Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tribute to Justin Kukowski

Keep holding on, JJ! We'll make it through. Just stay strong. We're all here for you.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Remembering Justin Kukowski

Don Kukowski
Dear Justin,

God blessed me with two wonderful sons. Watching you grow up, Justin, and develop into the person that you are is one of the greatest gifts that God ever gave to me. You truly are a gift from heaven.

There are many qualities that make you this special person, but the one that stands out me the most is that you lived each day to the fullest. You never let the grass grow under your feet. If there was something that you needed to do or see, you did it. Whether it was climbing the mountains, snowboarding, or a family event, that special Justin smile was on your face and making everyone laugh as only you could make them laugh. You truly enjoyed and made the most of each and every moment of the day. Even when you were not feeling well before your surgery, you were out with your friends and family doing the things you liked and wanted to do. Nothing could keep you from making the most of the day.

Facing this cancer, Justin, you again have shown the courage and strength that only a special and gifted person like yourself has within themselves. Your strength and faith is unbelievable. So many obstacles have been thrown at you, and yet when someone asked how you were doing, you never complained … and said you were doing good. Over the last 18 months we have cried together, laughed together, and even as trying as the times have been, it was some of the best times of my life. The gift of spending this time with you is something most fathers would not have the opportunity to do with their grown sons. What I have learned during this time with you again is that you are very special person. I want you to know that I will be there for you during your fight with this cancer no matter where it leads us. If you ever, ever need me to come to you, you call me and I will be there as fast as possible. Nothing is more important in my life during your battle with cancer than you.

Your Father (Pops)

Kathleen Hennessy Rehbein

Dear Justin,

I remember the first time that I saw you, a few minutes after you were born. It was the day that I knew that God gave moms bigger hearts to love the wonderful gifts he entrusted us with. I fell in love with you that day, and my love for you has never changed.

It has been and is today amazing to watch you grow. As a baby you were so happy and I can still hear that big old belly laugh that you had -- I loved to make you laugh. Life was easier then, believing that nothing bad would ever happen to you, and looking forward to watching your life unfold.

Over these last 26-plus years I have cherished the times we spent together. You have given me many gifts that you may not be aware of. The Church trip was my first vacation for years, and I would not have been able to go if it hadn't been for you. It was such a gift to see how much faith you had, and how you were able to interact with the other young people on the trip and express to them your beliefs. It was the first time in a long time that I had to reevaluate my faith and where I was at with God. And then you bought me a bible!!!! So I wasn't allowed to sit back and forget about God, I was expected to do something about my lack of faith. That is how you have always been with me -- a guide to a better life. Through the trying times, along with the good times, you have always been beside me and I have always known that I was loved.

One of my favorite pictures of you and me is in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado where we are sitting under a big rock. I feel sheltered and protected with you beside me, like nothing bad could touch us. I loved my trips to Colorado to see you and see your life as it was then. You included me then as always.

When we found out about the brain tumor, and in the succeeding months since that day, I have found you to be the most awesome person that I have ever known. I never use the word awesome to describe -- unless it is a rainbow or some other gift from God that is truly awesome, so when I tell you that you are awesome I want you to know that it is a compliment from my heart.

In the beginning of your recovery, when you had to start from not even being able to sit up, to relearning how to stand, walk, and talk, I never doubted that you would accomplish all of these tasks. It is who you are. At that time I forgot what a huge job you had in front of you because you forgot and just took it one day, one moment or one hour at a time and kept plodding along, never giving up. And what a miracle you are today from all that hard work. I always knew you would recover but you never allowed anything to interfere with your belief that God would help you when it was hard to help yourself. And that is part of the reason why I find you so awesome. You lift me up and make me a believer too.

When we got the news the first time that the cancer was back I tried to be strong and believe that we could overcome this setback also, but Justin, I lost my faith for a few weeks -- I was so angry with God that he wasn't giving you a break at all. For the first time I felt that God was not taking care of you, that it was really unfair what you had to go through. I was crabby, and resentful, and certainly wasn't there for you. I finally got down on my knees and prayed for understanding and asked God to be with all of us. He is today so my prayers were answered.

