Playing cards, raising funds and remembering Kevin

Kevin Vettleson

by April Scheinoha

    Upon entry, the pinochle players are jokingly told to empty their pockets. After all, organizers will also likely get their money for raffles and drinks. But it’s all going to a good cause: the Richard M. Schulze Family American Cancer Society Hope Lodge.
    Years earlier, three members of the Vettleson family – Kevin; his wife, Kim; and their nephew Wyatt – had envisioned a pinochle tournament.
    “The Vettleson family is famous for pinochle, and I just happened to play it growing up,” Kim said.
    The Vettleson family eventually made Kevin’s dream a reality two months after his death. The tournament benefits the Hope Lodge, which held a special place in Kevin’s heart. “He cried when we left,” Kim recalled.
    In January 2009, the rural Trail resident wasn’t feeling well and went to the doctor. A doctor diagnosed him with pneumonia. However, the symptoms didn’t go away. The following month, Kevin again went to the doctor. Scans were completed, and it was determined that he had lung cancer.
    Kevin immediately began chemotherapy and radiation at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He was given the maximum amount of each treatment since the tumor was close to his heart and surgery was impossible.
    For three months, he and Kim stayed at the nearby Hope Lodge. “We came home every weekend though as he couldn’t stand to be away from our farm,” Kim said.
    Hope Lodge provides free lodging for those with cancer. It features 42 private guest rooms, each with two beds. There are also six fully equipped kitchens, where guests prepare their own meals. The facility is entirely funded by donations.
    In the summer of 2009, the couple returned home. However, Kevin soon suffered a bad seizure. He was flown to the U of M on July 4, 2009.
    Earlier, doctors had seen a spot on his brain. Kim recalled the doctors weren’t worried about it since it hadn’t taken any dye when Kevin had been tested and it could have been there for years.
    After the seizure, it was learned Kevin had a Stage 3 brain tumor unrelated to his lung cancer diagnosis. At the Mayo Clinic, a doctor told Kevin that he was the first person he had seen who had two deadly time bombs. Kevin passed away Jan. 22, 2010.
    Kevin worried that his family and friends would forget him. Of course, that would be impossible.
    Kevin chose to be buried in Valle Cemetery. His family owns land around the cemetery. “He chose that spot, so people would drive by him every day,” said Kim. “He was a big part in planning his funeral. He chose the day, which was a Saturday; the location, which was the Oklee high school gym; and the time, which was 2:00, so everyone would go uptown and have a beer after and celebrate. There were over 1200 people at his funeral, and I made all the food as I told him that would be the last meal I ever made for him. It really was a very special day when I look back on it.”
    Kevin’s memory continues to live on in the annual pinochle tournament for Hope Lodge. “I just wish everybody could go down to the Hope Lodge and see what they do for people,” Kim said.
    The family hosts the pinochle tournament the last weekend of March. “We usually have 20 to 25 teams of two,” Kim said.
    Each year, Kim, her two kids, her kids-in-law and any of Kevin’s available siblings present a check to Hope Lodge. She said, “This year, we hit the 25,000 [dollar] mark, which was amazing.”
    Staff still remember Kevin. He was 6 feet, 6 inches tall with a loud, booming voice.
    It’s likely staff will never forget his family either. Kevin would be proud.