With the recent death of 2007 graduate Patrick Freeberg, tragedy has struck the Mankato East High School community for the second time in as many weeks.
Freeberg, a 20-year-old Madison Lake native, was a Navy aircraft mechanic stationed in Virginia Beach, Va., when he died Feb. 19. No official details of his death have yet been released by military officials.
His death was preceded by that of 2009 East graduate Dustin Lemke, who was struck by a motorist on Interstate 94 near Dalton after exiting his ditchbound vehicle on Feb. 7.
To memorialize their friend and classmate, and to offer a measure of condolence to their family, past and present members of East’s high school choir offered to sing “Omnia Sol” at the funeral services for Lemke and Freeberg.
On Feb. 14, the choir performed the traditional piece for Lemke. On Saturday, the choir will do the same for Freeberg.
“We just all feel like it’s the right thing to do,” said Robin Hughes, East’s choir director. “We want to honor these two students who made such a contribution.”
Music figured prominently in the lives of both Lemke and Freeberg.
In addition to lettering in three sports and preserving a nearly flawless academic record, Lemke was a talented musician who was an all-state trumpeter and played guitar in a local high school band called Neon and the Noble Gases.
Freeberg, who participated in student council as well as cross country and Students Against Drunk Driving, is remembered for a choir performance during his senior year in which he sang Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” solo.
Hughes said both students were “exceptional people” and that paying tribute to their lives through music is fitting indeed.
“These were just two really tragic events,” Hughes said. “Music is a way to make a contribution that is beautiful.”
Amy Melvin served in the Navy alongside Freeberg, who was a structural mechanic in the aircraft hangars at Naval Air Station Oceana. The two were among those responsible for repairing and maintaining fighter jets.
Melvin said she remembers watching Freeberg play guitar and sing at a local music establishment in Virginia Beach. She remembers nights in the barracks when Freeberg and a few of the sailors would pull out their instruments and jam through the night.
“He sure had a voice on him,” Melvin said. “And he could definitely play guitar, too.”
Melvin further said Freeberg was a dedicated sailor who was respected in his squadron for his quality work and charismatic personality.
“I was devastated when I heard the news because we’d been through so much together,” said Melvin, who lives in Fayetville, Ark., and attended boot camp and training with Freeberg. “He was so much fun to hang out with, always laughing and joking.”