The last time we got the news that the cancer was back was not as much of a surprise. I watched you struggle to keep doing all the things that you do in your life today with added challenges. I was proud of you and scared for you at the same time. And grateful that you are willing to keep the hope that the next treatment will work. I believe that you are the 1 in 10. You have people all over the world praying for you -- why wouldn't God listen. Although, I do understand that God has a plan for you and you may have fulfilled it already, but maybe you haven't. I will always choose to believe that if you are here you can touch even more people's lives, and teach them that miracles do happen -- you are doing that every day, you are a miracle.

In your blog I see you preparing your friends in case the treatment doesn't work. I have never known anyone else that was ever able to take that step, to get out of themselves to be there for the people they love. Your friends are blessed to have you in their lives and they are a testimony to the person you are and have always been.

Today my biggest struggle is trying not to take over your life and make everything better. It is hard for me to separate Justin the young man from Justin the little boy. I catch myself answering questions for you, even though I know that you can answer yourself, asking you a thousand times a day, “Are you OK? Do you need anything?” … as if you wouldn't tell me if you did need anything. Thank you for helping me see how hard this is on you.

I love you, Justin, and cannot imagine life without you. I have learned so much from you, especially over the last two years, that today I am a better person and will always be able to honor your life by living my life from the example you have given me. My prayer is that it will be with you totally recovered and on your way to your classroom of students. As your mom I can't ask for any less than that.

I want you to know that I will always be here for you. If you need me anytime day or night I am here. Nothing is so important that I can't put it aside for another time, you are my gift from God, and he entrusted me to take care of you when you need me, and I will take care of you until you don't need my help and love you with my whole heart until the day God takes me home.

♥ Mom

Bob Rehbein

Justin, I remember the first time I met you and Kyle. We were in the basement of the Stafford house. It was shortly after that I started dating your mother. I really enjoyed getting to know you guys and watching you grow up. It was a lot of fun to watch you play all of the sports you enjoyed. The one I enjoyed the most was cross-country. I am not sure why. I know I was always really proud of you when I watched you run. You worked so hard at it and were so determined to do well.

It made me a little nervous when you took my white truck to the prom. But at that point you were becoming a young man and I knew I could trust you. I was so happy when you and Kyle played softball with me. I was very proud of both of you. You have grown up to be a very wonderful young man. I am very proud of you and love you very much. I feel very fortunate and proud to have you and Kyle as my stepsons.

The cancer you have has made me feel very sad. It is hard to watch someone you love so much have to go through what you have. I have grown to admire you more than ever the way you have handled everything. I admire your strength and determination to beat this cancer. I admire your compassion and your graciousness. I admire your faith in God that you have kept with you. You having this cancer has made me realize that one of the greatest gifts we receive from God is time. And what is most important is spending time with loved ones and friends. Everything else in life isn't as important as that. Keep on fighting, Justin, and stay strong. I will be at your side all the way.

Shannon Trocinski

As I sit down to write this, I wish that I could give it to you in person, Justin, but I am grateful for e-mail and the chance for you to receive this as soon as I hit send! When your mom first told me about your request for family and friends to sit down and write you a letter about how your fight with cancer has changed our lives too, I had to smile about the strong curiosity you hold, JJ, to always know more and learn something new from every situation.

I remember the day Kathleen called me with the news. Eric and the kids and I were on our way to Minnesota for our summer trip, somewhere in Tennessee my phone rang. I thought, "Oh, here we go, our first of the 'Where are you guys at?' calls that we always receive as we drive up to see our excited family." I knew Kat was excited about the golf tourney this year because you and Bob were going to join the fun and figured she was calling about the tee time or something. Her voice sounded a little shaky, so I was immediately worried about what was coming next. When she told me you had been sick and that it was a brain tumor, it was all I could do to not break down in tears on the phone. I listened as she told me what the doctors knew so far and I hoped the surgery would be while I was still back home so I could be there for Kat while she waited. When I hung up the phone I didn’t even get out the full sentence to Eric and I was crying, then we all were.

