Daniel Hollnsteiner will always be remembered as a sweet and charming family man who loved the New York Yankees. He was the type of kid who always asked how someone’s day was and had no enemies.
Hollnsteiner, a 21-year-old senior business major from Staten Island, died in a kayaking accident in New Zealand on Friday. Hollnsteiner, who was studying abroad for a semester at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and 10 other students were on Lake Tekapo in New Zealand Friday when strong winds and waves capsized their kayaks into freezing water. James Murphy, a student from London, also died.
The sudden tragedy stunned the campus this week, but Hollnsteiner’s family and friends are cherishing every moment they had with him, from his childhood to his last days.
Ria David, Hollnsteiner’s mother, describes her son as quiet and very observant but with a good heart. He was part of a huge family and had close relationships with all of his cousins.
Growing up, Hollnsteiner had what his mother called “normal aspirations of an 8-year-old.” He wanted to be a fireman, cop and baseball player.
She said he was always active as a child and even started walking at nine months.
“One time I got a call from the neighbors saying one of my boys was on their roof,” David said. “I have three boys, but I knew it was Daniel.”
Hollnsteiner was just 7 years old at the time.
His energy fostered his love for sports grew as he took on soccer, baseball and basketball and became a die-hard Yankees and New York Rangers fan.
David said Hollnsteiner had a great sense of humor and loved to joke, but in a friendly and loving way.
“He always had this sweet and charming smile,” David said. “If I ever got mad at him and saw that smile, my heart would melt and give in.”
When he was in high school, he planned on going to Seton Hall University in New Jersey. His family had already put down a deposit but Hollnsteiner decided to follow his best friend Tyler Grant to UB.
Grant, a senior business major, has known Hollnsteiner since they were in kindergarten. Their friendship grew stronger when they were the only two students from their elementary school who went to the same high school and college. The two became brothers in the Sigma Chi Omega fraternity.
“He was a lovable kid that would do anything for anyone,” Grant said. “You couldn’t not like Daniel.”
Hollnsteiner and Grant were roommates since freshmen year. With Hollnsteiner leaving to study abroad, this was the first year since kindergarten that Grant hasn’t had school with his friend.
Flashbacks of soccer games as children and watching the Yankees flooded Grant’s memory before Hollnsteiner went to Australia.
About a month ago, Grant spoke with Hollnsteiner on Facebook. He asked Grant for class notes and wrote him in an Australian accent. That was the last time they spoke.
Then Saturday morning at 7 a.m., Grant received a call from Hollnsteiner’s mother saying he had lost his best friend.
David said Hollnsteiner’s entire family was happy when her son decided to study abroad in Australia. Both of his parents are from the Philippines and love to travel, but Hollnsteiner wasn’t as enthusiastic about sightseeing.
“When he was about 10 years old we went to Ireland and traveled to lots of national parks,” David said. “He often got bored and complained whenever we went on tours.”
Gavin Siewers, a senior biological science major who also grew up with Hollnsteiner, said his friend was never one to take risks. He said one of Hollnsteiner’s famous lines was, “Are you sure?”
“He always made sure we had his back before he did anything,” Siewers said. “We were all really excited for him to go to Australia because he always had this shell around him and before he left, he started to grow into his own.”
Something sparked when Hollnsteiner touched down in Australia.
He was only supposed to stay for one semester before coming back to Buffalo and preparing for graduation this May. Instead, he extended his stay to include a semester in Malaysia this upcoming spring and push back graduation until next fall.
His family encouraged Hollnsteiner’s stay in Australia. They jumped on the plane with Hollnsteiner in July to celebrate his 21st birthday abroad. They visited Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef before dropping him off to school in Melbourne.
“We were all in it for the new experience because we didn’t know if he’d ever get this opportunity again,” David said.
Hollnsteiner told his parents about going to New Zealand to kayak. He called them before his trip and said if they can’t get in touch with him it was because he may not have Wi-Fi. When Hollnsteiner’s father saw credit card charges in New Zealand shortly after, he thought his son was OK.
Five hours later, the Department of State called to report his son’s death.
Hollnsteiner and the other 10 students decided to go kayaking on their own. David said to her knowledge, there were no warnings about kayaking in the cold water or strong winds.
The kayakers were all students attending Monash and visiting New Zealand during a semester break. Police said all of the students were wearing life jackets, but the water temperature was below 40 degrees.
Police also said they are still investigating and there may be a criminal case against the owners of the kayak company.
David said Hollnsteiner has kayaked before, but still wants answers as to whether or not the students should have been on the lake.
There is not a set date for Hollnsteiner’s wake or funeral. Grant and Siewers are currently arranging a memorial for him on campus but there is no set date yet.
Gabriela Julia is the senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.