RUSHMORE — An active, smiley and immense lover of Jesus is how Kelvyn Leuthold will be remembered by those who knew him.
Area communities are mourning the loss of the 7-year-old boy, who died Monday in a lawn mowing accident in rural Rushmore.
Family, friends, faith and farming were all important aspects of Kelvyn’s life. The energetic boy of Kale and Kourtney Leuthold loved life on the farm.
What many would call work, Kelvyn considered fun. It didn’t matter if it was pig chores, feeding bottle calves or planting crops — Kelvyn was his dad and grandpa’s right-hand-man.
“He always wanted us to wait to combine until after school,” said Kriene Kramer, Kelvyn’s grandpa, who he called Opi. “He wanted to drive all the time.”
While area farmers were unhappy with last spring’s unusually wet conditions that hampered planting, Kelvyn was giddy, because it meant they were still in the field when school was out for the year.
He enjoyed riding horses. While short, he was good at grabbing the stirrup and somehow managing to pull himself up onto the saddle.
He’d frequent the creek that is on the Leuthold farm. His younger sisters, Kaylee and Kara, liked to throw little pebbles into the water, and Kelvyn would go under the bridge in search of bigger rocks. He could barely lift them, but his determination prevailed, and he’d throw them over the bridge into the creek.
“He liked to throw them in and make a big splash,” said his mom, Kourtney. “Kaylee would want one. He’d go get one for her and set it on the ledge, so she could push it in herself.”
On occasion, Kourtney’s Worthington Middle School EL students would visit the farm. In typical Kelvyn fashion, he was the first to welcome them to the farm, where they’d ride horses, check out the animals and ride go-karts.
As a young boy who didn’t like change, Kelvyn assertively told his parents that he’d never marry or have kids and would live on his farm forever.
The oldest of three, he acted as a shepherd for his younger sisters Kaylee, 3, and Kara, 18 months.
Kaylee and Kelvyn had shared a bedroom since she began sleeping through the night at just 3 months old. When she’d have a bad dream, he’d pray together with her.
“They didn’t even come downstairs,” Kourtney said. “They’d tell me the next morning that Kay Kay (Kaylee) had bad dreams and prayed that God would take care of them.”
When Kara would make a noise on the baby monitor, Kelvyn would declare that “Kara Beara” was awake, and retrieve her from the crib. He’d carry her up the steps, even though it was difficult for him.
“(Kara) would just hang on to his neck and trust him,” Kourtney said.
Kaylee had a way of tricking him into helping her, but he didn’t mind. As an organizer, he’d even voluntarily tidy up her vanity in their shared bedroom when she had jewelry and makeup strewn about.
In Kelvyn’s view, things that were broken were meant to be fixed.
“He’d pull things out of the garbage that I’d throw away,” said Kourtney of the little boy who was convinced he could fix whatever was broken.
Kelvyn was also a faithful friend.
He touched the lives of many, particularly through Grace Community Church's life group. That’s what brought Kelvyn and Claire Schultz so close. Kelvyn sparked joy in Claire's life, said her mother, Molly Schultz.
The two enjoyed a variety of activities together, like paddle boating, attending Sunday morning children’s church together, going to drive-in movies and swimming.
“Claire loved Kelvyn very much and anticipated her every adventure with him,” Schultz said. “We had never seen Claire so happy than when she spent time with Kelvyn.”
His compassionate and empathetic nature toward others was beyond his years, said Karen Skog, Kelvyn’s first-grade teacher at Prairie Elementary School in Worthington.
“His words and actions made him a leader in our classroom and he didn’t even realize it,” Skog said. “It was just who he was.”
Kelvyn was a whiz at mental math, Skog said. But when it came time for rocket math — which is exactly what the name implies — he’d get anxious.
“Because he was so competitive like me and wanted to win,” Kourtney said.
Skog said he’d made great strides as a reader last year, and would often bring books to read and share with his classmates. Kelvyn would have been in second grade this fall.