Since that day, we have prayed. I have to say that our whole family praying has been the greatest gift that your illness has given us. Before that day, we went to church and prayed there and mostly left it there, waiting for the next Sunday before thinking about being thankful again. I now go to church each week, praying for a miracle for you, JJ, but also knowing that there is a lot of mystery to God's plan for us … and although I can't understand it now, maybe someday I will, so I pray for the strength to be faithful to him through the good and the bad. Alexa and Ben go to school every morning and pray with their classes and ask for them to pray for their cousin JJ. I know that Eric also has started praying every day. He's realized how precious every day is and I know that is something that you have brought into his life. We pray together each night at dinner and more than that sit together and talk about our lives and our day. All of this has come to us through prayer, so even though it sounds so small to just say the words thank you, we have been so blessed for the great gift you have given all of us. Thank you, JJ.

Your amazing spirit seizes me and encourages me, more than once each day to be strong in my own life. Something your Uncle Rick said on your blog really struck me. He talked about how you want to be a teacher and here you are teaching all of your family and friends how to live life to the fullest, with faith and courage. He could not have said it better. You are fighting with the greatest strength and courage of any person I have ever known and you have taught me something that no other teacher could, to find joy in everything, in every little moment and most of all, to smile, always! I feel so honored to be part of your life, Justin, and thankful for all the moments we have been able share. I pray now for an awesome trip out west for you and your parents. I can't wait to hear all about it! I love you, Justin.

Andrew Hipps

JJ became my best friend when I was 5 years old. He and his family lived just up the street from my family in the same neighborhood in Chaska. We formed an immediate bond because we both shared the same passion for sports. Needless to say, our childhood together consisted of playing sports, watching sports, and doing anything related to sports. Our neighborhood was full of boys who loved sports, so we never had any trouble organizing games. I can't imagine having a more fulfilling childhood experience.

I have many memories of JJ that I will always hold near and dear to my heart. Memories of running around together in the neighborhood as little boys. Memories of playing youth sports together. Memories of going through elementary school together. Memories of going through middle school together. Memories of going through high school together. Memories of going through college together at different schools in different states. Memories of living together after we finished college. And, finally … Memories of all the time we were able to spend together after he was diagnosed with cancer. As I reflect on all these memories with JJ, what becomes absolutely crystal clear to me is that I was extremely blessed. God placed this amazing person in this world for 27 years and I was just lucky to be one of the many beneficiaries.

The impact JJ had (and continues to have) on my life is immeasurable. He was like a brother to me ... someone who was always there for me. He taught me so many things about life that have helped shape me as a person. His generosity of spirit was incredible. He was passionate about people and always put the needs of others before his own personal needs. I don't think he had any idea how many lives he touched. He was too busy thinking about other people to think about himself. He was full of life, vibrant, cheerful, and didn't have a negative bone in his body. But above all else, he loved the Lord with all his heart. The way he lived his life and treated other people reflected that.

Courtney Steffes
Justin has touched so many people throughout his life and I am so grateful I was able to be one of them. I cannot begin to express what an impression he has had on my life… He was one of my best friends, a hero to myself and many others, and I was even lucky enough to be introduced by him as "my first girlfriend, Courtney" (yes the first of many!). We shared so many wonderful times over our years of friendship and I can honestly say that Justin's overall attitude and love of life stand out in my mind more than any one of the countless experiences we shared together… EVERYTHING we did was fun and full of laughter… Justin was always the most kind-hearted person I have ever known, and not just because I was his "girlfriend" but because I was just someone he knew. During his eulogy Andrew spoke of Justin's love for everyone he came in contact with. It's so true. It never mattered who you were or what you were doing, Justin came equipped with a loving heart, open mind, and pair of arms ready for a bear hug.

Since Justin's passing I have been blessed to meet Justin's "last girlfriend", Amber, who has touched my life in ways that can only be explained as Justin's doing. Before passing he had expressed to both of us how much he wanted us to meet because he thought we would get along so well… Over the weekend we were able meet each other, share our favorite memories of him, kind words he had told each of us about one another, and simply smile at the fact that Justin had brought the two of us together... finally.

Justin's passing has made me realize that life is not always fair and may not always make sense; but that life is a beautiful gift we have each been given. I have Justin's optimistic voice saved on my voicemail, pictures of his ever-present smile scattered throughout my apartment, and memories in my heart that will never be forgotten… and for those, I thank you, Justin.

