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Bryan Horwath, Forum News Service, Published June 14 2013

Hundreds gather to mourn NDSU student who died in farm accident

MOTT, N.D. – With a sucker in his shirt pocket and a small stuffed cow nestled under his arm, Kristen Wehri said her final goodbyes to her son before his casket was closed Friday.

“I’ll love you forever, Michael,” Kristen said. “I know you’ll be watching over us from heaven.”

Four days after a farming accident claimed his life in Hettinger County, Michael Wehri was remembered by close to 1,000 people during a funeral service at the National Guard Armory.

Many in the overflow crowd tried to fight back tears while mourning the death and celebrating the life of the 19-year-old North Dakota State University student and 2012 Mott-Regent High School graduate.

“If you were around the past few days, you would have heard of all the good Michael has done,” said Dean Wehri, Michael’s father. “It’s all that good that you hear about that makes us feel like he accomplished so much. It’s not easy letting him go, but, when he’s leaving with all of this good behind him, it’s not a waste.”

In writings he left behind from earlier this year, Michael Wehri stated that his goal in life was to “someday be able to step back and see ‘Wehri Farms Mott, ND’ in crisp, bold decals on the door of a semi.”

An agronomy major at NDSU, Michael had always wanted to be a farmer, family members said.

“Michael touched so many lives with his smile and his infectious nature for good,” said Kody Martin, Michael’s uncle and one of his pallbearers. “You hear a lot about heroes and legends – Michael was all of that. He made people embrace their own existence, but he would never boast about that, he would just give you two thumbs up, a big smile, and say ‘carry on.’ ”

The consensus both at the funeral and afterward at a lunch served at the Hettinger County Fairgrounds was that Mott had lost one of its shining stars, though Dean Wehri and the Rev. Corey Warner, who officiated at the service, said Michael’s influence carried far beyond southwest North Dakota.

“I had Michael’s cellphone in my pocket after the accident happened,” Dean said. “The phone was still on and, as soon as people got word, his phone and his Facebook page just exploded. It didn’t stop until the next morning. He had 890 contacts in his phone, and I guarantee he knew every one of them. He touched a lot of lives, and we’re really going to miss him.”

On display at the armory were pictures and mementos of a person who lived a full life during his short time on the planet.

In high school, Michael was active in FFA, speech, music and was an accomplished actor. He was also one of the most valuable players and an all-region lineman for the Mott-Regent football team. He received an outstanding freshman award from the Saddle and Sirloin Club at NDSU.

Baskets of candy suckers were placed at the armory during the funeral, with Warner even indulging when he wasn’t speaking. Martin said Michael loved suckers and rarely was seen without one.

“He ate them all the time and never went anywhere without one,” said Kory Martin, Michael’s uncle. “He just loved suckers. The day he passed, he had one in his pocket.”

Kody Martin said the hard candies served as a good metaphor for how his nephew lived his life.

“He was a sucker for life,” Kody Martin said. “He was a sucker for love, for life, for good, and he made us suckers for him. He was carefree and he loved life.”

Michael Wehri was working for Mott farmer Stan Blickensderfer when the sprayer he was driving hit something electrical Monday afternoon, according to the Hettinger County Sheriff’s Office. The accident occurred about 2 miles north of Mott.

Details of the accident are still being investigated.

“Michael’s smile touched a lot of hearts during his 19 years, and it’s going to go on,” Kristen Wehri said. “He’s like a teardrop in an ocean – the ripple effect is just amazing.”