Alumnus 'Served with a Servant's Heart'

At a memorial on Wednesday, Kevin Anderson, 50, Augustana class of 1987, was remembered for serving students, colleagues and his church "with a servant's heart."

Anderson, a programmer analyst for the Sioux Falls School District, was killed in a plane crash on Friday along with Dr. Daniel Swets, Joshua Lambrecht and Brian Blake.

He is the son of Pearl Anderson, former division secretary for Augustana's Social Sciences department.

The following story appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 15, issue of the Argus Leader:

Loss Mourned, Lives Celebrated
Men Who Died in Plane Crash Remembered for Relationships
By Steve Young, Argus Leader

On a damp, cloudy day , Sioux Falls mourned the loss and celebrated the lives Wednesday of four men killed in a plane crash last week near the airport.

In stories funny and poignant, friends and families retraced the lives of Brian Blake, 54; Kevin Anderson, 50; and Dan Swets, 47, during services at Southern Hills Methodist Church, Grace Lutheran Church and Augustana College’s Chapel of Reconciliation.

The scene will repeat itself today at the Ramkota Hotel Exhibit Hall, where the fourth man killed in last Friday’s unexplained wreck of a twin-engine Cessna aircraft, Joshua Lambrecht, 30, will be eulogized in a 2 p.m. ceremony.

It is a somber exercise for a community still coming to grips with how the plane piloted by Blake, and carrying the other three to a FIRST Lego League event in Rapid City met such a violent end. The National Transportation Safety Board plans to release a preliminary report next week, though a final answer may be 12 to 18 months away.

At Augustana, where his office sits only 12 feet from the one long occupied by Swets, Eric Wells remembered how his friend used to greet him mornings with the words, “What do you know that’s good news today?”

“It was like a little game; I’d have to come up with something,” said Wells, chair of the school’s physics department. “In the aftermath of what’s happened, that would be a pretty hard question to answer today.”

Anderson, Swets and Lambrecht were “computer guys” connected by their involvement in FIRST Lego League, a program developed to inspire students through science and technology.

Beyond that, Swets, who taught computer science at Augustana, had a distinguished career and a number of jobs that included writing software to bring the Space Shuttle orbiter back to Earth, and graduate research on facial recognition software that led to a program that’s been in use since the attacks of 9/11.

Still, for all those accomplishments, Swets “didn’t walk around with his resumé for everyone to see,” Wells said. “He was pretty low key. I think it’s kind of that Midwestern culture; you don’t walk around with a billboard expressing what you’ve done.”

Lambrecht developed MobileStar, a remote monitoring system for off-road equipment similar to OnStar, and one he managed for his employer, Dakota Fluid Power. Anderson was a programmer analyst for the Sioux Falls School District who never turned down a request to do anything.

“I’m not sure if he had been traumatized by the word sometime in his life. But he didn’t know the word ‘no,’ ” Superintendent Pam Homan told those gathered at Grace Lutheran, where Anderson’s flag-draped casket was wheeled to the altar to the words and notes of “Amazing Grace.”

So the programmer analyst said “yes” to everything, Homan said, whether it was volunteering for projects at work, helping with youth programs at Grace Lutheran, mentoring young people in the FIRST Lego League, or excelling in Toastmasters.

“He served,” Homan said. “And he served with a servant’s heart.”

While all the men were remembered for their service and for the excellence they achieved in their lives, the words and stories captured their simple and common humanity as well.

Swets played the tuba in college and community bands, said his Augustana colleague, Reynold Nesiba, an associate professor of economics. And just as significant to Nesiba, he was a very good friend.

“I have spent some of the happiest days of my life with Dan Swets,” Nesiba said, then quickly added, “and I have spent some of the very saddest moments of my entire life with Dan Swets, and I simply miss him a great deal.”

The two leaned heavily on each other when they went through divorces, Nesiba said. And though he knows the breakup of Swets’ first marriage was difficult for his three oldest children, “I do know this,” Nesiba added. “He adored them, and he loved them, and he was proud of them.”

Across town at Grace Lutheran, Homan described standing in Anderson’s cubicle at work after his death and seeing a bottle of Pepsi on the floor, a can of Slim Fast on his desk, the Zits comic strips he loved and kept, and the Table Talk trophies on his shelf that he won at Toastmasters.

They were all part of his story, Homan said. And so was the joke he told at 5 a.m. one morning after he had volunteered to spend the night working with others on a project. When the others insisted they couldn’t stay awake any longer, the ever effervescent Anderson tried to energize them with a joke.

“He said, ‘How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?’ ” Homan said. “When they didn’t seem to know, he answered, ‘None. A light bulb is a hardware problem.”

That story of humor, of energy, of friendship, was repeated again and again Wednesday. At Dakota Fluid Power, it was Lambrecht’s office they gathered in each day for a friendly conversation or to hash over a problem, said Djamel Khali, manager of the company’s agriculture division.

“Josh was somebody you just instantaneously bonded with,” Khali said. “We’re all pretty devastated. We spent a lot of time at each other’s homes, grilling, barbecuing. I can’t tell you how much we’re going to miss him.”

At Southern Hills, and in online memorials, the feelings about Blake were similar. On Miller Funeral Home’s website, Rolf Swanson of Minneapolis described Blake “as like a brother to me” and talked about how his friend always sent cards to his daughter, Alison, whenever they were separated. Blake even did that once when he had flown to Minneapolis to have lunch with Swanson.

“I started the tradition the following week with my daughter,” Swanson said. “Brian was pleased that I started doing this. So to those who read this, in honor of Brian, send your kids a note every time you are in a new city, state or whenever. Brian would be proud of you.”

Let their legacy be your inspiration, Swanson and all the others were saying Wednesday. “Let the power and reach of his light inspire you all,” Augustana President Rob Oliver said at the Chapel for Reconciliation, as the rain continued to mist .

As she finished her thoughts on Anderson at Grace Lutheran, Homan said she could envision a scene at the crash site where the spiritualized body of Anderson jumped up after the accident, brushed the soot and debris of his clothes, turned to the others in the plane and said, “Wow, my friends, that was quite a ride.”

“Then I believe he turned to God,” Homan concluded, “bowed his head and said, ‘Father, how can I help? What can I do?’ ”

Kelly Sprecher
Communications & Media Relations