Britt Buesgens
To know you, Justin, is to know the truest kind of friend. Someone who would both greet and leave you with a hug and a smile is something that could always be counted on. A few of the things that I would like to take from the way you lived your life are the happiness you brought to every person within your reach, the way you were able to see the positive side of every situation and the way everyone felt like they "fit in" around you because you befriended them.

You were a true example of how life should be lived: laughing, loving and never letting anything get in the way of your happiness. From our friendship, I will take many things. I will never forget the Saturday "Frisbee and 40s" sessions in the park, the romantic (ha!) Valentine's Day we spent at the Uptown Bar, the time you couldn't fit in the cab so you rode an abandoned broken bike home, the punk-rock treks back to Chaska and the time I conned you into seeing Fever Pitch because I told you it was a Red Sox documentary.

Most of all I will remember your trip out to Seattle. The friends and family that you saw along the way will never forget the "Fantastic 5" that journeyed across the U.S. You left only wonderful memories behind you.

I hope heaven has found a lovely spot for you. Until we meet again, my friend, you have all of my smiles, hugs and love.

Chad Lebrun
I first met Justin in high school gym class where we played basketball. Justin helped bring me to be a Christian through being a member of the COG youth group. We went on some awesome hikes to the mountains. No matter what we did it was the best time ever. I made several trips to see him in Colorado. We went to the Rodeo Hall of Fame, stayed at some of his friends' houses there, and went on some other great hikes. We worked at the same cement demolition place for a summer. We did all the things that great friends do. Justin was always there for me!

Brooke Hartman
I think I will just list some memories of different things we did together:

• I spelled 'Kuke' wrong on a name tag I made for you at an event we were at. Apparently I wanted to be cool and call you by your nickname like everyone else, only I spelt it as 'Kook.' Yeah, that was just the beginning.
• Do you remember teaching me how to drive a stick shift in your old car? I remember once I started it up while in the passenger seat while you were still outside of the vehicle. I was so freaked out when the car started rolling toward a pole as you had to run and jump into the car in order to hit the break so it didn't run into anything. I never did that again!
• I remember when I failed my drivers test and when I had gotten back to school you ran up to me in the lunch room with a card you had made of a car and a picture of me in the drivers seat. Yeah, you didn't get the memo that I had failed!
• The Montana mission trip and teaching class at Crown of Glory.
• Breaking your jaw.
• Forgetting where you parked at prom and circling the parking ramp, level by level, until we found it! (I had really bad blisters the next day from my high heels!) (Your Junior Prom)
• Sneaking out after prom to hang out. (Your Senior Prom)
• Helping you move into the dorms at the U of MN.
• Taking biology together at the U, thanks for letting me park at your place every now and then.
• Lets not forget math in Mr. Bear's class, you guys were all smarter than I was; only I was a girl, so I got the better grade!
• The Alabama concert at the State Fair.
• Sunshine Festival.
• Our first date, you came to my house with flowers and we went to the Waconia vs. Chaska basketball game in Waconia. My mom was so impressed!
• Do you remember that red winter hat of yours that you gave me? Yeah, I actually still wear it.
• A lot of nights at Lake Ann.
• You introduced me to Pearl Jam. Thanks. They are awesome.
• Parties at your house down by the U.
• Skip-Bo! That game is sweet.

Well, somewhere along the line, I learned how to spell your name and I made a great friend. I have looked up to you since high school and that hasn't changed. I am glad that we never lost touch as you went through college at the U, then out in Colorado and back to Minneapolis. I enjoyed all of our talks, you always offered me great advice and supported me in the different things I was doing.

I came across this little saying about life; "Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply. Expect little. Give much. Fill your life with love. Scatter Sunshine. Forget Self. Think of others. Do as you would be done by. Trust God. Thank God for all your blessings. Do all you can for others without thought to personal gain. Spread happiness." I think you've done that.

Hollie (Jeurissen) Rehfeld
I thought that you would get a kick out of this picture. It is from Homecoming our sophomore year of high school. You totally made the dance, running around the gym pumping up the crowd being your normal crazy self. We should have won, but of course seniors never lose!!!! It just goes to show that you have the greatest personality and can make anyone smile. Stay strong and never stop fighting. You will pull through this!

