LITTLE ROCK, Iowa — Six weeks have passed since 4-year-old Griffin Engelkes died as the result of a farming accident. His family is both appreciative and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support — the kind words, the hugs, the memorials — from friends and family across northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.
They know their little boy is in heaven, and when the question of why starts to creep into their minds, they find reassurance from Griffy’s older brother, Gibson, 5.
“It’s very easy for him. For children, it’s black and white,” said mom Hannah. “His brother passed away, there’s a heaven and he’s there.”
One day, Gibson announced that Griffy was eating mac-n-cheese in heaven; another day, he proclaimed that Griffy was riding bike all day.
“It would be so nice if it was that simple for us adults,” Hannah said. “He doesn’t think about the whys.”
Griffin Engelkes loved everything about life. He was the one to hug and cuddle with Mom and give kisses.
“He was just my little cuddlebug,” Hannah shared.
He was babied, interjected dad Nate, with the hint of a grin to his wife.
Griffin loved four-wheeler and UTV rides with Dad. He loved being outdoors and, when the weather kept him inside, he loved coloring.
He loved cake.
“If there was a party, he wanted cake,” Hannah said, recalling his Mr. Incredible birthday party in April. That was his favorite movie — he loved Jack-Jack.
He had a girlfriend — Paisley, from across the street.
“They’ve been friends pretty much since they were born,” Hannah said. “They never argued with each other.”
Griffin became a big brother nine days before the accident.
“I was so nervous about him being a big brother,” Hannah said. “He was an awesome big brother. He had lots of patience for Gus and gentleness.”
Griffin would have started preschool this fall — when he could finally use the book bag he got when his older brother went to school.
“Sometimes he’d take his book bag to daycare,” Hannah said.
There are so many memories — good memories, happy memories — and photographs. The night before the accident, Nate and Hannah and the boys came to Worthington for a family portrait session by LO Photography and Events. A grinning Griffin was captured by the lens that night in a relaxed pose, wearing a red, buttoned-up shirt and blue shorts. The image was used for his obituary.
“We are thankful for all the love and support we have received over the last month and a half,” Hannah said. “The communities in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota have proven daily to us that we live in the best area, with the most caring individuals.
“Though we hurt we cannot have Griffy back, this love gives us strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other — each step forward without our precious Griffin.”
“Hannah and I are so thankful for the thoughts and prayers for our family and everyone involved in the accident,” added Nate. Griffin’s death coincided with Nate’s 32nd birthday.
In addition to the condolences, there has been an outpouring of memorial contributions — so much so that the family has established the Griffin Engelkes Memorial Fund. With the funeral expenses already paid, the family wanted to do something special in memory of their middle child.
During the next month, there will be four benefit fundraisers — the money targeted to construction of a Strider bike park, a paved course for children to safely ride their bike, scooter, motorized toys, rollerblades and skateboard.
The city of Little Rock had plans prepared for the course a few years ago in the hopes of raising roughly $30,000 for its construction on the north side of the old City Park in Little Rock. The plans were set aside when the goal wasn’t met.
The park is across the street from the Engelkes home — a place Griffin would look upon from his upstairs bedroom window.
“We always thought it would be very cool — it’s just an expensive thing to do,” Hannah said of the project. “I thought … we would do this as something Griffin would have enjoyed himself.”
As of Monday afternoon, Griffin’s memorial fund had reached more than $13,500 — not quite halfway toward the goal.
Hannah said if they raise more than what is needed for the bike park, they’d like to also purchase some new playground equipment for the park. Ultimate Playgrounds of Prior Lake has already committed to donate a couple of pieces, she added.
“There’s tons of kids in this neighborhood,” Hannah said. Her goal is to have the fundraising completed so the new amenities are completed by the fall of 2020.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the memorial fund may write a check payable to the Griffin Engelkes Memorial Fund and mail it to Frontier Bank, care of Sheila Klaassen, 323 Main St., Little Rock, Iowa. 51243.
Four benefits scheduled
Since Griffin’s death, family and friends have rallied around the Engelkeses, setting up a meal train page, Go Fund Me page and individual fundraisers including T-shirt, can koozie and sticker/decals in memory of Griffin. There was also a tip night at the Rock Rapids, Iowa, Pizza Ranch with monies going directly to the memorial fund.
Now, four new fundraisers are planned, including a silent auction to be hosted by Serenity Gifts, 1132 Oxford St., Suite 3, during Worthington’s Crazy Days July 25-27. Store owner Sheri Van Der Brink is taking donations for the silent auction until Wednesday, and will post updates on the Serenity Gifts Facebook page. One of the larger items on the silent auction is a Green Mountain pellet grill.
On Aug. 2, Iowa native Cody Hicks will give a fundraising concert from 9 p.m. to midnight at The Round Table, 408 Main St., Little Rock. Hicks, of Montezuma, is a country music singer performing covers and originals. Orange T-shirts will be sold during the concert. Advance tickets are available at Serenity Gifts in Worthington or The Round Table and Frontier Bank in Little Rock.
The Little Rock City Hall and Rec Center will be the site of an Aug. 3 pancake feed from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Round Table is making pancakes — they were Griffin’s favorite pancakes because the cook always made them for him in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s face — while R&M Custom Livestock has donated sausages, Stensland Family Farms is donating milk and Little Rock Community Foods is donating juice. This event will also include a silent auction, live auction to include a donated Strider bicycle, and cupcakes by Totally Cupcakes, with all profits going toward the memorial fund.
On Aug. 19, Dairy Queen of Worthington will donate 10% of its sales between 4 and 7 p.m. to the Griffin Engelkes Memorial Fund.
“People have been more generous than I have ever imagined,” Hannah said of those helping to organize the benefits or help the family in other ways. “The generosity has been overwhelming, but overwhelming in a good way — overwhelmingly in a way that it’s the sunshine in the darkness.”
Her grief has come in waves: “Sometimes it feels like you’re drowning, and then sometimes you’re happy for just the four years you had with him.”
Griffin’s last gift was the donation of two of his heart valves through the Iowa Donor Network.
“Griffin’s heart was the biggest part of him,” Hannah said.
Both Hannah and Nate have the remainder of the summer off from their jobs — she works for PurNet Inc. in Worthington and he is the diesel instructor at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon, Iowa.
The pair grew up in Rushmore, Hannah graduating from Worthington High School and Nate from Adrian.