Last summer, siblings Connor and Tate Hankla took a road trip from Chicago to Arkansas. Now, Connor remains in Chicago, reflecting on the last 19 years of his brother’s life.
Tate died in his Gurnee, Illinois, home on May 3. The cause of his death is still under investigation, according to a Gurnee Police Department Report. He had just finished his freshman year at UF.
One year earlier, Connor and Tate began a road trip to Arkansas to visit their grandfather before a cousin’s wedding in Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains. They spent their car rides sharing playlists, alternating among rap, rock and alternative.
They visited The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, and camped by their grandfather’s house near Fort Smith, Arkansas, before heading to Georgia, Connor said. They even deviated from their route to fuel up at a gas station in Birmingham, Alabama, just because they wanted to visit the city.
While in the car together, Connor, at the time a junior studying accounting at the University of Illinois, gave Tate advice for his freshman year. He told Tate stories about his own college experiences, advised him on which classes to avoid and bantered about college parties and girls.
“One of the first times we really talked on a heart-to-heart level was actually that trip,” Connor said.
More than 1,000 miles away from his hometown, Tate’s memory is cherished by the brothers of Sigma Chi at UF. Carson Black, the president of the fraternity, said Tate joined Fall 2019.
The 21-year-old UF finance senior remembers returning to the Sigma Chi house after a late-night study session at Library West. Black said when he went upstairs, he found six or seven UF students hanging out in room 11, where Tate lived.
No matter how many people Tate was with, he would always greet Black and ask him how he was doing.
“He just makes you feel comfortable,” Black said. Black said Tate acknowledged everyone, giving them a hug or “dapping them up” — even if he didn’t know them well.
Tate wasn’t originally supposed to stay in room 11, said John Mazanec, a 20-year-old UF advertising junior. When Mazanec’s roommate went to study abroad in London, Tate asked if he could be his new roommate.
Mazanec and Tate had many late-night conversations while lying in bed. The bed frames prevented them from seeing each other, but they would look at the ceiling and let out their thoughts.
“Everyone has friends here and there, but that’s the one that you want to keep after college,” Mazanec said about Tate.
Room 11 was the only room upstairs with a microwave, which initially caused a lot of traffic, Mazanec said. After warming up food, brothers would eat and catch up. Their room was also unique because it was the only one without a TV.
“You didn’t go in there to play video games or watch movies,” Mazanec said. “You went in there to hang out and just talk.”
They added an extra couch to their room because they needed more space for everyone who came to hang out, he said.
Aside from being his brother, Connor said Tate was also a loyal friend. One time in high school, Tate woke up two hours early to drive some friends to football tryouts because they wanted to join the team but had no way to get there.
“If he had a friend that needed something, he would take the shirt off his back,” he said.
Bryan McNulty, a football coach from Warren Township High School, Tate’s alma mater, shared the same sentiments in a Facebook post made on May 6.
“You will not find a person who has a bad thing to say about Tate,” McNulty wrote. “From being a hammer on the football/lacrosse fields to being a mentor for our school’s special needs population he captured every room he entered. He will be dearly missed.”
UF Spokesperson Steve Orlando confirmed Tate was enrolled at UF and listed as a construction management major. Connor said his brother recently switched from majoring in business to construction management because he didn’t want to spend his career in an office.
When Tate FaceTimed him during the Spring semester to tell him about the change, Connor said he knew his brother made the right decision.
“When he told me, I was just so excited for the kid,” Connor said, “His entire life he’s just not been able to sit down.”
Steven Klioze, a 19-year-old UF zoology sophomore in Sigma Chi also had a few conversations with Tate about his new major, and he said Tate was excited to learn more about it. Tate introduced him to several friends he met in the construction management program.
While working in construction, Tate even learned some Spanish, Mazanec said. He had seen snapchats of Tate working on sites in Illinois over the summer. Klioze said he enjoyed that he could build relationships with the people he worked with.
While at UF, Tate was a volunteer for Project Makeover, an organization dedicated to beautifying elementary schools through landscaping and murals. UF’s chapter will plant a tree in his honor in 2021, the organization’s website said.
Tate is survived by his brother Connor, his sister Peyton and his parents Todd and Lisa Hankla.
Tate’s brother was the last person to speak with him before he died. Connor said he sounded “as happy as he could be.”