Mary Fox
I'm gonna tell you a little story about how I first met you…I can guarantee you won't remember this. Way back in elementary school, I believe you were in middle school at the time (middle school boys were the COOLEST to a measly elementary girl). I was hanging out with Marissa Finch, we were good buddies, and you were friends with her brother, Justin. It was a weekend and I was spending the night at the Finchs when who should walk in the door but brother Finch and Justin Kukowski! "Oh my God is that Justin Kukowski!!! HE'S SO HOT!!" -- That was my internal monologue at the time. I think you guys were going to watch a movie and I think Marissa and I just decided we should join you. We ordered pizza and had a blast on a good ole Saturday night! (Parties just ain't like they used to be). We all fell asleep and woke up the next morning with half a pizza left over -- this is where the story gets good. You were still asleep, with your mouth slightly open, so Marissa and I decided to take things into our own hands and feed you pizza. I think it lasted about 30 seconds before you woke up with a crusty pepperoni stuck to your cheek. Holy cow, we were so cool back then. You still smiled at us and when you were fully awake you even laughed. I'll go back to my internal monologue -- "Oh my god it's Justin Kukowski!! We just stuffed pizza into is mouth, HE'S SO HOT!!"

This story might not seem like much these days but to a fourth grader it's the world…I probably even wrote this down in my diary back then…

Dear Diary,

Last night I was at my friend's house and then Justin came over and then we stuffed pizza in his mouth when he was sleeping. He is in middle school!

Needless to say, I thought you were great back then and I think you are great right now, and how lucky I am to know such a caring, generous, brave, wonderful, full-of-life, encouraging, marvelous (the list can go on and on), person.

It was so nice seeing you in NYC a few months ago, I hope this road trip brings more adventures, and if I think of more stories from our adolescent years I'll be sure to pass them along.

You are in the entire Fox family's thoughts and prayers.

Marissa Finch
As I am looking through all of my photos from my brother's 12th birthday at Cheap Skate to Crown of Glory summer trips all the way to high school, I am realizing that over the years you and I have not taken one photo together! The good thing is, I do have a lot of good memories with you. I laugh thinking about the time when Brooke and I were at your house in Chaska giggling as we watched your homemade wresting movies all night. And it makes me smile thinking about the time that Julie Strother, you and I went shopping at the mall together to get a Valentines Day stuffed animal. Did you know that is the last time the air conditioning worked in my good old Honda Accord? I continued to drive it for at least five years after that day. And definitely, my favorite of all memories are all the days during high school lunch that you would come and sit at a table with Julie and me. You are one of the most kind, loving, caring, generous and uplifting individuals I have ever met. For that whole semester during lunch Julie and I were guaranteed to laugh so hard that tears would be streaming down our faces. To this day that is one of Julie's favorite memories of high school as well. I just want you to know how much you have positively affected my life. And I don't think I have ever told you how much all of the listening ears and the smiles you have given me over the years mean to me. Thank you.

Seth Lundahl
I can't pinpoint a time or a place where we first met. It was when we were kids. We grew up playing sports together, going on youth group trips and hanging out.

Throughout that time, I always looked up to you. There were many reasons why; you were a year older, you were so well liked and so easily befriended anyone you met. You always were confident and had a magnetism that attracted people to you and made us aspire to be like you. But then as we grew older I began to notice different traits that I admired in you. How genuine you were in our friendship and with the care that you showed me. Your desire to make a difference in the world and impact the people around you. The sincerity with which you held morals. The ability to make someone laugh and feel better no matter the situation. Those became the real reasons why I was happy to be called a friend of yours.

Then a year and a half ago, I received a call from my mom while I was away in Costa Rica. She told me that you had been diagnosed with brain cancer. I knew little about the details of your disease. My main concern was that since it was in your brain, it could affect your personality. I was so scared when I got home, that you would not be the Justin I remembered. But in the year since I have returned, I have yet to see it have a single ill effect on who you are as a person. The magnetism that you had in high school still is drawing in every person you meet. Except now the impact that you are making on peoples' lives is greater than ever. The courage and attitude with which you combat your illness and live your life is incredible. Watching you fight through this is the most inspiring thing that I have ever seen in my life. Everyone that I have spoken with about you shares that same sentiment.

