Candlelit for Canyon

Allyssa Ertz, Editor-in-Chief

Canyon “Moose” Hopkins, a cherished member of the Buena Vista University family, was “called home to Heaven” on Thursday night, according to a post to his social media community by his family. This brought Hopkins’ brave and long-lasting fight against cancer to a close. A candlelight vigil was held Sunday night at BVU to give the campus community an opportunity to honor Moose, a man of kind, determined, and courageous character.


Moose attended BVU from 2016 to 2018 until he was diagnosed with a rare form of soft tissue sarcoma just before his junior year. He majored in Business and Accounting and was a starter on the BVU men’s basketball team. A native of Earlham, Iowa, Moose along with his family, parents Monte and Trish, brother Denton, and longtime girlfriend and BVU student Chelsea Hildenbrand, fought his disease for nearly two years.  During that time, the entire BVU community was right behind him. Beyond BVU, support for Moose and his family via social media posts, fundraisers, prayer groups, and hashtags like #MooseStrong, #FaithOverFear, and “Moose’s Militia” spread throughout northwest and central Iowa and often beyond. In the end, countless individuals were standing behind Moose in his courageous fight against cancer, and now just as many are remembering him and his legacy. 


At the Sunday vigil on the BVU campus, Dr. David Klee, professor of music, opened the night’s remembrances with the melody of his flute as students filled Schaller Chapel. The entire Beaver basketball team was in attendance to grieve the loss of their teammate. After an invocation by Rev. Randle Lewis, university chaplain, BVU President Josh Merchant welcomed attendees.


The crowd in the hushed chapel listened with intent as Merchant described Canyon as a stellar human being. He recalled Moose stepping foot on campus in the fall of 2016 with an enormous smile, ready to begin not only a new journey in basketball, but as a beloved Beaver. The four-sport athlete from Earlham immediately started as a forward for Beaver basketball, in hot pursuit of a conference title. At 6-foot 4-inches, Moose lived up to his nickname, beginning every one of the 26 basketball games during his sophomore year.


Merchant remembered Moose’s enormous contributions to the BVU campus beyond basketball as well. He was an engaged student in the Siebens School of Business as well as an active member in the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and participant in BV Buddies, a middle school mentoring program. Specifically, Canyon’s famous nickname stood out in Merchant’s mind, emphasizing how truthfully it represented his character.


“I didn’t know his name was Canyon. I knew Moose!” Merchant said.


Senior Joshua Cole, BVU Student Body President, also spoke at the vigil, reminiscing about playing basketball against Moose in practice. Cole specifically mentioned an instance where they collided, leaving Cole with a rosy bruise for weeks. Cole joked he thought it was a charge, but no one else seemed to agree. 


Cole emphasized that even though Moose was a tough player to compete against, if you ran into him in any other area of life, his larger-than-life smile and kind nature were what dominated. Cole remembered Moose’s immediate impact on the team when he joined, noting that he had a rare combination of a fun-loving yet mature personality. One could be in a joking match one minute, then in a serious life conversation with him the next.


“There was not a bad thing to be said about Canyon Hopkins,” Cole said. “I was blessed to know him.”


Had the diagnosis not come, Moose would have graduated this spring from BVU.  Prior to his passing, he was presented with his bachelor’s degree from BVU in a special ceremony on Oct. 17. Merchant traveled to visit Moose in hospice care donning his ceremonial academic regalia and personally presented the diploma. Merchant recalled the joy on Moose’s face, saying it was “unforgettable.” 


Moose’s brother Denton Hopkins recorded the graduation ceremony and shared it on the “Moose’s Militia” Facebook page. The video, shown here, has over 2.3K views and shows the impact Moose had on so many.


At the vigil, Merchant reminded those in attendance that Moose showed the BVU community what “community” truly means, with courage, fight, and faith interlaced throughout his whole life.  During the vigil, the men’s basketball team showcased that idea of community by standing as one to remember Moose. Afterwards, Merchant said he would cherish that moment for a lifetime, showing that “light can still present itself in life’s darkest moments.”


Senior Clayton Christian, a fellow accounting and finance double major, shared with the vigil crowd his memories with Moose. From spending nights studying in Siebens School of Business, to canoeing across the lake on their freshman Welcome Weekend, to participating in spiritual life together on campus, Christian described Moose as an outstanding human and friend.


“He showed how to love others with a Christlike love no matter who you were,” Christian said. “BVU will always remember Moose.”


Soloist Ruth Whitmore sang an elegant rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Lights dimmed, and candles were lit in honor of Canyon “Moose” Hopkins. A moment of silence allowed each person in the chapel to give their respects.


At the special graduation ceremony’s conclusion, President Merchant said, “BVU is an incredible place. I hope you remember how BVU has changed you. BVU will hold you close to its heart and I hope you hold BVU close to yours.”


Buena Vista will, shown by the crowd gathered in Canyon’s honor. Merchant noted that all were proud to have Moose as a member of the BVU family. Merchant smiled, saying, “He’s a Beaver forever.”


Moose’s brother Denton offered a final piece of advice for those attending. Denton noted that Moose had shown him how special of a place BVU was to him, and the impact it has on students. Denton felt Moose would want to share a quote with his fellow Beavers. 


“Moose would want you to do one thing: ‘Be where your feet are.’”


A special memorial service to honor the life of Canyon “Moose” Hopkins will be held on Nov. 3 at 2 p.m. in the Earlham High School Gymnasium. This service is open to all. Just as he did in life, Moose continues to give, donating his body to Des Moines University to give doctors an education opportunity.