Jeff Knudson’s death touched so very many people. It always does when the death is of a 14-year-old. That’s too young for someone to die. Life is supposed to be starting – not ending. But in this case, the loss seemed especially deep.
Jeff died two Sundays ago in a vehicle accident that could have happened to any of us. He was at the wheel of the family pickup truck, with his dad Steve by his side, on a rural gravel road in Eastern Montana. Jeff was learning to drive.
If you live in a big city somewhere, first driving lessons are in giant, empty, parking lots. In Montana, parents take teens on rural backroads.
Why learn to drive there? It’s not just that they’re empty. It’s because these roads are the reality of living and driving in Montana. You have to learn that all roads are not paved and smooth. There are bumps in the road.
In this case, it was the bumps that caused the tragedy. Front tires grabbed them and threw the truck in one direction, young Jeff over-corrected and the vehicle wound up on its top. Jeff died. His father Steve survived. And all of us were left with tragic loss.
Steve grew up in western Montana, the son of Wayne and Jackie Knudson of Florence and Seeley Lake. Jeff’s grandfather Wayne, under the nickname of “Walleye Wayne,” has been my co-host on the Montana Outdoor Radio Show for the past 11 years and a friend for much longer than that.
So I knew Steve and his wife Cary, Jeff and his sister Emma. After driving to Billings last week and attending packed memorial and funeral services, I only felt Jeff’s loss more deeply.
Jeff was a fine young man. He was passionate about sports – Griz fan, Minnesota Vikings fan – and was already making his mark as a basketball player in his own right on an eighth-grade team along with playing football and competing in track.
Jeff loved the outdoors, following in the footsteps of Wayne and Steve as a hunter and fishing and loving every minute of it. His particular passion was fly fishing.
A few years ago, grandfather Wayne gave him a fly tying kit for Christmas. Jeff loved it Jeff bought fly tying books. He became a regular at fly shops. He even launched his own Online fly tying business — BigSkyTroutFlies.com – with the help of his other grandparents, Carroll and Davilyn Nelson of Ryegate.
After listening to the tributes at the memorial service by his friends, you learned Jeff was an eighth-grader that his classmates looked up to and respected. In listening to the adults, you learned he was mature beyond his 14 years.
Jeff was on a great life path that ended all-too soon and all-too tragically.
Jeff’s loss is more than his friends and family’s loss. It’s Billings’ loss, Montana’s loss, the world’s loss. Jeff was a fine young man. We all share in his loss.