Dennis Cho, an active member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and ally to the LGBT community at USC, died Nov. 23 at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. He was 22.
Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center was unable to confirm the cause of death without violating patient confidentiality laws.
Cho, born YongMin Cho in South Korea, grew up in Los Angeles. After graduating from the Harvard-Westlake School in 2009, he attended Indiana University at Bloomington, where he served as Lambda Chi’s recruitment chairman and founded a Greek peer support program.
After transferring to USC last spring, Cho became involved with Greek Chat, USC’s confidential discussion group for Greek community members who identify as LGBT, questioning or curious.
LGBT Center Director Vincent Vigil said Cho sought out the LGBT Center when he arrived on campus and was very passionate about bridging the gap between the LGBT and Greek communities.
“He participated in every single [Greek Chat] that we sponsored,” Vigil said. “He served as an ally to a lot of students who were questioning or closeted on The Row and made sure there was a place they could come to … and that they were not alone.”
Vigil said Cho was actively working with Greek Chat program leaders up until his death, as they met two weeks ago.
“We were just sitting down, talking about what we could do to educate more people and get more people on board,” Vigil said. “He had a lot of great ideas. We’re still going to use them for the next year.”
Katharine Hanson, a junior majoring in architecture, said she was Cho’s best friend at USC. The two juniors became close after meeting through a mutual friend last spring. Hanson said they ate lunch together almost every day, are each other’s dates for all of their fraternity and sorority events and ran errands for each other.
Hanson said her fondest memories of Cho were the everyday ones — eating Nutella and waffles, watching the Real Housewives TV shows, going to “all the great places to eat” in Los Angeles and shopping at the supermarket.
“He wasn’t feeling well one day so he called me and asked me to make him feel better,” Hanson said. “So, I went and got him a happy face balloon and a cheesecake, dressed up in a nurse’s costume and knocked on his door and said, ‘Feel better!’ We just did ridiculous things together.”
Hanson said she couldn’t walk down Trousdale Parkway with Cho without being stopped multiple times because so many people would stop them to say hello.
“He literally would do anything for anyone,” Hanson said. “I wouldn’t even know that I was upset or needed to talk but he would know and sit me down and say, ‘What’s up? Do you need to talk about it?’”
The two used to joke about how, after getting married and starting families, their kids would become friends.
“It’s still unreal to me. I received this phone call [from the hospital] out of the blue,” Hanson said. “I expected us to get married to someone, have kids and have our kids play together. Now that’s not going to happen.”
Lambda Chi President Travis Robinson said Cho cared deeply for others and spent a lot of time cheering up those around him.
“There was no one else in our [fraternity] like him,” Robinson said. “He was the guy that always had a smile on his face and was optimistic and outgoing. He was always … looking out for everyone.”
Hanson said Cho’s legacy won’t be forgotten.
“He had so much potential — really that’s what the biggest heartache is,” Hanson said. “He was so brilliant and had so much to offer the world. It’s a shame he didn’t have the chance to share it with everyone.”
An open-casket memorial service will be held at the United University Church at USC on Wednesday. Doors will open at 3:15 p.m. and the service will begin at 4 p.m.
Lambda Chi plans to set up a fund for a charity in Cho’s name in coordination with the LGBT Center. Those interested in donating can contact Robinson or other members of the Lambda Chi fraternity for more information.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Cho passed away at the age of 21. He was 22.