More than 400 neighbors, friends and family gathered to remember the lives of a father and daughter cut short in a plane crash last Saturday in Florida and to support their family at a candlelight vigil at the park Sunday night in the Valley Lake subdivision in Round Lake.
As dusk settled, the candlelit faces of the crowd looked on as Kyle Kowalski, a student at Grant High School, played guitar and sang a song he had written for his friend Katherine "Katie" Bronken, 15, who succumbed to the injuries she suffered in the plane crash Wednesday at a hospital in Florida.
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After the song, people who knew Katie and her father, Jeffrey Bronken, 53, took turns at the microphone sharing their memories of them.
Kelsey Hoxie, who lived next door to the Bronkens, said that she and Katie, who was a few years younger than Kelsey, had made a pact that when Katie got her driver's license that the first trip she would make would be to take Kelsey to Dairy Queen.
"I was finally going to be her turn to chauffeur me around," Hoxie said, standing before a gazebo addressing the crowd stood around in a massive semicircle. "I love you Katherine, and I'll see you soon."
The crowd wrote messages to Jeffrey and Katie on posters, banners and white paper bags illuminated by battery-powered candles.
Messages were written praising Jeffrey's patience and the care he took coaching basketball at St. Bede's Junior High and other local youth teams.
"He always had a sense of humor," Round Lake Mayor Donny Schmit said of Jeffrey. Schmit attended the same church as the Bronken family. "They're just a wonderful family."
Jeffrey and Katherine are survived by wife and mother, Susan Manna Bronken, and their son and brother, Tom. Susan and Tom attended the vigil but declined to comment.
Also attending the vigil was the third passenger on the flight, Katherine's friend Keyana Linbo, 15. Event organizers said Linbo, who had only returned home from the Florida hospital earlier Sunday, had planned on watching the vigil from her family's car but came out to stand with the community.
The vigil was organized by Lexi Rogalevich and Brittany Reynolds, two of Katie's friends and classmates at Grant High School. Reynolds said they were planning to just have their friends come, but "it turned out to be the community."
At the close of the ceremony, three balloons were released, representing the fallen members of the Bronken family. One of the balloons was for Christine Bronken, the eldest sister of the family, who was killed in a snowmobiling accident in December 2009 at age 20.