Community remembers miner Larry 'Pete' Marek

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Sol Sandberg, a miner at the Lucky Friday Mine, holds his son Jimmy, 19 months, as they leave the memorial service Thursday for Larry "Pete" Marek at Kellogg High School. Hundreds of people attended the service for Marek who was killed in a mining accident last week at the Lucky Friday Mine.

KELLOGG - Larry "Pete" Marek's community doesn't remember him as just the selfless dad who set the bar for a miner's stoic work ethic.

He was a rock.

"He was known for his strength, his stability," said Pastor Corey Berti at Marek's memorial service in Kellogg on Thursday evening. "He's the one people could go to and lean on. Not just his immediate family, but his brothers, everyone who knew him."

The name Larry Marek has cycled through news stories and TV coverage over the past week. But little more was known of the 53-year-old Kingston miner but the speculations of his status beneath fallen rock for nine long days after the April 15 cave-in.

There was much more to Marek than his final days beneath the Earth in the Lucky Friday Mine, Berti said.

He was a model family man, the pastor said, a fearless outdoorsman, and a miner of rare stock.

"Pete was very courageous," Berti said. "As are all miners who go underground and risk their lives, day in and day out."

In a community where that is the paradigm of a life well led, the impact of Marek's loss was clear.

At Thursday's service, more than 500 squeezed into the bleachers and chairs lined across the gymnasium at Kellogg High School, where Marek had built his reputation as one of the best basketball players of his class.

The atmosphere was informal, with camouflage outfits and mining helmets abundant among the crowd to honor Marek's passions.

No doubt, Berti said, he was a man with two great loves: Hunting, and his family.

While some recreators separate the two, he added, Marek always combined them.

"He would invite his kids to go along," said Berti, himself camouflage clad. "He would take the boys, take his wife, and share that time with the people he loved the most."

Marek was known as a man who would never say no to his family, Berti added, even if it meant tracking down the carcass of a deer his nephew shot late at night in the rain, because the young man had to work that evening.

"He would do anything for them," Berti said.

On the job, Marek was steady and focused, he said.

Working as a logger and miner all his life, Marek earned a reputation for possessing an unparalleled work ethic, setting records for footage mined, and even being selected as the model for a miner statue at the Stillwater Mine in Montana.

"It wasn't just because of his stature," Berti said.

Dan McGillis, Marek's operation partner at Lucky Friday for years, said he always looked up to Marek.

"He could do much more in one shift than two miners could do in two," McGillis said during the service. "So many times I'd come into work, and he'd be done with all of his work and part of mine. He had a heart of gold."

McGillis also read a letter written by Larry Marek's brother, Mike, who had been working with Larry in the mine when the roof collapsed and trapped his brother.

"You are one of the best miners, hunters, brothers, friends," Mike wrote. "... Life will never be the same."

A photo slideshow, played to the song "Free Bird," revealed a man surrounded by family. Images showed Marek smiling with children at different stages of their lives, infants in the hospital, toddlers romping in the snow.

Shots showed hunting trip after hunting trip, Marek gripping antler trophies with pride.

One photo caught him covered in muck working in a mine, the light on his helmet illuminating a wide smile.

Berti pointed out that the song played was nine minutes long.

"I kept wondering, 'When is this going to end?'" he said. "What that stirred up was that, you know what that represents? One minute for every day we sat outside the mine, with the same feeling, wondering, 'When is this going to end?'"

There is solace now, he added, in knowing Marek is in heaven.

Marek was born on April 11, 1958, in Fargo, N.D. His family moved to Kellogg when he was a young boy. He graduated from Kellogg High School in 1976, and married his wife, Patricia, in 1990.

He is survived by his wife, his four children and five grandchildren, as well as his father, four brothers and five sisters.

The word "Pete," the nickname Marek's father gave him as a boy, is the biblical word for "the rock," Berti said.

"I don't find it ironic that that's Pete's nickname and the representation of his life," Berti said.

Sarah Bryant, a Kingston resident who graduated with Marek's children, said Marek taught her husband how to mine.

"He said he (Marek) was the best miner he ever worked with," she said. "The best guy he ever worked with."

Bryant wasn't surprised to see the flood of support from the community, she said.

In a mining town, everyone helps each other.

"We're all very much family," she said. "We all have someone that's in mining. All you can think is, it could be you next."

Jerry Linhart, who grew up with the Mareks, described them as the best kind of people.

"All hard workers. All great hunters," he added, grabbing part of the camouflage shirt he was wearing.

The life of the Silver Valley is in its logging and mining, he said.

So losing a worker is felt by all.

"You lose one, it hits everybody. And I mean hard," Linhart said.

Brandon Harrington, 28, didn't know Larry Marek. But Harrington still attended the service with his yellow mining helmet donned.

"I started mining eight months ago," Harrington said. "I wanted to pay my respects."

This brings into focus the reality of what could happen any day, he said, to himself or any of his coworkers who turn on their helmet lights by his side.

"It's a whole other world down there," he said.

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