It has taken a while for me to figure out how to publicly acknowledge the passing of my friend and mentor Dan Lippitt. And I don’t think I realized the impact he had on my life until I was able to reflect on it over the past week.

I first met Dan almost exactly 25 years ago to the day. I was 16 and he was the staff on my summer trip to Israel. He celebrated his 28th birthday the first week of our trip and I thought, man, he’s old, but still seem to fit in well with us kids.

Turns out he was a human chameleon, and would find a way to fit in well with almost any group he was involved in. He was living in Chicago at the time, but soon after that trip he moved back to Michigan. While he was working as a photographer full-time, he also became my youth group advisor for the rest of my time in high school.

Little did I know, I would literally follow in his footsteps and be staff on an Israel trip, a youth group advisor and photographer myself in the near future. I looked up to Dan before I even held a camera and, once I did, I looked up to him even more. To this day, I’ll catch myself thinking, What would Dan do? Whether it is in how to light a photo, deal with a difficult client or just be a kind and generous person.

I spent some of my most formative years alongside Dan as his assistant. I owe most of my photographic education and experience to the informal Dan Lippitt School of Photography. He mentored so many young photographers who went on to have successful careers of their own.

As prolific as he was a photographer and mentor, he was even more prolific with his own friendships and his generosity. I am amazed — but not surprised — at the outpouring of stories of how many peoples lives he touched.

No matter how much time would go by between us talking or texting, I always felt I could reach out to him and he would be there. Still in shock that that is no longer the case.