MOORHEAD — Two men who were friends since boyhood and who were both vice presidents with RDO Equipment Co. died following a vehicle crash in South Dakota on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 18.
Mark Kreps and Steve Connelly, a former Moorhead High School head football coach, were both longtime employees of RDO. Both have strong connections to Moorhead, according to postings on social media, which indicated Connelly and Kreps were members of the Moorhead High School Class of 1984.
The South Dakota Highway Patrol released a report on Wednesday detailing the deaths of two men in a traffic crash that happened Tuesday afternoon. While the report does not identify the victims by name, the ages of the victims, both 54, are a close match for Kreps and Connelly.
According to the highway patrol report, the men died after the pickup they were riding in collided with a dump truck west of Groton, S.D., a town about 20 miles east of Aberdeen in northeast South Dakota.
The report said the dump truck was westbound in the left lane of U.S. Highway 12 and was making a left-hand turn into the median when the pickup, which was also westbound, rear-ended the dump truck.
The driver and the passenger of the pickup were pronounced dead at the scene, according to the report. The driver of the dump truck was not injured.
The crash, which happened about 2:40 p.m. about 5 miles west of Groton, remains under investigation, the report said.
Wednesday afternoon, Christi Offutt, a chairperson of the R.D. Offutt Co., issued a statement praising Connelly and Kreps for their leadership, which she said had been instrumental to the success of the company.
"Today, the entire RDO Family is grieving the loss of two of our senior leaders," Offutt said.
"Steve knew the name of every member of his team, gladly shared credit with all of them, and touched so many lives in our organization and our community as a mentor, friend and coach," Offutt said, adding that she had worked with Kreps her entire career at RDO.
"For 25 years, Mark built lasting and meaningful relationships with customers and team members all over the world," Offutt said, adding that Kreps was always enthusiastic, terrifically creative, and dedicated to the success of his customers.
"Our hearts grieve for their family and friends," Offutt said. "We are grateful for the years we had working with and learning from Mark and Steve, and we are much better because of it," she added.
According to information provided by RDO, Connelly started his career with the company 17 years ago as a general manager in the Red River Valley and presently served as vice president of Midwest agriculture.
In that role, Connelly was responsible for providing leadership to all agriculture stores in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Kreps currently served as vice president of sales for agriculture, and was responsible for overall sales strategy and execution across the agriculture division, according to the company.
He was also responsible for international agriculture sales and wholesale marketing.
According to the company, Kreps had nearly 30 years of sales and management experience, having started his career with RDO Equipment Co. 25 years ago in a sales capacity for the Red River Valley stores.
Moorhead Area Public Schools released a statement Wednesday saying the entire school district family was grieved by the news of Connelly's death.
"Steve Connelly was a graduate of Moorhead High, a teacher and coach in the district for over ten years and a parent of two Spud graduates. He will be deeply missed by the entire Spud community," the statement read.
Kreps' sister, Bonnie Eukel, said that her brother Mark was very close to Connelly and their families were close as well.
She said as difficult as news of the deaths has been, family members believe it would have been very difficult for either man to carry on if they had survived and the other had died.
Eukel and other members of Kreps' family also put together a joint statement sharing their thoughts about Mark.
"Mark was so many things to so many people. First and foremost he was a father, a husband, a brother and a son. Family — his wife Traci, his daughter Sydni and son Ryan — were everything to him," the statement read.
Family members said Mark's colleagues at work were part of his family as well, a family that encompassed the world, as he counted friends in Russia, Australia, Zambia and Ukraine, among others.
"All miss him," the statement said, adding that Mark was particularly close to Connelly, whom he had known since childhood.
In keeping with his love of family, the statement said Mark reserved the term best friend for his twin brother, Keith, a former executive vice president at RDO, who worked side by side with Mark for all but the last few months of his life.
"Mark’s legacy is his undying passion for family, friends, work and community. He will be desperately missed by all who knew him," the Kreps family statement said.
Matt Entzion, of West Fargo, heard about Tuesday's crash and the death of Connelly, a friend, on Wednesday morning.
He said it's possible, however, that he became aware something had happened even before the news reached him.
He explained his feelings in a letter to The Forum, stating that during a business trip to Rapid City, S.D., on Tuesday a sense of anxiety came over him that he couldn't explain.
After attending his business meetings, he went for a run, though his disquiet grew as he stopped during his workout to contemplate a beautiful view.
"I stared out over the valley and took personal inventory. My marriage. My children. My family. My job. Our health," Entzion said in the letter. "I acknowledged everyone and everything was as good as I could deserve, and let the anxiety blow away with the breeze through the pines."
Entzion said in a phone interview that when he ultimately learned of Connelly's death he thought about his friend and the connection they made years ago. Both were involved in coaching youth football and their families made trips together keeping up with their children's sporting events.
Entzion, who graduated from Moorhead High in 1991, said he and Connelly also shared a strong connection to the Moorhead community in general.
"He's just a great person," Entzion said, describing Connelly as a rock-steady family man who was brilliant at his job.