Denfeld News

April 4, 2007
Duluth News Tribune

Kolquist passes, but the cause he inspired lives on
By John Myers

Kevin Kolquist, the Duluth man who inspired an annual fishing tournament to raise money to fight ALS and who inspired his community through his own fight for life, has died.

Kolquist, 52, died Monday evening from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease.

ALS weakens and eventually paralyzes a person’s muscles, making it impossible to move and eventually to breathe. It does not affect the mind.

Kolquist was diagnosed in September 1995 and lived far longer than the usual 3- to 5-year life expectancy of people diagnosed with ALS, thanks to a ventilator that helped him breathe.

“He fought an incredible battle, but it was time. His body was shutting down,’’ Kevin’s brother David Kolquist said. “He was always a competitor. He wasn’t a very big guy in stature, but he was very competitive on the golf course and he was always trying to drive the ball farther. He must have changed drivers 100 times trying to get from 210 [yards] to 230 or 240… And that’s the way he was with this disease.’’

Upon hearing Kevin’s diagnosis, his brothers David and Tim Kolquist and their families began an unrelenting effort to raise money to help find a cure for the disease. Kevin and Tim joined national ALS Association officials in lobbying the federal Food and Drug Administration director in Washington.

The family, especially David, was instrumental in establishing an ongoing annual fishing tournament which has raised more than $1.2 million for ALS since 1996. The money goes to make life easier for patients and toward research to find a cure.

The 12th annual walleye fishing contest is June 2 on Island Lake.

“They will keep going on until we find a cure,’’ David said. “Kevin didn’t give up, so we can’t.’’

The Kolquist family was instrumental in founding the Black Woods Blizzard Tour, an annual snowmobile rally. The event has raised more than $2 million to fight ALS in eight years, including more than $400,000 this year.

In recent years Kevin Kolquist communicated through a computer-activated voice machine.

“Without events like ours, there’s no hope,’’ Kevin said in a 2004 interview, using the device. “As long as there’s hope, there’s a reason to fight. We just keep on battling.’’

Thanks to the family’s fundraising efforts, every ALS patient in Minnesota who wants a communication machine can get one.

“Kevin was an inspiration to everyone, not just ALS patients but everyone who came in contact with him. And his family, his brother Dave, have been the driving force behind ALS in Minnesota for the past 12 years,’’ said Kent Hrbek, a former Minnesota Twins star.

Hrbek, whose father died from ALS in 1982, has been an ardent supporter of the effort to find a cure for the disease.

“People come back for the fishing (tournament) and the snowmobile run year after year not just to donate their money but to be around so much energy to help people,’’ Hrbek said. “We’ve lost a great champion for the cause … But the fight will go on.’’

On average, 100 people are diagnosed in Minnesota with the disease each year, and 100 die. Hrbek said efforts to focus funding toward ALS research, as well as efforts to find a cure, have been frustratingly slow.

Sue Spalding, executive director of the ALS Association, Minnesota Chapter, said Kevin Kolquist and his family brought the ALS battle in Minnesota to a new level.

“We were a very small and struggling chapter until they got involved and pushed it to where it is today,’’ she said. “Our national office loves to tell the Duluth story, how a small city with a committed group of people can make a difference.’’

David Kolquist said Kevin inspired his family and friends but that Kevin also fed off others’ generosity.

“I don’t know anyone who would have stuck through this like [Kevin’s wife] Cindy,’’ David said. “It wasn’t just our family, but all of the people up here in the fishing tournament and snowmobile event and dances we’ve had.’’

Kevin Kolquist was a Duluth Denfeld graduate who lived in Duluth Heights. He was active in Duluth youth hockey and was co-owner of Harbor City Oil, the family-owned business, with brother Tim, who also was his next door neighbor. He is also survived by his wife, Cindy, a son, Brandon of Duluth and daughter, Kara Stokke of Hermantown.

Funeral services are 2 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Duluth.

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