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Hettinger remembers Dylan Jahner's precious gift

From left, Dylan Jahner's father, Rich, sister, Kaitlin, mother, Jennifer, and brother, Braden, look on Thursday morning as his casket is loaded outside John Roberts Grade School for transport to the Hettinger Cemetery. Dylan, 10, died last week after sustaining injuries from a June 12 vehicle-bicycle accident.

HETTINGER - At the outset of Dylan Jahner's funeral Thursday morning, the overcast, damp and dreary weather reflected the mood of this southwest North Dakota community.

By the time Rich and Jennifer Jahner's 10-year-old son was laid to rest for a final time in the Hettinger Cemetery, however, skies had cleared, allowing warm beams of sunshine to cascade down on a town that needed it.

The shift in weather was also a metaphor for Dylan's tragic and sudden death and the family's decision to donate some of his organs, which will help three people Dylan never met, including a 10-month-old baby, Rich said.

"We've had a lot of people tell us that we made a courageous decision by donating," Rich said after burying his son. "That wasn't our decision. Had Dylan been able to make that decision, Dylan would have. He would have wanted to help someone else so that their family could have some more time with them."

Dylan died June 13 after succumbing to head injuries he suffered after the bicycle he was riding was struck by a vehicle one block from his home in Hettinger a day earlier.

Rich said his son's liver, lungs, pancreas and a kidney were donated to three people in need.

About 500 people attended the funeral Mass at Roberts-Reinke Gymnasium, saying goodbye to a boy described as gentile, caring and noble.

"Dylan did a lot of things at school that we're just hearing about now," Jennifer said. "We weren't even aware that Dylan helped other small kids at school when they were being bullied. He stood up for them, but never once did he come home and say, 'Hey, mom, I did this today.' That wasn't him -- he kept it quiet."

Dylan recently finished third grade at Hettinger Elementary School, and enjoyed camping, fishing, laughing, building snow forts in the winter and riding his bike in the warmer months. He rarely missed watching a Chicago Bears game during football season, his parents said.

Rich added that Dylan loved to spend time with his big sister, Kaitlin, 13, and his brother, Braden, 7, who was with Dylan during the time of the accident. Seated with his family in the front row, Braden remained in his chair during standing portions of the Catholic service, clutching a stuffed puppy given to him by his classmates.

"Dylan was so helpful and never wanted to see anyone hurt," Rich said. "He was a very caring child. I'll always remember the little smile with his big front teeth and the sparkle in his blue eyes. The caring of the community and everything that came our way through Facebook or CaringBridge or letters was very unreal for us. We take for granted living in southwest North Dakota, but the support we've received has been incredible."

Jennifer said one of the things she will miss most about Dylan is the fact that he wouldn't go to bed without a hug and a kiss.

"He was always the one who would say 'I love you' first before bed every night," Jennifer said. "Sometimes he would put his head under the covers at the foot of the bed and, when you went to kiss him, you'd end up kissing his feet. He thought that was the funniest thing ever."

Wristband bracelets bearing Dylan's name were available to funeral attendees as they walked into the gymnasium, which showcasing banners representing Hettinger High School's rich wrestling tradition.

Dylan was already beginning to carry on that legacy. Rich said his son won a state championship in New Salem last year, his first season of competitive wrestling.

Rev. Stephen Folorunso, who officiated at the service, emphasized in his sermon that Dylan will live on through his good deeds and the "precious gift" of his organs.

"None of us knows the will of God," Folorunso said. "But Dylan's death was not in vain."

The North Dakota Highway Patrol has not released the name of the 67-year-old driver of the van that collided with Dylan's bike, but authorities have said charges will not be filed.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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