by Jim Boyle
Austin Pohl’s tiny hands released 26 balloons at dusk on Sept. 27 in memory of his father, Luke Pohl, who would have been 26 that day had it not been for a July 22 boating accident in Chippewa Falls, Wis.
The 5-year-old boy misses his daddy, who taught him to golf, fish and shoot a gun, among other things.
The balloons were green and brown, and one said Happy Birthday Dad.
“I’ll never forget the way he took to fatherhood,” said his wife, Heather Pohl, 25. “He showed Austin so many things. He really looked up to his dad.”
The family of Luke Pohl, Heather and Austin as well as Heather’s parents, watched the balloons until they could no longer see them.
Austin announces they will “make it up to heaven.”
Austin’s younger brother, Mason, is due to be born Jan. 13. He has been given the name that Luke and Heather picked out for him after they found out they were expecting their second child.
Mason will only get to know his father from the stories that are passed on from those who knew Luke as either a son, brother, friend, husband or father.
His family and closest friends, who gathered for his funeral a couple of months ago, will gather together again for the first time today (Saturday, Oct. 1) for a benefit planned from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Maple Tavern Banquet Room.
There will be a silent auction and a raffle to raise money to help cover some of the expenses that have arisen since the tragedy on the Chippewa River and to help Heather adjust to life on one income and that as a single mother.
The Pohls, who met while they in high school and went to Luke’s senior prom at Maple Grove High School, moved to an Elk River townhome four years ago with Austin and a puppy named Morgan. They were married Sept. 18, 2010.
Life was nicely falling into place for them.
But a fateful boat ride among men in the wedding party of Luke’s older brother, Leo, would change everything.
“They decided that they wanted to take a quick boat ride while us girls worked on the flowers for the next day’s wedding celebration,” Heather recalled. “The last thing my husband said to me was: “ ‘Love you babe, we will be right back.’ ”
When some time passed and the ladies began to worry, they phoned their men and learned they were on their way back.
But soon there was sound of a siren. And then a call from a policeman to tell of an accident. The next two months have spun like a movie reel.
“I would be all right if I never saw another helicopter or ambulance the rest of my life,” Heather told the Star News. “It was literally like a horror movie that you can’t quite come to grips with.”
Luke and two other men who were on that boat died. Three others on the same boat survived. The driver of the other boat in the crash died. A passenger of his survived. It took two days to find Luke.
That’s when Heather’s world stopped turning.
“Life for me is on pause,” she said. “We had so many plans, things we wanted to do. In a sense, I’m just kind of living for my kids.”
Heather, whose first labor ran dangerously long at 27 hours, is planning to have a scheduled C-section with her second childbirth. During her first pregnancy, she developed blood clots in her lungs and almost died, she said. The thought of a C-section is comforting to her.
“It just feels right without having Luke by my side,” she said.
She has moved back home with her parents in Maple Grove, and she sends Austin to an elementary school there. He goes to bed each night with a daddy bear, a gift complete with a picture of his father and a poem about heaven.
Heather’s faith in God has, however, wavered in the wake of the tragedy.
“I did have a faith,” she said. “It’s hard. I’m trying to work on it. I’m trying to recover all that faith.”
She said she thinks Austin will be all right.
“He’s still a 5-year-old boy,” she said. “He enjoys his days, but gets sad when we talk about Luke.”
Heather does her best to be his rock.
“You eventually run out of tears,” she said. “You become a rock and hide your emotions. Austin gets very sad when I’m sad.”
The funeral was filled with tears and hugs. The accident is expected to remain under investigation for at least a couple of more months as authorities piece together details of that dark night and weigh factors such as speed.
Heather said she hopes the benefit on Saturday can be a place for some smiles and a chance to celebrate Luke’s life.
He was an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt waterfowl and fish for walleye up north on Big Sandy Lake. He was a caring husband and a loving father. He worked in a supervisory role for Kenlawn of Golden Valley at the time of this death.
“Luke was strong, an amazing daddy, an amazing person with a huge heart and he never judged anyone,” Heather recalled as tears welled up again. “I’ll never forget his laugh, his light-heartedness. He was fun to be around and was always happy. He was never crabby. He had a lot of patience for me.”
As Austin released the balloons on Tuesday, Heather said tears, heartache and memories filled her heart. Heather says he would be happy to know how much love is being spread for him in his honor.
“He deserves it all and then some,” Heather said.
For more information or to donate items, contact [email protected]