MOUNTAIN LAKE, Minn. — More than a decade ago, Kyle Fast left high school with classic small-town kid ambition.
“Yeah,” Kyle says. “Graduate and get out of here.”
College and a good job with a Twin Cities nonprofit followed.
So, unfortunately, did something else.
“I was living in Minneapolis when COVID first hit,” Kyle says.
COVID-19 layoffs cost Kyle his job.
Then COVID bad, got worse.
Kyle’s dad Curt – healthy and 58 years old – went from a positive test to a downward spiral.
At the hospital in Sioux Falls, family members took turns holding Curt’s hand, while Mountain Lake had his back.
The hardware store put up a sign asking everyone in town to pray for Curt.
The mayor added a similar sign to the cross someone put up on Curt’s lawn.
On the same lawn, dozens of people gathered for a prayer service to pray for Curt as he clung to life.
But sometimes prayers aren’t enough.
“Eventually, pneumonia and blood clots and things like that were just too much of a toll,” Kyle says.
After a month in the hospital, Curt died nine days before Christmas 2020.
Kyle, who’d last taken an art class in seventh grade, took stock of his loss and started painting.
His first was on canvas, a painting of the Split Rock Lighthouse.
Then, Kyle expanded his frame considerably.
“This is the very first one,” Kyle says as he stands next to a mural painted on the side of a downtown Mountain Lake business.
The mural features sunflowers and corn, both symbols for the community.
Kyle painted “Love From Mountain Lake” across an outline of the state of Minnesota, with Mountain Lake’s southwestern Minnesota location marked by a heart.
Curt loved his hometown.
“I was able to pick up a paintbrush and do that in his honor,” his son says.
Kyle says his dad, though not a painter, had artistic vision. Curt worked as a carpenter and handyman, who’d improved buildings throughout the downtown and did work on dozens of Mountain Lake’s homes.
One of Curt’s final projects was the re-roofing of the shoe repair shop at Mountain Lake’s Heritage Village. Curt served as a volunteer member of the board for the organization that oversees the collection of historic buildings at the edge of town. At one point or another, he’d worked on most of them.
As Curt lay in the hospital, a car frequently pulled up in front of the Heritage Village granary, which Curt and his family decorated each year for Christmas.
“I would just sit there and pray for the best for him,” Sue Garloff, the president of the Mountain Lake Chamber of Commerce, says.
“I would go out there every day,” Sue continues. “I don’t think I’m the only one who did that. I think there’s a lot of people who did that.”
During his dad’s illness, and especially after his passing, Kyle reflected on the community support Curt had received.
“It just showed, when you really love a community like my dad did, how many people felt that,” Kyle says.
Kyle started feeling it, too.
Having finished the first mural, Kyle started a second, with prairie flowers and a bee, painted on the front of a downtown bar and grill.
Next came a sunflower on the side of the thrift shop.
The young man who’d left for greener pastures had begun to realize the sun was shining brightest right where he’d started out.
“It’s therapeutic for me,” Kyle says.
Mountain Lake Mayor Mike Nelson, who’d been close friends with Curt since high school, asked Kyle to join the city beautification committee.
Soon, Kyle and his brother were designing the banners that now hang from the downtown light poles, as well as a Mountain Lake t-shirt.
Last week, organizers of Mountain Lake’s annual festival chose Kyle to be their parade grand marshal.
“It’s wonderful,” Kathy Fast, Kyle’s mom says. She wishes Curt could see the murals her son has painted around downtown. “I know he would be so happy and so proud of him.”
Mayor Nelson says every community could use dozens of Kyles.
Still, he has regrets.
“You wish you could have it all; you could have Kyle and his dad at the same time doing this. God had other plans, I guess.”
Kyle is working on another mural, this one on the side of Mountain Lake’s Mexican restaurant.
He's also sprucing up the giant sunflower he first painted last year on the asphalt of the busiest intersection downtown.
More than two years after the death of his father, Kyle says he still feels connected through the town and through his paintings.
“I want to have a similar type of legacy where people feel loved and cared for by me,” Kyle says.
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