Cody Lyster

Special to the Daily Sentinel

Cody Lyster (in color) is shown during his playing days with the Rangeview High School baseball team.

The Cody Lyster Memorial Scholarship is more than just a means to financial aid for Colorado Mesa University students.

To Lyster’s family and friends, it honors a man who was unlike any other. Someone who loved baseball, the game video Fortnite, animals and going out of his way to make someone’s day better.

Lyster, 21, died of COVID-19 on April 7 in Denver. He’s the only CMU student and, at the time, was the youngest person in Colorado to die of the virus that has gripped the globe.

Now, thanks in part to a $1 million donation to CMU from former Perrier CEO Ron Davis, the school will be offering the Cody Lyster Memorial Scholarship every year to honor the man who touched so many lives.

“We were on vacation in California, Hermosa Beach I think, and Cody was 6. He saw this little girl who was maybe 3 with Down syndrome all by herself. He went up to her and started playing with her,” his father, Kevin Lyster, said. “That’s the kind of person Cody was — he cared about everybody. It didn’t matter what your race, gender, creed you were. He’d give you the shirt off his back.”

“He wore his heart on his sleeve and cared for you. Family was everything to him and his friends were his family,” his mother, Lee Ann Lyster, said.

After Cody’s death, his family took advantage of the spotlight shining on them to highlight the reality that anyone could die of the disease, no matter their age. Their message reached local news outlets and eventually spread to larger ones such as People Magazine.

The tight-knit family was urging the nation to take the virus seriously while still processing their own grief.

Even during the tragedy, they’ve been learning new stories about their son every day.

After Cody died, the family received a condolence card from the Roice-Hurst Humane Society. Kevin and Lee Ann knew that Cody loved animals — he pushed the family to get a third German Shepherd four years ago — but they didn’t know of any connection.

When the two came to Grand Junction to pack up Cody’s things, they were able to meet with the humane society.

“Apparently, Cody would volunteer there every Sunday. He would walk dogs for them, and help around and take care of the animals,” Lee Ann said. “It made so much sense but we never knew about that.”

They learned more stories about Cody from friends. They learned about how, when Cody and his friends would go out for dinner, Cody would excuse himself from the groups and eat and drink with someone who was sitting alone.

“When you hear stories like those, it just makes you so proud as a parent to know that was your kid,” Kevin said.

Calling Madison Briones a friend of Cody’s would be underselling their relationship. They were best friends and both criminal justice majors. Briones is one of three recipients of the scholarship.

It’s bittersweet for her. She’s honored to carry his legacy but his absence is glaring.

“He was literally my best friend. He was always there for me when I needed him and he was always there even if I didn’t need him,” Briones said. “The only requirement for anyone receiving this scholarship in the future is that they need to love their family and friends more than anything.”

Cody left an impact on anyone he met, his parents said. He was a baseball junkie.

He studied the sport, knew anything and everything about it and played it from Little League in Aurora to the CMU club team.

The honors are pouring in for Cody. His Little League retired his No. 13 jersey and named its sportsmanship award after him. Cody’s alma mater Rangeview High School retired his No. 17 jersey, as well. In December, CMU will award Cody an honorary degree.

But those honors don’t fill the hole.

Lyster wanted to work in law enforcement and, for a bit, worked for the Colorado Department of Revenue. Whether it be federally or locally, he wanted to follow his father’s footsteps, who is an officer on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver.

After his death, Kevin recalled how there were three law enforcement processions in Cody’s honor in the family’s neighborhood, including four bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace.”

“He got a law enforcement send-off,” Kevin said, fighting back tears. “I do honor guard at work. I know what it’s like to honor an officer after they’ve passed. But to be on the other side of that and to have a community honor my son. It just makes you so proud as a parent.”

It’s been six months since Cody died but his name and smiling, bearded face won’t be forgotten. If you go to his Twitter profile, his bio includes a quote from the iconic baseball film The Sandlot: “Heroes get remembered but legends never die.”

“I think he reached that,” Lee Ann said through tears. “The legacy he left is more than either one of us could ever hope to.”

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