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Horvat's helping hands

The Horvat family pose a picture in 2008 after Bryan Horvat (center) graduates from Red Wing High School. Pictured with him are (from left) Dan, Susan, Linnea and Kevin. Kevin Horvat's memorial service will be held Sunday afternoon in Larry Sonju Gymnasium at the high school.

Kevin Horvat celebrated his 45th birthday May 20 with a family outing to the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. He gave roses to his mother, wife and daughter before making a toast to new beginnings.

Since that moment, family and friends have faced a potent mix of emotions as they've dealt with the suicide of the former Red Wing High School teacher and coach.

But it hasn't been a lonely battle. The people of Red Wing have opened their arms to help the family cope with the tragic loss.


Susan Horvat received news of her father's death Monday afternoon while picking up food at Subway. She left her order on the counter and collapsed as she exited the building.

Brian Auge caught her.

The Auge family has been a crutch for the Horvat family ever since Horvat was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2005. Susan now views Brian Auge's presence at that spot at that moment as one final gift from her father.

Auge, who will speak for the Horvat family at a memorial service Sunday, simply wishes he could have done more.

"He's one of those guys who has done something for everyone in this town," Auge said Monday evening at the Horvat home. "He didn't have any enemies, and not many people can say that. ... He was a good coach, but he was a better man."

Many people shared Auge's feeling of helplessness as Horvat's health deteriorated.

He went from a robust former fullback to a shell of his former self in the span of about 18 months. The disease largely incapacitated his left side. A torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, suffered during a fall, further limited his movement.

That, combined with a dependency on medication, turned family and friends into loving babysitters. As hard as people tried, it was impossible to do anything to make Horvat truly feel better.

But his death turned into an unexpected cathartic experience.

Friends showed up uninvited to provide support when news of the death began circulating.

Lynn Dulak answered the family phone, took messages -- passing along the most important ones -- and prepared food.

Scott and Donna Wordelman greeted the family with hugs after they returned from the Twin Cities with Bryan Horvat, who had just moved into a new place for summer school at the University of Minnesota.

A steady stream of current and former Red Wing students came to pay their respects to the family and the man they loved.

"It was just overwhelming," said Linnea Horvat, Kevin's widow. "People felt so helpless through the whole illness. They wanted to do something and now they could."

More than a 100 visitors have stopped by since Monday evening, many making multiple appearances. Perhaps twice that number have called. Linnea wasn't able to get out of her pajamas until almost noon Tuesday because there were so many visitors.

Susan Horvat had 55 Facebook messages of condolences when she signed in Monday evening and a Facebook group called "R.I.P Horvat. You will be missed" already has 293 members ... and counting.

Cookies line the countertop and flowers arrive daily.

Horvat's teaching style -- which Susan, an English teacher at Red Wing High School, tries to emulate -- was such that many students call him their favorite.

In fact, Red Wing's faculty and hundreds of current students created a sign that was given to him by the family on his 45th birthday.

John Burns, a 2008 Red Wing graduate, also wrote a long letter to Horvat, while junior Justin Lance supplied a formal paper detailing how Horvat inspires him.

The faculty admired their former colleague so much that they donated sick days to him for almost this entire school year.

With that help, the family paid the medical bills and narrowly avoided financial ruin.

"I'm not sure there's a church big enough for his funeral," Auge said with a nod to the number of lives Horvat has affected.

Thanks largely to Red Wing Principal Beth Borgen and athletic director Matt Schultz, that's no longer a concern.

That duo visited the Horvat household Tuesday morning and offered up the high school facilities for anything the family needed. The Horvats accepted.

Visitation will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday in Larry Sonju Gymnasium and the ceremony will start at 2 p.m.

The high school band will play, the high school choir will sing and Auge will address the crowd.

Afterward, all are invited to a prayer at the Ring of Honor -- a memorial site which Horvat created near the football field -- before returning to the high school cafeteria for food and an open mic to share memories of Horvat's life.

The family is hoping to find a way to preserve his memory at the Ring of Honor when that project is finished, which is expected to be later this summer.

Just as he molded thousands of young minds in his teaching career, Horvat did much of the work at the Ring of Honor with his own two hands. The house his wife and kids call home was also built by their patriarch.

Even as his body and mind betrayed him over the final months of his life, Horvat's hands were busy helping those he loved.

Horvat spent a good chunk of February creating new kitchen cabinets for Russ Marshall.

He insisted on doing the grunt work himself, even though he was too weak to work the drill properly.

So it was that the long-time coaching partners worked in tandem to operate a small drill. Marshall can't help but laugh at one of the last moments he enjoyed in the company of his best friend.

"No one was around to see it," Marshall said. "But it was almost like a comedy."