Area grads among missing ship passengersFor years, Luella Emmil of Dickinson has received Christmas letters from her classmates Gerald and Barbara (Kohl) Heil. This year’s letter talked about events in 2011 but made no mention of their plans to go on a luxury cruise ship — one that now lays half-sunk off the coast of Italy.
For years, Luella Emmil of Dickinson has received Christmas letters from her classmates Gerald and Barbara (Kohl) Heil. This year’s letter talked about events in 2011 but made no mention of their plans to go on a luxury cruise ship — one that now lays half-sunk off the coast of Italy.
“I just think at the time she thought I won’t put it in because I’m going to put it in next year and explain the whole fabulous cruise,” Emmil said. “I sure hope that next year she can write about the cruise.”
Gerald and Barbara, of White Bear Lake, Minn., and 1959 graduates of St. Mary’s High School in New England, have been missing since last week’s cruise ship disaster off the coast of Italy, residents said Friday.
The Costa Concordia was near Tuscany on Jan. 13 when it struck a reef and capsized, according to the Associated Press. Authorities have confirmed 11 deaths. The Heils are the only Americans among 21 passengers that are unaccounted for.
Former classmate Carol Robinson said she, like other residents, didn’t know immediately that the couple was from New England until Barbara’s maiden name, Kohl, was associated with her. She said the two are gentle, sweet people, and she was concerned when she realized her classmates were on the ship when it capsized.
“I was in total shock,” Robinson said. “Anyone that I know would have been on that ship, but then for it to be Barb and Jerry was just an unbelievable thing. I just felt helpless.”
Barbara grew up in New England and went to school at St. Mary’s for 12 years, and Gerald went to school there for his last four years of high school, said former classmate Geneva Steier of Dickinson. She added that their class is tight-knit.
“We had our 50th anniversary in 2009, and they were there” she said. “We’ve had the most class reunions. I think we broke the record. I think we kind of enjoy each other. When we heard it on the news, we were all just calling each other in shock. That kind of just threw us all.”
Emmil, Steier and Robinson said they are praying for the couple. Emmil added that Gerald and Barbara are easy to get along with and are always willing to help others.
“I really think that they were helping other people get off the ship because they were caring people. That’s just the kind of people they were,” Emmil said.
A prayer chain started in New England and quickly moved to classmates for the missing couple that has ties to the small southwestern North Dakota community. A prayer service is also being planned for the couple.