MOORHEAD -- Ray and Kathie Kvalvog couldn’t bring themselves to attend a vigil for their two sons Tuesday night. Instead, they sent their Lighthouse Church pastor, who talked about what Park Christian had meant to the boys.
“Kathie wanted me to tell you that they loved going to school and that they loved this place,” The Rev. Dale Wolf told a packed gym, with close to 400 people in the bleachers, on the floor and lining every wall. He had come from spending the afternoon with Ray and Kathie.
“They are grieving as you, well, you probably can’t imagine,” he said. “In my ministry, I’ve never quite seen anybody go through anything quite like this, to lose their only sons.”
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On Tuesday morning, Connor Kvalvog, 14, and his brother, Zach, 18, died in a rollover crash on Interstate 94 near Fergus Falls. Mark Schwandt, 17, and Jimmy Morton, 18, who were both in the same car as the Kvalvogs, are hospitalized. Schwandt is being treated at Lake Region Hospital in Fergus Falls with a non-life-threatening injury, and Morton is at Sanford Medical Center being treated for a serious injury, according to the Minnesota State Patrol.
Troopers believe the pickup driven by the older Kvalvog was eastbound on I-94 at about 9:10 a.m. near Dalton when he hit the shoulder on the north side of the road, overcorrected to the right and then rolled into the median. The vehicle ended up in the westbound lanes of I-94, the patrol said.
Connor Kvalvog had just finished seventh grade, and Zach had just finished his junior year at Park Christian. Schwandt had finished his junior year at Park Christian, and Morton was a transfer from Jackson, Miss., enrolled for his senior year at Park Christian.
They were on their way to Wisconsin for a basketball camp, and all four were set to be on the basketball team this upcoming season.
But Tuesday night, in the same gym where that team might have practiced, hundreds gathered to mourn.
“Today was just a brutal day,” said former Park Christian and North Dakota State basketball coach Erv Inniger, the first of many to speak at the vigil. “To have your life snapped up, I don’t know why. I have no clue.”
Students in jean shorts and tank tops blinked away tears as they sang, “through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all.” Parents in button-downs wrapped their arms around each other and buried their faces in their hands.
“Zach and Connor both were extremely kind, competitive, respectul boys,” Park Christian President Kent Hannestad said. “They were an asset to the entire school, not just the athletic program. It’s just a deep tragedy. Our main focus is to try to help the family through this difficult time.”
Zach had been the starting point guard for the Park Christian basketball team since he was a freshman, leading the Falcons to their first trip to the state basketball tournament as a sophomore and notching the 1,000th point of his career in December. He was also the quarterback of the football team and ran track.
“Of all the players I’ve ever had, high school or college, Zach is as intense of a player I’ve ever had,” Inniger said. “The reason we went to the state tournament was because of Zach Kvalvog. He just wasn’t going to lose. That’s what made him the asset he was.”
And Connor was ready to give Zach a run for his money.
“Zach told me a story,” former Park Christian student Xander Grohman said at the vigil. “One time they were playing one-on-one, Zach beat him, Zach said, ‘Call me next time you think you can beat me.’ Two seconds later, Connor pulled out his phone and he called him.”
The crowd laughed, a rarity that night at the K-12 school, which has just 400 students. Many of them were there, with puffy eyes and thoughtful words.
“Zach, he was the nicest person ever. I mean, well, besides Jesus,” said Tyrell Rodriguez, a freshman who thought of Zach and Connor as his brothers. “Connor would be right there, too, encouraging me. They were just amazing.”
“You could see when he stepped on the court, his eyes lit up,” said Hunter Nickel, who played basketball, football and ran track with Zach for three years at Park Christian.
Nickel woke up to the news Zach and his brother had died.
“I didn’t think it was real. How can you think of something like that,” Nickel said. “Through basketball, we created a friendship that can never be broken. He just had this way of pushing past every obstacle. There’s a reason he was a captain as a sophomore.”
The way Zach played sports is how Nickel tried to find a lesson in what happened Tuesday.
“His love for sports, his family and friends was unbelievable,” Nickel said. “He gave it all. That’s the best way to describe him. Give it your all every time and take every opportunity. That’s what people can learn from him.”
Inniger coached Zach when he was a sophomore in the season Park Christian went to state for the first time. But when it comes to how Inniger would remember Zach, it was also off the court.
“Basketball, we all know how good he was,” Inniger said. “No one knew how much he helped people. I saw him take a kid who was struggling in class, Zach would take him home at night and try to help him get through that class. I would bet there weren’t 10 people who knew he did that. He did everything he could to try to help him have success.
“We lost a tremendous young man, but you got to remember what he gave to us,” Inniger said. “Let’s celebrate what he had. Let’s celebrate what he’s done for us. Let’s have the great memories and not this last one.”
As for Connor, it’s the smile Josh Lee will remember.
“Zach was a leader in every facet of his life,” said the Park Christian high school boys basketball coach. “He pushed our guys to levels that a lot of them didn’t think they could get to. Those boys and their work ethic were the exact same, but their personalities they were completely different.”
He said Connor was goofy and funny.
“Just walking down the hall and seeing him would put a smile on my face,” Lee said. “He would do something that he knew maybe he wasn’t supposed to do and push the limits, and he would just give this goofy little smile that only he could give and you’d forget what he just did.”
That favorite memory of Connor will also be Lee’s last.
“We were just talking and joking 45 minutes before the accident,” Lee said. “Connor gave his goofy little smile. It doesn’t feel real at this point.”