So THANK YOU! for the inspiration that you give me and so many people. Your friendship means the world to me. I am very blessed to have you in my life. Continue fighting with all you have. I will continue to pray and keep the faith. I love you buddy!

Matt Mueller
I was lucky enough to spend almost every summer day with Justin growing up. I think I actually stayed over at his house more than I slept at my own. There are so many great memories growing up, but the ones that stick out the most are:

• Playing meatball and using the neighbor's house as a home run
• Playing Minor League baseball in my neighborhood. I never did get my call up the Majors
• APBA Baseball
• We would play nine-inning baseball in Justin's driveway with just the two of us
• Friday Football. Moogs and I actually had the first Friday Football draft at my house one night. Of course you were the first overall pick
• Playing kickball in the park with the whole neighborhood
• The summer we decided to be nerds and play Magic cards
• Playing basketball in your basement. I could never beat you when you were UMass
• You, Moogs and I would create the next great Nintendo game in just one night
• Playing on Wheelhouse

You were a great best friend growing up. I would not trade those memories for anything. You always found a way to make everyone feel special. Everyone felt like you were their best friend, because that is how you treated everyone. It is hard to imagine not having you around and I look forward to the day I get to see you again. Keep smiling!

Tricia Whitney
I wanted to write you a letter to tell you how much I admire you as a person. This is something I've always felt about you -- but just haven't ever told you. And I think more often than not, we go through our daily lives without telling someone (especially a friend) how much they truly mean to them. So here it goes…

Through our friendship, you have done and continue to do so much for me…

You help me grow in my faith. I'll never forget all of our church memories; Sunday School, Confirmation, trips to Montana, Idaho, the COG Rollers, teaching Confirmation, FCA…I feel fortunate to be to able to share my faith with such a good friend…

You put a smile on my face and make me laugh. From elementary school, to middle school, to high school and college -- you continue to make me laugh every time I see you. Whether it's your infectious smile rubbing off on me, you telling a funny story or poking fun at me (which is pretty easy :)), your sense of humor cracks me up…I always have fun with you.

Your spirit is so bright and strong it radiates its energy even when you leave the room. You're full of love and charm -- and that charm paired with your bright eyes and toothy smile has always gotten to the ladies (you must admit). That love and charm has also been a strong shoulder to lean on -- thank you. You touch everyone you meet and continue to leave an impression on me.

A couple of memories come to mind when I think of our friendship…

• Elementary school, Middle School, High School, College, Sunday School, Confirmation -- I must be pretty lucky to walk thru all levels of school with you :)
• The Confirmation kids loving you, because you were fun and I wasn't :) Somebody had to get through the lesson plan!
• Homecoming dances in High School and you not being afraid to wear polyester…We totally should've beaten the Seniors!
• Pioneer Hall, the house on 8th Street -- hanging out there and the parties
• You blasting mmmBop outside your Pioneer Hall dorm window -- you liked that song! Petey…
• Your swim experience in college
• Attending the only Gopher Men's Basketball game during college on your dime…thanks!
• $5 pizzas at Papa John's on Washington Ave…mmmmm…
• The Minnesota Twins and your love for sports…

I'm sure there are more, but that's all I got right now. I admire your strength, especially throughout your battle these past 2 years. Your positive outlook on life, your constant fight, your strong spirit, your sense of humor, your love for others, you are truly an inspiration.

Thank you for being such a wonderful person and friend.

Carolyn (Mai) Wieland
Dear Justin,

I feel so privileged to have known you as a friend. As I sit here typing this blog entry, knowing that you will never read it, I still find solace within myself. Your never-ending energy and authentic kindness has touched more people than you can ever imagine. Although your time here with us was short, you will continue to leave a lasting impression to those that were honored to know you. What an amazing legacy you have!

