The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

June 24, 2013

Update: Rising river makes search difficult

Missing kayaker a popular teacher, coach

COURTLAND — A missing man and two friends who capsized on the Minnesota River Saturday were experienced kayakers who had become close friends through a church in their hometown.

Searchers were still looking for 50-year-old Stephen Fritze Monday as rain and rising waters threatened to make the job more difficult. Fritze and two other men, John Carter and Cameron Buri, capsized in the river just west of Courtland and south of the River Ridge Gun Club.

Fritze, a sixth grade teacher at St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran Church and School in Watertown, S.D., will be missed by both his students and the church's congregation, said Paul Janke, an associate pastor at the church. Fritze also served as the school's athletic director and coach of the seventh and eighth grade boys basketball team. The school has students from preschool through eighth grade.

"He's coached a lot of children here," Janke said. "He just completed his 13th year of teaching at the school. He's taught 26 years, and 13 of them have been here.

"He's going to be greatly missed here at St. Martin's."

Fritze and his wife, Robyn, have a daughter Anna in seventh grade at the school, where Robyn also teaches. The Fritzes also have two adult daughters living in the Twin Cities area, Janke said.

Fritze attended Martin Luther College in New Ulm. His parents currently live in New Ulm, but Janke said he wasn't sure if his parents lived their while he was attending the college and earning an education degree.

Carter is also an associate pastor at St. Martin's and Buri is a member of the Watertown congregation. Janke said the three men were good friends who were experienced kayakers.

"The three of them have done a lot of kayaking together," he said. "They are very experienced. They might not have had a lot of experience with the river they were on, but they did kayak together a lot."

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