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Dust on the Dashboard

A short life well lived

Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. Reach him at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

A few weeks ago, I got one of those jarring reminders of how precious life is. Daniel Spitzer was a young man with his whole life ahead of him.

I barely knew him. He was the same age as my oldest niece and over the years I had gotten to know him and his parents through the Pratt County Fair. His dad Brian and I have similar interests and I often found myself discussing matters of the world with him during the fair. Daniel passed away in a tragic accident, and really hit me hard.

My observations were that Daniel was the type of young man that we really need in this world. He was polite, kind, caring and hard working. In the little bit of time I was around him I could tell that he was a responsible, salt-of-the-earth, solid human and well on his way to making an impact on those around him.

Judging by the comments on the Facebook page dedicated to his memory, many others shared my views on Daniel. He lived an incredibly impactful life in 18 short years.

In the weeks since his passing I have marveled at what has come out of such a tragic event. I have seen hope and joy come about out of the tears and pain. Daniel’s parents and siblings have shown such grace and faith that their strength has helped heal others who knew Daniel. I did not know him very well, just a few brief encounters over the years but after reading the memories others who knew him well, I was overwhelmed by how great this young man was. My Facebook feed was filled with memories of a short life well lived.

I know there was a great amount of grief and sadness, I can’t imagine the pain his family must have felt but their reactions were inspirational to the rest of us. What I witnessed over the past few weeks were hope and joy coming from tragedy.

It all started immediately after Daniel’s passing. He was an organ donor and gave the gift of life to several others. It was reported that his honor walk was the biggest the hospital had ever – another sign of how tremendous this young man was.

My family has been impacted by the selflessness of an organ donor, and that alone was a ray of hope in a time of darkness. So many lives were impacted by someone they had never met, so many lives that will be better lived. As great as that was, the story does not stop here.

The Pratt County Fair happened just a few short weeks after the accident and sudden passing. It was an event that could have been a sad, stark reminder, but instead it was dedicated as a celebration of everything Daniel was about. I am sure there was a sense of something missing, maybe a twinge of sadness, and I promise there were tears shed but there was a lot of good memories also. I am sure there was a sense of Daniel’s presence at each event.

If the story ended here, it would be incredible but what happened at the 4-H livestock sale was stunning. Daniel’s steer was sold last in the order and all of the funds went to the Daniel Spitzer Legacy Fund. The money will be used by his family to keep his memory alive. It will go to things like scholarships, mentoring and camps. Just like Daniel would have done, if there is a need, then the fund will be there to help. Again, if the story ended here, it would be one for the ages but there is more.

Daniel’s steer not only sold but it sold over and over and over, 39 times in all, raising more than $60,000. I watched online and if I promise there was a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. 4-Hers who had just sold their own livestock contributed, along with many, many more from the community. Again, something that could have been incredibly sad was turned into the very model of hope and joy. There will be a way to contribute to the fund and I will try to share it when I have that information.

Through all of this my heart goes out to Daniel’s parents and family. They are the model of Christian faith and grace, and I admire them greatly for that. His passing is a reminder for all of us left – a reminder that our lives will not be measured in how long we are here but rather how much we do with the time we are given.

His passing is also a reminder that nothing is guaranteed, especially tomorrow. Be sure to tell those around you how much you love them and cherish the time you are given with them. Our lives are a gift, and it is up to us to choose how we use that gift. I know I will choose to be more like Daniel.

Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension educator for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. He can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

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Glenn Brunkow is a fifth-generation farmer in the Northern Flint Hills of Pottawatomie County in Kansas. He was a county Extension agent for 19 years before returning to farm and ranch full time. Reach him at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

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