In life, there are people who dream bigger and work harder than the rest. Maxwell “Max” Hartong was undeniably one of those people–– a young man with a deep sense of purpose, a contagious drive for success and an unwavering determination to better himself and those around him.
Max was not merely a dreamer; he was a doer. Those who knew him understood that there was no limit to what Max could achieve if he set his mind to it. He captained both Jackson High School’s lacrosse team and the Division I lacrosse team at Jacksonville University. After earning a bachelor’s degree in finance, he balanced working as a financial analyst while coaching high school lacrosse. He had his sights set on more and rose to the top of his class at the University of Miami School of Law before transferring to Harvard Law School. At Harvard, he excelled in the Federal Courts and pursued an externship with the US Attorney’s Office. Max climbed mountains both figurately and literally––climbing Mount Rainier not once, but twice, proving that life’s peaks are there to be reached and sometimes re-reached.
“When you write down your goal, some people will tell you ‘You can’t do it,’” said Dr. Steven Coss, a close family friend who coached his son Steve and Max in lacrosse starting in the third grade. “Max never let that stop him from pursuing his dreams.”
Max was as kind-hearted as he was competitive. He married his high school sweetheart, Taylor Wiseman, on May 21, 2022, in Canton, Ohio surrounded by their family and friends.
Their next chapter was just beginning. Max had accepted a position at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP in New York City, one of the largest law firms in the world, and planned to start working there following graduation from Harvard Law.
In November 2022, at the age of 27, Max passed away from medical complications while competing in the Miami Ironman Triathlon. His family and closest friends found themselves in the same church where they had celebrated Max and Taylor’s wedding just six months earlier, now mourning his loss.
Max accomplished so much in his lifetime, and his influence continues to extend far and wide. Many people have shared the profound impact Max had on their own lives.
Gabe Gemberling, who has known Max since the fifth grade, imparted what his best friend had instilled in him. “From a young age, he taught me right from wrong, to fight for what I believe in and to physically push myself to break just to learn along the way. All the things that took me into my early adult life to understand or master, Max had already done at a young age. He pushed himself to never accept anything less than the best he could be and expected the people around him to follow suit. By saying Max is a societal loss, I'm making an understatement.”
In the months that followed Max’s passing, Max’s parents, Bryan and Cindy, established an endowment fund through Jacksonville University to honor their son's memory in a way that exemplified his life and encouraged others to follow in his footsteps. The fund aims to support a Jacksonville University graduating senior or alumnus of the men’s lacrosse team who plans to attend graduate school.
“We knew we had a special son, but we were overwhelmed by how many people Max had impacted through every aspect of his life,” shared Bryan.
Friends and family were inspired by Bryan and Cindy’s tribute to Max’s legacy and came together locally to establish a memorial fund in Max’s honor through Stark Community Foundation.
Tim Furbay, a coach who, like Dr. Coss, coached Max along with his son Tyler in lacrosse, shared his motivation behind this effort, stating, “When you feel a loss this big, you feel it in your heart and soul to do something for a kid who had so much promise and whose life was cut short. I watched Max grow from a young kid doing pranks into a mature, loyal friend who was succeeding in academics and athletics. He was such a good kid and a great example of who you want your kids to hang out with.”
Dr. Coss and Tim had the mutual idea to bring people together to help raise money to establish the Max Hartong JHS Memorial Award Fund.
“It was heartbreaking. We knew we had to do something,” said Dr. Coss. “We felt compelled to do something in his honor, and we wanted this fund to represent the ideals and values he stood for.”
Today, the fund stands as a testament to Max's determined spirit and serves as an inspiration for future generations to chase their dreams both on and off the field. The fund provides yearly scholarships to graduating seniors on the Jackson High School men's lacrosse team.
A committee regularly spreads the word about the fund, reviews scholarship applications and decides which students receive the award in Max’s memory. Most recently, the committee identified two exceptional students from a pool of applicants to receive the inaugural Max Hartong JHS Memorial Award in 2023.
Santiago Gil, one of Max's closest friends and a committee member, reflected on the selection process, saying, “I did not think anyone would be able to live up to Max’s name, but after reviewing the applications, there were two clear outliers who immediately reminded us of Max. I was flooded with memories reading their essays that took me back to my high school days with Max.”
During an awards banquet held in June, Nathan Stout and Aaron Waltman were announced as the inaugural award recipients. Nathan is pursuing a finance degree at Ohio State University, and Aaron is pursuing a degree in business management and finance while continuing to play lacrosse at Capital University.
Santiago had the privilege of speaking at the banquet and presenting the award to Aaron and Nathan, who, much like Max, were characterized by their work ethic, compassion, ambition for success, love for lacrosse and their ability to play the game with integrity and passion. Santiago shared, “I normally don’t like public speaking, but to have the opportunity to speak about my best friend and present the winners was a no-brainer for me. It was an honor to be able to speak about him and see the smiles on the faces of the winners as their names were said out loud in front of their peers.”
Bobby Lyle, the current head coach of the Jackson High School men’s lacrosse team, envisions Max’s life philosophy becoming a perpetual source of inspiration for his team and the broader high school community. He explained, “Max never settled for easy and expected more out of himself. He was hard-working, disciplined, loyal and self-motivated–– all attributes we aim to instill in our students and athletes to become good people and productive citizens. It is awesome to know that Max's memory will live on through this scholarship for future generations of Jackson lacrosse players.”
The committee aspires to grow the fund, offer renewable scholarships and most importantly, carry on Max’s legacy in our community.
The way Max lived his life with passion and intention is a source of motivation for all who were fortunate enough to have known him. For those who didn’t know him personally, may his story inspire you to make every moment count and live your life to the max.
As the 10-year anniversary of Max’s high school graduation draws near, an anonymous donor is generously matching all donations to the fund dollar for dollar through the first of the year. Donations of any size can be made online at StarkCF.org/give-hartong and checks with Hartong in the memo line can be mailed to Stark Community Foundation at 400 Market Avenue North, Suite 200, Canton, Ohio 44702.
"When you write down your goal, some people will tell you ‘You can’t do it.' Max never let that stop him from pursuing his dreams." — Dr. Steven Coss, reflecting on Max's relentless drive and ambition.
"He pushed himself to never accept anything less than the best he could be and expected the people around him to follow suit." — Gabe Gemberling, highlighting Max's profound influence on his peers.
"Max never settled for easy and expected more out of himself. He was hardworking, disciplined, loyal, and self-motivated." — Bobby Lyle, capturing the essence of Max's character and his enduring legacy.