Andrew Zajac was born October 20, 1988, to a close-knit family in Downers Grove, Illinois. Growing up he was an excellent student who also played the cello, played football, wrestled, and explored the nation’s great outdoors on trips with his family. Together they planted thousands of seedling trees on their sustainable forest land in Wisconsin, laying the foundation for a deep passion to care for nature, live lightly on the land, and just enjoy being outdoors.
Andrew graduated from Downers Grove North High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where he played football and discovered a passion for the field of ecology. He earned a master’s degree in ecology from the University of South Dakota. While there, he met and fell in love with Jennifer.
Andrew and Jennifer hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Canada to Mexico in the summer of 2013 and were married in November 2014 in an outdoor ceremony in the Gila National Forest. Their love of the outdoors brought them to Winthrop, Washington, where they began to set the foundation for a simple life together in the valley.
Andrew became a wildland firefighter for the United States Forest Service in May 2014. He was stationed for one season in the Gila National Forest and then moved to the Methow Valley Ranger District in Winthrop, Washington, in May 2015. Andrew was killed, along with Richard Wheeler and Tom Zbyszewski, on August 19, 2015, after their engine became entrapped during initial attack of the Twisp River Fire.
Andrew had a deep love for his wife and family. He loved the outdoors and was always up for hiking, bike riding, rock climbing, skiing, or other adventures. He enjoyed creating things with his own two hands if for nothing else than to better understand how things worked. He took great pride in all that he did. He was a gentle, loving, strong, independent, and intelligent man. He is missed more than words can begin to express.
Andrew is survived by his wife, Jennifer (Brown) Zajac; his parents, Jim and Mary Zajac; and his brother, William Zajac.