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West Central Area mourns the loss of A.D. Pat Anderson

A family is mourning the loss of a father, friend and husband, while the community around them lost one of its greatest leaders this past Saturday. Members of the Hoffman, Kensington, Elbow Lake, Wendell and Barrett area that make up the West Cen...

West Central Area dean of students and activities director Pat Anderson (second from right) with his sons Ross (left) and Ben (right), wife Jacki and daughter Brooke.
West Central Area dean of students and activities director Pat Anderson (second from right) with his sons Ross (left) and Ben (right), wife Jacki and daughter Brooke. (Contributed Photo)
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A family is mourning the loss of a father, friend and husband, while the community around them lost one of its greatest leaders this past Saturday.

Members of the Hoffman, Kensington, Elbow Lake, Wendell and Barrett area that make up the West Central Area school district were trying to cope with the death of a man whom many called the face of WCA after the Knights' dean of students and activities director Pat Anderson was killed in a utility vehicle crash near Kensington on July 30.

"For us in this district, he was the go-to guy, he was the finisher," interim superintendent Chuck Cheney said on Tuesday afternoon. "People knew he had answers. He had the history. He had strong connections with people up and down Highway 55 and in this community, as much as anyone I've ever seen in any district I've ever worked in. His knowledge of the culture of these communities and the needs that they had - he was our guy."

Anderson, 45, was driving a John Deere Gator UV on Highway 55 west of Kensington at approximately 7:55 p.m. on Saturday when he collided head on with a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am driven by 21-year-old Eric Blehr of Kensington. The collision happened when Anderson attempted to turn east down a side road and crossed in front of the Pontiac, according to the Minnesota State Patrol. Alcohol was not a suspected factor in the crash.

Blehr suffered serious injuries and was transported to St. Cloud Hospital where he was listed in fair condition as of Aug. 1. His two passengers, 11-year-old Ellie Blehr-Larson of Kensington and 13-year-old Kaylee Trousil of Alexandria, suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Anderson was reported deceased at the scene.

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Visitation is scheduled from 4 to 8 p.m. at Mes­siah Lutheran Church in Hoffman on Thurs­day, and one hour before the funeral on Friday, which will take place at the church at 10:30 a.m.

SHOCK, DISBELIEF

Anderson was entrenched in the WCA community. He attended school in Hoffmann and graduated from Hoffman-Kensington in 1989 before going on to graduate from Moorhead State University. His teaching and coaching career started with a one-year stop at Red Rock Central School in Lamberton, where he met his wife.

The Hoffman area was always home. Anderson returned to farm with his father, Dale, and brother, Paul, while continuing his teaching and coaching career in Hancock. In 1999, he accepted his first position at West Central Area as a social studies teacher. That's the position he kept until taking over as dean of students and activities director in 2010.

Word traveled fast through the small towns that Anderson impacted during his life. Shock, disbelief, devastation - those were emotions an entire community felt upon hearing of his death.

"When I first heard the news, you didn't want to believe it," longtime WCA boys basketball and boys golf coach Kraig Hunter said. "It's one of those things that you think couldn't happen. I don't know if there are words to describe it. It's just devastating to lose such a good friend to so many people. You feel for his kids losing a father."

Anderson and his wife, Jacki, have three children; Ben, 18, Ross, 16, and Brooke, 13. Hunter has known Anderson for more than two decades and described him as someone who will be impossible to replace in the WCA community.

"Pat was known as PA and PA meant so much to everybody," Hunter said. "When you go into education, you try to make an influence on young people's lives and as you can read on social media, there's no doubt he impacted many lives with all the people writing about him being a great coach, teacher, athletic director, friend, husband, father. He lived life the right way. I think a way to describe him is he was the face of WCA. He's a guy that's irreplaceable."

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Pat's son, Ben, posted a picture of him and Ross with their dad - all three looking at each other and laughing - to his Twitter account on July 31 with the message "Miss you already." Students and adults alike offered their sympathies through the "Knightstrong" hashtag on Facebook and Twitter.

"This kind of a death you just don't prepare for," Cheney said. "I think the quick, unanticipated loss is a thing that has struck people. Whenever you're in a situation like that, you're thinking back on all the impacts that he's had. I think even more than ever, I've come to realize, and I think others have too, the strong connection Pat had with kids and families."

ORGANIZED, AVAILABLE, WELL VERSED

Hunter described Anderson as a person who, no matter the situation, came to work with a smile on his face.

"You couldn't ask for a better guy to work for," Hunter said. "He was not only very organized but he came to coaches for their input. He treated all the activities as important. He was a guy coaches could go to when there was something on your mind to talk to. He was always there. That's why I think he's just going to be irreplaceable. You couldn't ask for a more well-rounded athletic director in terms of organization and being there and making everybody feel important."

Anderson was a coach himself, spending time at the helm of the WCA girls basketball program as well as coaching youth sports for the Knights. But he wasn't known as an athletics director. His interests were in extracurricular activities, which ran the gamut from sports to fine arts.

"That's plays, speech, one-act play, whatever it was," WCA secondary principal Claire Vincent said. "He was incredibly knowledgeable about all aspects of extracurriculars for kids. He just knew everything, whether it was FFA or sports. There was never a sense ever that he was the sports guy. He was the activities guy. He was fabulous."

LEANING ON EACH OTHER

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The community is grieving his loss by coming together.

West Central Area staff members gathered last Sunday afternoon. Counselors, pastors, administrators and teachers were then available for the many students who came together on Monday evening. Support will continue to be offered for students going forward.

"The administrators within their own communities are looking at ways that they'll make themselves available," Cheney said. "Our main effort right now is going to be the realization and preparing for the fact that we're going to have school again."

The start of the 2016 academic and athletic year is right around the corner. Football players will don pads for their fall camp in just a couple weeks.

Administrators are anticipating the possibility that might reopen a lot of the wounds that the WCA community is feeling right now. They know they have to lean on each other to try to find a way to replace a voice that seems irreplaceable.

"Everyone comes back to school and it's what did PA used to do?" Cheney said. "When he came on in the morning and did announcements or did this and that, all of a sudden it's a different voice. There's going to be a long time where there's going to be consistent daily reminders of, 'That's what PA used to do.' We realize when school starts, we're going to have to ramp up our efforts to pay attention to what kids are doing, saying, feeling and respond to that."

Related Topics: WEST CENTRAL AREA
Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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