Kelvyn was a calculated risk-taker who loved to water tube without holding onto the handles so he’d bounce up and down. Last weekend, he learned how to ride his bike without holding on to the handlebars.
He played football and basketball at the Worthington Area YMCA. He also played soccer and was a participant in tee ball in Rushmore. He recently added track to the list of his activities.
Kelvyn is described by many as a selfless kid, always willing to lend a helpful hand and ensure others were taken care of.
In fact, it wasn’t an uncommon Kelvyn gesture to gift other kids his toys. They were toys that he liked, but was willing to part with because someone else that didn't have it liked it, too.
“He was only 7 and does it way better than adults,” said friend and neighbor Rachel Jacobs of Kelvyn’s generosity toward others.
While he’ll always be remembered as an active young boy with a toothless mouth constantly donning a smile, Kelvyn’s faith and love for Jesus left a lasting impression on those who knew him.
Jacobs said the Leuthold family is very strong in their faith, which has made their own family stronger in theirs. Kelvyn, Jacobs said, also had a hand in that.
The Jacobs started attending life group — an active group of Grace Community Church families that participate in Bible study and other life events — at the Leuthold household in January
“Kelvyn would lead his own life group with the kids who would come,” Jacobs said. “He was God's light."
Kourtney remembers the moment Kelvyn accepted Jesus into his heart. The two had read John 3:16 together. The scripture that states that whoever believes in Jesus will have an everlasting life sparked a lot of questions for the then-4-year-old Kelvyn.
Accepting Jesus into his heart wasn’t expected, Kourtney said. It was his choice.
“He said he wanted to believe in Jesus and he wanted the Holy Spirit to live inside of him,” she said. “That’s why Kelvyn is so good; it's because the Holy Spirit lived in him. He knew that we are not good as people, but that we could be good with God’s power.”
He was also a proven teacher when it came time for Kaylee to learn about the significance of Jesus dying on the cross. He told his sister that they could live in heaven with Him someday. Her response was that she wanted to live with Mom and Dad.
“He said ‘I know Kay Kay — I used to think that, too, but it’s going to be better,’” Kourtney said of the memory of Kelvyn explaining heaven to his younger sister.
While taken too soon, Kale and Kourtney are thankful for all the lessons Kelvyn taught them.
As first-time parents, he was incredibly patient with them, Kourtney said.
When she’d tell him she was sorry, he’d wrap his arms around her and place his head on her stomach.
“He’d say ‘I love you, Mommy,’” Kourtney said of her very forgiving son.
While it’s difficult to understand why Monday’s tragedy occurred, the family hasn’t lost their faith.
“I begged God in that hospital for him, but He said ‘no,’” Kourtney said. “So God is the boss, and I’m going to trust Him in that. Kale is too.”
The couple expressed appreciation for their family and friends who have made them feel a welcomed overwhelming support. The family feels comfort knowing Kelvyn is in his heavenly home.
A GoFundMe Page has been created to help the family with medical and funeral expenses.
An Aug. 19 fundraiser at Dairy Queen is also planned for the family. Originally slated for the memorial fund of Griffin Engelkes, a Little Rock, Iowa 4-year-old who died June 3 after being struck by a pickup truck, the boy’s parents are opting to commit the funds in honor of Kelvyn.
Griffin’s mom, Hannah Engelkes, said the community has helped their family exceed their dreams for financial support to build Griffin’s Strider bike park, a paved course for children to safely ride their bike, scooter, motorized toys, roller blades and skateboards in the Little Rock old park.
“We can’t think of a better thing to do than pay it forward to another family who’s experiencing such a great loss,” Hannah said. “To know every single feeling that they’re feeling breaks our hearts all over again for us and them. It’s like you’re part of a club you never want to be in.”
Ten percent of the sales between 4 and 7 p.m. Monday will be donated. A donation jar will also be on hand that evening.