Family members of two drowning victims raise funds to help others
Anthony Kuznia's family can still remember the way the 11-year-old East Grand Forks boy constantly explored every nook and cranny of his surroundings. The family of Guy Miller, who was from Minto, N.D., still expects to answer the phone and find ...
Anthony Kuznia’s family can still remember the way the 11-year-old East Grand Forks boy constantly explored every nook and cranny of his surroundings.
The family of Guy Miller, who was from Minto, N.D., still expects to answer the phone and find the prankster on the other end of the line posing as someone else with the intent of conjuring a laugh.
It’s been about a year since either family last saw their loved ones alive - Kuznia drowned in August and Miller drowned in April 2013. But they’ll be honoring Miller’s and Kuznia’s memory as well as raise funds for organizations important to the two with fundraising events later this summer.
“Death is what it is,” Janet Luettjohann, Kuznia’s grandmother, said tearfully at the official opening of the Northeast Regional Water Operations Center in Grand Forks last week. “You find comfort in other people who have had similar experiences.”
The 40-member volunteer rescue team now based at the center was heavily involved in the search for Kuznia and Miller.
“They were relentless and no one gave up,” said Kelly Schanilec, Miller’s sister. “It’s strange, but now that it’s over you miss seeing all those guys.”
The Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department, which operates the center, unveiled a memorial to the two drowning victims as part of the opening ceremony. The 26,000-square-foot building on Gateway Drive houses water rescue equipment and classroom space.
Luettjohann wears a small steel-chained necklace adorned with a puzzle-piece charm. The words “Anthony Kuznia” is engraved on it. Clutching the charm, she said the necklace reminds her of her grandson, but it also symbolizes autism awareness - a condition Kuznia was diagnosed with when he was 5.
“I talk to a lot of people about autism; about what it means and what it is,” she said.
Children with autism tend to wander and explore, disappearing from time to time. Kuznia wandered from home Aug. 8, 2013. After a massive search effort, his body was found a day later in the Red River.
“If you’ve ever lost a child (in any capacity) you know how much it hurts,” said Paul Hvidspon, Kuznia’s uncle.
To honor the boy’s memory, Hvidspon’s motorcycling club, Silent Thunder Motorcycle Club, is dedicating its annual charity ride to Project Lifesaver, a national program adopted by the city of East Grand Forks with a mission to “bring lost children home.”
The program provides families with tracking devices that their wandering loved ones can wear. In the case of a disappearance, the police will use antennas to track the missing person down.
“We didn’t have a Lifesaver program center here until Anthony’s death,” Luettjohann said. “Before it was approved, I didn’t care about anything. It’s helping me to move on.”
So far, eight individuals in the area have received a transmitter, she said, but the device comes at a price.
Each client must pay about $330 to rent a transmitter for the first year and then $25 a month for subsequent years.
“If any family has a special needs child, you have to know the expense is greater,” Luettjohann said.
Silent Thunder’s charity ride will happen Aug. 23 starting at the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks. Money raised through registration fees and a raffle drawing will go to the Anthony Kuznia Memorial Fund to help offset the costs of the trackers.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Hvidspon said. “Hug your kids, hug them tight.”
Among the 31 nieces and nephews in the Miller family, Guy Miller was generally the “favorite uncle,” playing games with all the kids and constantly bringing about laughter with whomever he had contact with, said his brother Tony.
For nearly four months, he and his six siblings wondered what happened to Guy Miller on the night of April 29, 2013. That was when Guy’s truck was swept away by floodwaters near Minto.
The family spent countless hours interacting with volunteers from the water operations center as they searched for Miller.
“Every time our family was out there searching and walking the riverbanks, I just kept thinking of all of the volunteers,” said Schanilec, Miller’s sister.
There was no relief for the family as search parties swept the countryside searching for the body. They found it Sept. 7, and a sense of closure began to settle in.
Through it all, Schanilec said the family felt indebted to the volunteers for spending so much time searching for someone they didn’t know. That prompted the idea for the Guy Miller Memorial 5K Run/Walk in Minto.
“I just felt so heavy in my heart to do it,” she said. “This 5K was the best thing I could think of that allowed us to give back to those who searched for Guy.”
Scheduled for Sept. 20, the 5K run/walk will not only raise funds for the rescue team, it will also raise awareness of the dangers of driving through high water.
Schanilec said photos of what happened to Miller and drowning statistics will be posted all along the route.
“Even to save one life by not driving through water and drowning is worth it,” she said. “It’ll bring back memories and bring about awareness.”
Schanilec’s daughter, Jessica, has been heavily involved in planning the event.
At first she was skeptical about the race considering all her family has been through, she said. But, like her mother, she has come to see it as a way to move on while still remembering the accident that took her uncle’s life.
“This race is a way for people to help when they wanted to help before but couldn’t,” Jessica Schanilec said. “I just keep thinking of the volunteers that donated their time, vacation days and resources to help our family out in a time of need. If others can be so generous to strangers, we can do the same.”
If you go
- Saturday, Aug. 23: The ninth annual Post-Sturgis Run hosted by the Silent Thunder Motorcycle Club will raise funds to support the Anthony Kuznia Memorial Fund, which provides scholarship for those using Project Lifesaver program in the East Grand Forks area. Registration begins at noon at the Broken Drum in Grand Forks, the ride begins at 2 p.m. and a party at The Ho Sports Bar and Casino will conclude the day’s events at 7 p.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 20: The first annual Guy Miller Memorial 5K Run/Walk will raise funds to benefit the Northeast Regional Water Operations Center. Participants are encouraged to register online at guymillermemorial.com before Sept. 6 to receive a race T-shirt, but they can also register on race day. The race begins at 9 a.m. at the Minto (N.D.) Community Center.
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