A person ‘hard to come by’: Remembering Nikolai Hristov

Nikolai Hristov, senior in computer science and executive member of WPGU passed away in November. Friends and family remember Nikolai and the impact he had on their lives.

Courtesy of Rumen Hristov

Nikolai Hristov, senior in computer science and executive member of WPGU passed away in November. Friends and family remember Nikolai and the impact he had on their lives.

By Faith Allendorf, Managing Editor for Reporting

One night during this year’s Halloween weekend, a group of friends was walking the campus streets heading toward a house party when they suddenly spotted an out-of-place shopping cart. 

The friends approached the cart, laughing as one of them got in it. The friend in the cart was wearing an old, too-tight Spiderman costume with the mask skewed slightly sideways and angled to intentionally look as wonky as possible. 

He then posed like Spiderman, and two other friends pushed the cart forward, laughing and shouting at the sight of a superhero in a moving shopping cart. 

For the group of friends, this night would become a lasting memory. At that moment, Nikolai Hristov, the boy in the Spiderman costume, was surrounded by a few of the people whose lives he had touched. 

About a week later, on Nov. 7, Nikolai suddenly passed away, sending shockwaves through his loved ones. 

But despite his absence, friends and family from all aspects of his life keep Nikolai’s memory alive by cherishing and remembering all the ways he touched and impacted their lives.

Nikolai was born on Jan. 17, 2ooo in Elmwood Park, Ill. According to his father, Rumen Hristov, Nikolai was supposed to be born on Valentine’s Day.  

“He was actually like, almost a month early,” Rumen said. “We always joke about this — he chose to appear.” 

Rumen remembered the day his son was born. He recalled what it was like to see him for the first time. 

“I was the first one who saw him … and he was very tiny, but I thought he was the most beautiful thing in the world,” he said. 

Rumen also said that if he could only use two words to describe what his son brought into his life, it would be “joy and future.” 

 “Joy and future — that’s what keeps the joy of the future,” he said. “He brought everything that a parent would want in a child.” 

Rumen said that his son was shy while growing up, but he also loved people and was kind to everyone.

“He didn’t care who you were, where you’re from, your color, race or gender — he was very accepting to people,” he said. “He had friends from all over the place, and he loved everyone, and everyone loved him.” 

Nikolai was especially kind to his younger brother, Koko Hristov. Nikolai served as his brother’s mentor, as he was two years older. 

“He would hold his hands and explain what was going on,” Rumen said. “He taught him how to walk, how to grow and how to talk.”

Nikolai’s kindness was one of the many reasons why so many people were drawn to him, and it is what caused him to meet one of his best friends. 

When he was in fifth grade, Moises Samano moved schools and needed someone to show him around, and Nikolai agreed to do so.

Although the pair didn’t get super close until late high school due to differing interests, Moises said Nikolai’s act stuck with him.

“I would not have clocked our friendship to be so deep at that moment,” Moises said. “But he was just one of the first people I met and became friends with at school.” 

Rumen said one thing his son was very interested in was technology. Ever since he could play them, Nikolai loved video games, and he wanted to program them. 

Nikolai chased his dreams, and five years ago, he actually started a company called Drakon Games. 

Nikolai, who majored in computer science at the University, also built a computer from scratch with a friend. He excelled in math and was number six out of one thousand students in his high school graduating class. 

“He was geeky, and he loved being called that,” Rumen said. “He was hanging with the geeks all of the time, and he was like that too, and that’s what he called himself … I’m so proud of everything he did.”

Nikolai connected with a lot of his friends through technology and video games, including one of his closest friends, Petr Hofmann.

“Me and him kind of bonded over Nintendo DS back in grade school, and I remember Pictochat,” Petr said. “We (would) always send messages through that and everything.” 

Petr and Nikolai also bonded through the fact that they are both European. Nikolai’s family is from Bulgaria, while Petr’s is from the Czech Republic.

Rumen said his son was also extremely well-behaved and caused “no trouble at all.” He only ever had one detention when he was in elementary school — a time that Petr remembers as one of his favorite memories with Nikolai. The pair had gotten in trouble for throwing snowballs at each other.

