- Associated Press - Friday, December 1, 2017

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - It was a beautiful day on the South Pacific island of Rarotonga.

Hours ahead of Leslie Hagele’s wedding, her family and friends sat beside her on the deck overlooking the calm, turquoise waters.

Their peace was interrupted by an urgent message - her father and uncle’s kayaks had capsized. They’d been pulled under rough waves.

She ran to the beach. Confusion gave way to panic, then despair.

A rescue team brought her father back to land and tried to resuscitate him for an hour, but it was too late. Later, police recovered her uncle’s body from the reef.

A week later, family and friends of South Dakota state Rep. Craig Tieszen and Brent Moline were combing through old photos and writing obituaries ahead of their funerals.

Hagele’s wedding went on, as her father and uncle would have wanted, but a day that was meant to be full of joy became saturated with grief.

“These two events in my life will forever be tangled,” Hagele told the Argus Leader . “It’s really hard. We have to figure out a way to do both, to celebrate and to mourn.”

Hagele along with sister Laura Kamarainen and cousins Heidi, Heather and Haley Moline, have tried to do just that, to mourn a father and uncle and celebrate their lives.

Deb Tieszen, Craig Tieszen’s wife of 37 years, and Anita Moline, Brent Moline’s wife of 36 years, meanwhile spent a week working to repatriate their husbands’ bodies from the remote island, traveling with their caskets on the dayslong journey to South Dakota.

As they put together a photo slideshow, Hagele and Kamarainen recalled their father’s calm demeanor as he coached them through learning to drive stick shift and making difficult life decisions.

They laughed as they recalled a nickname they’d given their father, “the ponderer,” which he earned through his attentive listening and deliberative process in coming to decisions.

“He took the time to make sure he understood a lot of different viewpoints,” Hagele said. “I think that people felt that he was very genuine, and he would listen and not judge.”

That quality made him popular in his travels around the world, in his 32 years working in law enforcement and in the South Dakota Legislature.

“He made friends not just on both sides of the aisle, but in every culture, in every country, in every walk of life,” said Jim Pesek, brother-in-law to Tieszen and Moline.

In Rapid City, Tieszen’s legislative colleague and friend Sen. Terri Haverly said Tieszen worked hard to better the community but never sought the spotlight.

“He did nothing but give,” Haverly said as she fought back tears. “The Peace Corps, law enforcement, the Legislature, he just continuously was a public servant and certainly someone to be admired.”

Tieszen’s peers in the Legislature said his absence will be felt next week as lawmakers return to Pierre for the governor’s budget address and beyond.

“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like going back to Pierre without him,” Haverly said.

Tieszen was an avid outdoorsman who loved to cycle, hike, hunt and fish in the Black Hills. His daughters and nieces recalled the long bike rides Tieszen and Moline would embark upon. The two, along with Pesek, completed the George S. Mickelson Bike Trail, all 109 miles, in one day.

“We always knew that those three were up to something when they were together,” Haley Moline said. “They made time for their adventures together.”

Pesek, who couldn’t make the trip to Rarotonga due to health issues, said he’s still not sure how to grapple with their deaths.

“They were my two best friends,” he said of the men who’d married his sisters. “They were the finest men I’ve ever known.”

Heather, Haley and Heidi Moline said they’re still getting used to being at their parents’ house without their father sitting in his chair or singing along to his favorites, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

The self-educated entrepreneur and commercial real estate owner built his own home and idolized Warren Buffet. And without him, they’d have to remember all the lessons he’d taught them about fixing a sump pump and investing wisely.

“We’re going to miss him just being around,” Heather Moline said.

Moline was an avid reader who loved walking, downhill skiing and taking naps, which his daughters joked kept him looking young. And he wore his emotions on his sleeve, they said, tearing up at happy news and constantly telling his family how he felt about them.

“He always told us how much he loved us. He never kept that,” Haley Moline said.

The 61-year-old could befriend anyone or quickly fall into place anywhere he went, they said. As recently as last week their father struck up a conversation with an Uber driver about his background and by the end of the men shook hands.

“He would literally make friends anywhere he went, he could make anyone feel special,” Heather Moline said.

Family members said they take solace in knowing that their fathers’ last few days, even their last few minutes, were filled with joy on Rarotonga.

“This has been such a public thing and it’s such a tragic thing that happened for both of them, but they were absolutely having the time of their life,” Haley Moline said.


Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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