Better to have loved and lost: Family and friends of Koy Opdahl remember a spectacular young man
December 19, 2018
Koy Opdahl made the most of his short 18 years on earth, enjoying each day to the fullest. He often traveled the backroads of the Zap, North Dakota, area, in his pickup blasting KBMR's old country with Tinkie the Corgi on the seat beside him, likely on his way to a neighbor's branding. He passed away Nov. 24, 2018, in Bismark due to medical complications from type one diabetes, a little less than a month before his 19th birthday.
"I saw him on Thanksgiving. I knew he was supposed to work at Menards on Black Friday, and I assumed he was working, but he was at home, not feeling good," his mother Jane said. "He didn't tell me he was trying to manage his diabetes on his own." Koy's twin sister Kenzie said she felt off that day, though she wasn't sure why.
They grew up together as built-in best friends, she said. "We live in a small town, so there aren't many kids our age. We were always exploring and making up stories," Kenzie said. "When we were six or seven and taking turns pulling a little wagon in a pasture, my brother was pulling me along the middle of an incline. One side broke, and I went rolling down the hill. I had a few minor bumps and bruises plus thorns from some brush. My mom spent the rest of the night picking them out, and he felt so bad. After that, he was always very protective of me, and whenever he hurt me by accident, he always did something to make it up to me. He was a loyal brother and friend."
Jane is grateful to have had the short time she had with her second son versus not ever knowing him at all. "Like the Garth Brooks song The Dance. It hurts, but I would rather have that than not have him at all. He taught me unconditional love," Jane said. "If anything comes of this, I hope it brings out the importance of people really understanding what diabetes kids, and patients in general and their families, go through. It's a chronic disease that's a struggle to go through on a day-to-day basis."
“His love of everything ag and cowboy life was obvious in the way he dressed, carried himself, and the people he hung out with. I heard a lot of people say he was an old soul. He was just a good kid, a really good kid. A lot of kids are affected by his loss; he touched a lot of people in his quiet sort of way.” Carl Blackhurst, high school principal
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Koy's favorite time of year was branding season, and he was able to fulfill a dream getting cows of his own a few years ago, partnering with his best friend Casey Lundquist and Casey's dad Bob, from Dodge, North Dakota, and summering the cows and calves on the home place in Zap.
Red Angus often caught Koy's eye. A favorite past time was going to sale barns and catching a sale. In the summer, he was outside at the lake, roping, working on derby cars, or helping friends put up hay. In the winter, Koy was often found ice fishing in between ranching duties.
After getting a cow loan at 15, he took care to check in with the banker regularly, developing a good relationship.
He branded his own herd with an E slash Z even though his struggle with juvenile diabetes was anything but easy. Koy's parents kept a pretty close eye on him during calving; the lack of sleep could often wear on him, but it didn't keep him from doing what he loved. Many of Koy's high school teachers said that they grew to know far more about calving than they ever planned to through his essays.
"He was a really well-liked student and known for being compassionate," said Beulah, North Dakota, High School Principal Carl Blackhurst. "His love of everything ag and cowboy life was obvious in the way he dressed, carried himself, and the people he hung out with. I heard a lot of people say he was an old soul. He was just a good kid, a really good kid. A lot of kids are affected by his loss; he touched a lot of people in his quiet sort of way."
Koy loved to frequent the little country store and hang out with his friends, ranchers that would stop in for a steak or a beer.
"Koy was always proud that he was pretty well-known in Dodge," Jane said. "He loved going over there and being around those kind of people. He just liked the quality of a rural life. He loved to hunt and fish and took the needs of others really seriously and made friends really easily."
During high school, Kevin and Jane would have to remind their son to leave his gun at home, simply because he would forget or conveniently have it along, not knowing what he mind find along the way.
"He even still surprises us. We looked in the back of his car, and there was a big ol' coon in there. That's the kind of kid he was," Jane said. "His most recent vehicle was a Buick, and he loved it because it had enough head room for him to wear his cowboy hat."
"Many people said they met him out roping dummies in the parking lot at college, waiting for lunch to be over," Jane said. He was enrolled in the mechanical maintenance technology program at Bismarck State College.
Jane learned that, after her middle child's passing, Koy and her oldest son Kane were far closer than she knew; a discovery that did her heart good.
"His older brother told me, which surprised me, that he would run a lot of things by him," Jane said. "There was no fancy talk with Koy; he would lay it out and was concrete about things and made rational decisions. As an older brother, he would go to his younger brother for advice. I was glad they had that in each other."
Koy and his twin sister Kenzie's birthday is looming in the near future, Dec. 20. It'll be a hard day for Kenzie, her mother said, since she's never had a birthday alone before.
"He was just a really good, wholesome kid who loved his community and his neighbors. He loved branding and the quality of life you get in rural America," Jane said. "If anyone needed a hand, he was there. He was very loyal to his friends and family, and he loved everything about the cowboy way of life, from the simplest things like taking care of your land and cows."
The Opdahls hope to commemorate their son and brother with an event and work for Juvenile Diabetes awareness. "He was too cool of a kid and blessed with such good friends that have become family to all of us," Jane said. "Our families have become friends, and we're really fortunate to have that community support where we live."
Koy was proud to volunteer as a fire fighter in the Zap Fire Department.
In lieu of flowers, the Opdahl family has requested donations to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. More than $8,500 has been donated in Koy's name due to the kindness of friends and family.