STURGEON BAY — Two young men were drowned and a third rescued after a wave swept them off Sheboygan’s south pier into Lake Michigan, Sunday night, July 17.
One of the victims, Adam LaLuzerne, and the man rescued, Dylan Abeyta, were members of Corpus Christi Parish in Sturgeon Bay, where a prayer service for the community was held Monday night, July 18. By 8 p.m. that night, LaLuzerne’s body, as well as that of Kurt Ahonen, had been recovered.
The three, plus Jeremy Wheat, who had avoided the wave and called for help, were either students or graduates of St. Norbert College in DePere. A prayer service was also held at the college on Monday during the day.
LaLuzerne, who had just graduated from SNC, had been active in Life Teen and the youth mission trips during his high school years.
“Adam was a leader, big time, during those years,” said Sarah Gavin, youth minister for Corpus Christi and three other area parishes. “His own personal witness helped others and his compassion for others came out through his willingness to serve.”
Abeyta, who as at the prayer service, said LaLuzerne continued to be active in service groups through his years in college, “and always had a smile, no matter what was going on.”
LaLuzerne had graduated two months ago from SNC with a degree in accounting, and had been hired by Acuity in Sheboygan. He had just found an apartment, and Abeyta said the friends had spent the weekend “doing guy things” before going their separate ways. Abeyta, who also graduated from SNC, and LaLuzerne had already taken a post graduate trip to Arizona.
Abeyta said LaLuzerne befriended him when, at age 7, Abeyta was the new kid in town and having trouble fitting in. They remained friends through school, Life Teen, mission trips, and college.
“He was the best friend I ever had,” Abeyta said.
Tina Lauder-Boucher, a member of the parish’s Life Teen team, remembered LaLuzerne’s faith.
“He was always my example when people asked if the mission trips were life changing,” she said. “He was just a wonderful young man.”
SNC’s president, Tom Kunkel, said LaLuzerne was not only an exceptional student, but he was also involved in the kinds of service projects that typified his faith and compassion. He worked through the college’s Sturzl Center for Community Service and Learning to do ongoing service in the Brown County area.
He also participated in Turning Responsibility into Powerful Service (TRIPS), a college program that sent students on mission trips overseas, to Central America and to impoverished locations in the United States. In 2015, the college recognized his commitment to service with its Norbertine Leadership and Service Award.
“Adam was goodness in the world,” said Sandy Murphy, campus minister for TRIPS. “He would add levity to a situation and be the first to offer a hug when someone was in need. He had an innocence about him that put others at ease. He is one of the graduates I couldn’t wait to see what he did in the wider world.”
Kurt Ahonen was a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Howard, and would have begun his senior year as a computer science major at SNC. He worked on the service desk in the Information Technology Services division of the college. Kunkel said his ITS colleagues remember him as hard working and helpful, with a great attitude.
“Kurt was such a gem,” said Scott Crevier, director of User Support and Web Services at the college. “He was a very kind and gentle young man, always so friendly with people, very caring when they’d call our service desk for tech support. I was very bummed when he started another internship this past spring. We just wanted to keep him for ourselves!”
Ahonen also participated in TRIPS, and had an entrepreneurial streak. He developed a YouTube channel and then later designed, built and operated a website to help Green Bay businesses. He was recently given an internship with a computer-related company which would have lessened the hours he spent with the college ITS division.
The college’s Mission and Student Affairs office organized a prayer vigil for LaLuzerne and Ahonen on Monday, even before knowing the outcome of the rescue attempts. Over 200 people attended, Kunkel said.
At the prayer service at Corpus Christi, Abeyta described their venture onto the Sheboygan pier in the face of 4- to 5-foot waves as something done in the spirit of adventure and of conquering new things, as they would be doing in their post-graduate lives.
“We thought it would be a great way to end the weekend, to make it to the end of the pier and back,” Abeyta said. “In hindsight, it was probably a reckless thing to do. I lost the best friend I’ve ever known.”
At the prayer service, youth minister Gavin encouraged those present to “turn to God, cling to your faith and to each other, but don’t ignore your pain.”