September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
On the morning of April 25, Rich McNamara and Bonnie McNamara celebrated with their daughter and son-in-law, Courtney and Greg Hovel, as they welcomed the birth of their grandson, Cashton. Their other two children, Derek and Sydney, along with Rich's girlfriend, Brenda White, and Bonnie's boyfriend, Todd Erikson, were also happy for the news; however, that night, they mourned the death of Derek (21), after he was killed in a side-by-side all terrain vehicle accident.
"It's a shame and it's been hard. It's been really, really hard," Rich said.
"It's been devastating," she said.
After chores that Friday evening, Derek had gone out with his friends to a local creek where they were making videos for a fundraising activity that has become an Internet phenomenon called "The Coldwater Challenge".
"He was just out having fun with his buddies," Rich said.
According to Rich, Derek and two of his friends decided to head home at about 10 p.m. on their Ranger vehicle without wearing seatbelts or helmets. While turning into the driveway, Derek took the corner too sharply and overcorrected, causing the vehicle to roll onto the driver's side.
"He was a stone's throw from being home and asleep in his bed," Rich said.
Although the two passengers were able to hold on to sidebars to avoid major injury, Derek fell out and the rollover protection bars hit his head and pinned him under the vehicle.
"There was part of the skull that was crushed. I think it was fast ... I don't think he knew what hit him," White said. "That's the only solace we can find - that it went extremely fast."
When Rich received a text from one of the Derek's friends at about 10:15, he knew something had happened, but wasn't expecting the news he received. When the sheriff walked in with Derek's two friends, Rich knew the situation was serious.
"I looked at the two boys, who didn't say anything, and then I looked at the sheriff. He just nodded his head and I knew Derek was gone," Rich said. "I felt like a military wife you see on TV. I just dropped to my knees. It was heart wrenching."
Derek graduated from Goodhue High School in 2011 and was involved in many sports and organizations within the community. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course before returning home to farm. He worked alongside his dad on his 177-cow dairy near Goodhue, Minn. Derek also worked for his uncle and grandpa, Steve and Duane Lindstrom, of Vasa, Minn., who crop farmed and raised beef cattle.
"Derek and his grandpa were really close," Bonnie said. "They communicated a lot and Derek called him everyday."
In addition to his two jobs, Derek raised about 100 dairy steers, rented three farms and owned a custom baling business, McNamara Baling, which he started as a junior in high school.
"When he started the baling business, I thought he was nuts," Bonnie said. "But he was very passionate about his work. He put in a lot of hours."
"I think his goal was to milk 200 cows, run a couple thousand acres, raise 100 steers and run his baling business," Rich said.
Rich had to sell Derek's steers and has planned to buy the baling business and run it with his nephew, Mike McNamara, who was like a brother to Derek, Rich said.
"You wouldn't think you would have to settle the estate of a 21-year-old, but he had a lot going for him," Rich said.
For the time being, Mike also plans to help Rich on the farm and take over some of Derek's responsibilities.
Bonnie, Rich and White said they miss Derek.
"I miss his smile and his conversation," Bonnie said. "He could talk to anyone, whether they were 2 years old or 80."
Rich misses his time with Derek on the farm.
"During the first four days when I would open my shop door, I would just cry. I would lose it," Rich said.
The shop was where Rich always helped Derek fix his baler, which he said always seemed to break down at about 7 p.m.
"He (Derek) would call Mike and after milking the three of us would go out there and work on it until 10," Rich said. "In those moments, I watched my son go from a boy to a man in front of my eyes. It's that kind of stuff that's hard."
Rich also said he and Derek would talk and text numerous times throughout the day.
"He was my best friend," Rich said.
Derek had many other friends within the community.
"He liked to socialize," White said. "We found out how many friends he had at the wake. Over 2,000 people showed up and people we didn't even know sent cards."
Bonnie said she was overwhelmed by the outreach from others.
"Faith and support from the community helps me get through this," she said.
The Kenyon-Wanamingo traveling basketball team gave the family a maple tree in memory of Derek. Rich planted it on his farm.
"Now I can look at it everyday, watch it grow and think of him," Rich said.
Derek's favorite hat - the one he was wearing the night he died - also has a permanent spot hanging in the entry way of Rich's house as a reminder of Derek.
Despite the hardships, the McNamaras said there has been a small silver lining from the situation. The 21-year-old had voluntarily marked his driver's license as a tissue donor. His skin and eyes were donated to someone in need.
"Someone who wouldn't have been able to see the rest of their life is going to have Derek's beautiful blue eyes. The quality of other people's lives will be enriched and Derek thought of that on his own," White said.
They feel fortunate Derek accomplished so much in his 21 years.
"He lived a good life. It was nice to know he took time to enjoy life," Bonnie said.
Although the family sees the years to come being a challenge, they will try to live their life to the fullest and cherish the family they have around them. They also want to remember and laugh about the good times they had with Derek.
"It's all we've got," Rich said. "We have to remember all those great memories of him."
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