“We’re back in the principal’s office, bawling our eyes out begging, ‘Please don’t call my mom please don’t tell my mom,’” Petr said. “We both ended up getting a detention, but it was good for our friendship. It brought us closer, you know?” 

Petr said the most notable thing about Nikolai was how he would change once you got close to him. On the outside, he came off as a little introverted, but deep down, “he was a party animal.” 

“You know when they say that you can’t judge a book by its cover? Yeah, that would be Nikolai,” Petr said. “His cover is not at all what his personality consists of.” 

Nikolai also had a flair for eccentric humor that his friends said he was known for. 

“He was very funny and in a very unique way,” said Michael Matos, another one of Nikolai’s close friends since middle school and an ex-roommate. “His commitment to his own brand of humor was so good and so strong.” 

Moises elaborated on Nikolai’s brand of humor, laughing when thinking about how his friend would make jokes at the worst times. Nikolai also loved picking one joke and repeatedly using it. 

“He was a goofball who was always trying to make jokes,” Moises said. “One of his favorite jokes, which drove us all up the wall, was the ‘Hardly know her’ joke.” 

One of Moises’ favorite things about his friendship with Nikolai was how they would be able to finish each other’s sentences and practically read each other’s minds.

“There were times where we could be saying something or we say a joke, knowing the other one could follow up with it,” he said. “Eventually, you just fall into line with what the next person is going to say or do because … you have so much shared time.”

The pair even knew when the other was hungry. Moises recalled a time when he made pork buns for Nikolai.

“I remember during a party, Nikolai said he was hungry, and I was like ‘Nikolai, I gotcha. I have the pork buns ready,’” Moises said. “He looked at me like I was God and was like ‘How did you know I wanted food?’ and I was like ‘Listen, man. Same wavelength.’”

Nikolai put his radiant energy into all aspects of his life, including education and work. When he started at the University, his love for technology led him to work a couple of internships. Eventually, he became the Engineering Director for 107.1 WPGU — a company under Illini Media. 

Sidney Malone, WPGU’s Program Director and senior in Media, said Nikolai was “really ambitious.” Nikolai was the person who would take a project and bring it to a whole new level. 

“I would tell him a couple of things we’re working on and some projects, and he would just like, expand and expand and expand upon them,” Sidney said. “He was way more interested in the big picture.” 

Sidney said Nikolai was unlike the typical student who came through WPGU. He said a lot of students join WPGU because they really like music and think the radio is cool. But Nikolai didn’t have any knowledge of radio work — he just wanted a challenge. 

“He didn’t shy away from the challenge of knowing something new or being wrong about things — he was just eager to learn,” Sidney said. “He was really interested in making the station better and not just being a member of it. That’s hard to come by.” 

Nikolai’s work ethic is something that Petr said he has always admired and has caused him to compare himself to his friend. 

“He was just in so many activities and so many different social groups, but he was still on top of it,” Petr said. “He was just someone I would always look up to … He was the brother I never had.”

Michael said he looked up to Nikolai’s generosity and openness. Nikolai brought a sense of safety to his life, and Michael never felt afraid to tell him anything.

“He loves me a lot, and it was nice to have someone there who would never judge me,” Michael said. “He was the only one who was there for me, and it was nice having somebody there.”

When Nikolai was laid to rest at Elmwood Cemetery on Nov. 14, Rumen did not expect as many people to be there as there were. From Elmwood Park to C-U, around 100 of Nikolai’s friends and family members showed up. 

“We didn’t know that so many people loved him,” Rumen said. 

That day, the boy in the wonky Spiderman costume, the self-proclaimed nerd, the kind son and the funniest best friend was surrounded by all of the people whose lives he had touched. 

“Nik was no hero — he was an ordinary guy, but he touched a lot of people,” Rumen said. “He was the best son you could ask for.”

Rumen and Nikolai’s mother, Diana, said not a day goes by that they do not think of their son, and even though losing Nikolai was a devastating loss, they can only be grateful for the years they got to spend with him.

“When I go to bed and wake up, I see all of his life from the moment he was born. It’s amazing … I enjoyed every minute of his life.”

 

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