themselves); and the Tomlinson Conference Room acted as Troy. Isaac and I sat uncomfortably as those three said their piece, and at the end, Isaac was firm that he still didn’t want to be called beautiful. So, to respect my dear friend and hopefully give everyone a laugh, I’ll share some things that were NOT beautiful about Isaac Scharbach.

1. Isaac Scharbach loved to eat avocados with peanut butter on them.

2. Isaac Scharbach did not use soap in the shower.

3. Isaac Scharbach once consumed 17 raw eggs in one day.

4. Isaac Scharbach audibly moaned as he ate.

5. Isaac Scharbach could not dance on beat and would sweat profusely as he tried.

I hope that the veil has been lifted on this handsome young man that I love and miss so much.

Photo courtesy of Pearce Hyatt ’22

Pearce Hyatt ‘22

Isaac, Worth, and I snuck up to the top of the art building my freshman year. I know, you’ve been up there too. That’s great.

Worth and I were sitting in our dorm room in Rich. We were enjoying some Keystones. I was probably sad about my girlfriend from high school, or feeling like I wasn’t keeping up in my classes.

I get a call from Isaac and I answer it.

“Hey what are you guys doing right now?”

“Uh, I don’t know. We’re just getting drunk, I guess. Watching some Youtube videos.”

He goes on to tell us that he’s on the roof of the VAC. He had been waiting for his opportunity to have this specific door be left unlocked so we could sneak up there. He saw the maintenance guy this week and knew he had found his opportunity. Worth and I decide to go. We throw on some jackets and head out. We find the door that Isaac was talking about and climb the ladder up to what would be the third floor of the art building. It is this creepy room where they keep some kind of machinery. I’m beginning to feel like I’m in a horror movie. My heart is beating a bit quicker when a light emerges.

“Hey guys I’m up here, just climb this ladder”

It’s Isaac. I look nervously at Worth and I guess I’m going up the ladder first. I start climbing the thing and it pulls away from the wall a bit. I keep going because I don’t want Isaac or Worth to make fun of me. I make it up to the top and Isaac helps me onto the roof. It’s cold out. Worth climbs out too.

We enjoy some more Keystones we brought in our backpack. We pose for pictures with our beers and the contours of the roof.

We sit side by side in the night of Davidson. I enjoy seeing the orange lights that let you make out the church steeple in the darkness. I see the room where my biology class meets in Wall. The whole building glows green at night. I remember putting my arms around Isaac’s sweatshirt. I had no idea when we were going to climb back down, and I really didn’t want to leave.

Photo courtesy of Addison Sharp ’21

Chloe Pitkoff ‘21

When Isaac spoke about his work, you wanted to listen, and listen closely, in the way that he listened to the other art students as they presented their work. In critiques, he would stare at pieces and often refrain from sharing his thoughts for the first few minutes, taking in every detail and finding the most eloquent words to describe his appreciation for each piece––rarely offering criticism, but instead providing inspiring suggestions and new perspectives on the ideas each student attempted to convey. 

Although I’m sure it was not the case, it seemed as though Isaac never struggled or found frustration with painting in the way other students did, including myself, but instead was awed by the possibilities the medium afforded. He was incredibly humble about his own abilities, apparently unaware of his extraordinary talent that I find indescribable –– his paintings say it all. Although I was in several of Isaac’s classes, and often painted by his side at all hours of the night, it was always a surprise to see what he would be presenting in a critique each week. He could whip up a painting in a few hours, so the work I had seen as I left the night before might be completely different the next morning, or a different piece altogether.

One day in particular, he presented a painting of a piece of fabric, a subject he repeated in later works. The light shone through the canvas. It came not from the open window several feet away but instead from his carefully placed brushstrokes. Isaac literally brought light into the world. Where there once had only been the emptiness of a blank canvas, there was brightness. He experimented each day with new ways of making the world a little brighter, finding life and glow in all that he encountered. Isaac’s artistic individuality was refreshing and inspirational. 

While many artists at Davidson are drawn to abstract techniques, experimenting with modern mediums and new forms of expression, Isaac’s interest in what some might call more traditional methods made him stand out among the crowd, particularly because he was so excellent in his craft and was so prolific. Among the colorful, vivacious pieces that graced the painting studios, Isaac’s work brought an overwhelming sense of serenity and calm, particularly in his painting depicting a man on a set of stairs. The gargantuan piece pulled you into the life-sized scene, yet left you feeling like an unwanted observer of a deeply personal moment, but a moment that could also have been a mundane daily ritual. To perfect the creation of that much emotion and so many story lines in a single snapshot is a true gift, one that is helped by practice, but definitely one that is an innate skill. 

In my many years of art making, I have yet to create such a work. I doubt I ever will. But with each painting I make I will undoubtedly think of Isaac, and with each layer I will attempt to work by his example, yearning to become half the artist and person he was able to grow into in his tragically short lifetime. The word that I have and always will use to describe Isaac’s work is ‘breathtaking,’ a word I have never used to describe any other work and one that I reserve for his pieces alone. With each piece he brought into the world, he took my breath away. I waited with great anticipation for the start of Senior Capstone, a class reserved for senior art majors to create work towards our final shows, looking forward to the opportunity to learn more about Isaac as we worked alongside each other. While the class will go on, the light in the class has gone out. 

I can only speak for myself, but am sure others share my sentiment: Isaac’s presence in my life has changed it completely, and only for the better. There are few opportunities in life to encounter someone who embodies the light of God, if ever you do. Isaac embodied it.

Photo courtesy of Prof. Katie St. Clair

Professor Katie St. Clair

It is hard to express what a lovely human Isaac was and what a joy he brought to the art department and my classes. Isaac was a deep thinker with a kind heart, who had an astounding ability to coax paint and words into subtle but profound existence. Last semester, Isaac wrote a final artist statement that concluded his Junior portfolio that left me speechless at the time and now seems even more profound. I would like to share a short excerpt of the statement with his family and friends today as his words speak to this moment with clarity beyond his years.

(see ending quotation)

I met Isaac for the first time over three years ago now. In that time, I observed his care for his family and friends, passion for art, and dedication to his faith. I remember his wit, the way he lightened up class critiques and supported his classmates. In his death, I have only become more aware of the amount of people he was able to touch and inspire in his short life. I am only now starting to understand the impact Isaac had on me and I count myself lucky to carry his memory on in every class I teach. 

Photo courtesy of Prof. Katie St. Clair

In his own words:

“I paint from life, subject matter is limited, and I must find depth and dignity within the things around me, the humble and the common. A tree is something so simple, but it is also a mystery, like all life. When a single leaf dies, something has died more intricate than anything humanity has created. It’s quiet passing reminds us that all things will pass, that all things must return to their creator, that we too are dust…. painting itself by longing for perfection, longs for God. It seems that it is from this very longing that creation draws its dignity. It is with this joyful hope that the sun rises, and the birds sing, and when dawn finally spreads over the hills my shift is over.”

Rest in Peace, Isaac.