Remember when …

• We would play a vicious game of four square during recess and you would come up with the oddest moves?
• You and Hipps would say to me or my brother: "Hey Mai, Yeah? You any good? One of the best!"
• All the neighborhood kids would get together and play some sort of game (one involved my youngest brother getting knocked down by a kickball to the face! -- Thanks Wes!)
• You'd get a lot of prank phone calls? Ahem, Kristyn and Kelly!
• We strutted our stuff for the sophomore homecoming dance contest? Props to you for wearing Spandex!
• I visited you after you had your jaw wired shut, and you just had to show me how you made your lunch in the blender!
• We were goofing around in my backyard, and something was just so funny you had milk coming out of your nose!
• Sometimes you get a little excited when you talk and you start 'foaming at the mouth' -- haha.
• You and I would have to take those Continental Math League tests?
• We were the only ones who didn't have someone come for Grandparent's Day in fourth grade!
• It was an icy morning and you accidentally rolled into my bumper at the intersection of Hundertmark and Bavaria? I remember looking into my rearview mirror and seeing a huge grin coming from your face!
• I visited you for the first time in the hospital after your surgery, and I cheered you on during your physical therapy session that day? You were so determined to make it down the hallway -- and you did! I will never forget how even though you could barely talk, you had to ask me how my brother was doing, and how the rest of my family was. I remember you saying, "I really like that kid."
• We got to sit down a few months ago and reconnect. You had so many positive things to say about your friends that day. You told me about your travels: How you thought it was the coolest thing to walk right out of Meyer's house in Florida and go fishing … how you had a blast in New York visiting Matt and Lisa, and meeting up with Jon Hipps … how Colorado was waiting for you to come back and visit. We talked about the future: How you wanted to go back to school … how you thought of Chamberlin as, "that kid is so smart" I think is what you said … how Jeremy Hipps took the name "Owen" for his son and made his brothers envious … how you wanted to get married and have kids some day. And lastly, I remember holding your hand and telling you that it was going to be okay. Thank you for allowing me that precious afternoon with you!

Justin, I just want you to know that you have been a wonderful friend to me and my family. I will never forget your cheery smile and magnetic personality. I take comfort in knowing you are continuing the next phase of your 'travels' and can only imagine what it must be like! I will be mentally pulling you across the lake with me this July, as Dick Hoyt did for his son. I'll be counting on you for a power kick every now and then!! Till we meet again my Friend … Love, Carolyn

Liz Kirt
Life is a photograph, a photo album, a place we file away dreams, memories, and moments for another time. This is my photo album of my Kuke…Middle School…hanging out by the blue lockers…having a crush on the kid with the long eyelashes and beautiful eyes…talking on the telephone for hours and hours about nothing-just talking…music class with Mrs. Kearney-the Kukabara song…middle school sporting events-track…sneaking out of Kristin's house and meeting up…running around Jonathan in the middle of the night…High School…getting into trouble at Landkammer's house…the night of "really bad" trouble in front of Landkammer's house…drinking a beer or two…a car before anyone else could drive…sharing stories and life experiences…Montana, a few trips and too much fun…family A and family X…leaving Crown of Glory for Mexico and waving to the kid with a sewn up jaw…causing trouble while "teaching" confirmation…Hugs not Drugs…TEC…toga parties, green fabric, and the 'most class spirit'…volleyball games, basketball games, football games…driving in cars…hanging at Courtney's house…College…Pioneer Hall…the cafeteria…Petey…those guys you hung out with ????...your dorm room…drinking beer, playing drinking games…lame house parties…Adulthood…bocce ball in the park-"Fred"…your love for Benito…IKEA and the huge shelf…phone calls…Fourth of July on the roof…softball games…talks about what we "want to be when we grow up"...Rigby in the hospital…you sporting sweet sunglasses…The Rockies game and My Brothers Bar…

This is just one page in my photo album, the photos that sit on top today. Tomorrow, different memories of you will float to the top. But, my favorite photo of my Kuke I cannot see, I can only feel. It is your love and energy for the world and everyone in it. You make the world a special place. I love you with all my heart.

Eric Schafer
Kuke da man. Never has a truer statement been made. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found a friend in you. You’ve made my life so much richer in so many ways that you may not even realize…

Thanks to you, I grew so much in my faith. By stepping forward and giving your testimonial in Montana, you led the way for what turned out to be an incredible night of trust, openness, tears and love. I've never felt closer to God, and anytime I struggle in my faith, all I have to do is think back to that night.

Thanks to you, I didn’t have to completely miss out on the experience of dorm life, because your door was always open to me. It may not have seemed like much at the time, but it meant more to me than I can really explain. From the friends we made to all of the fun we had, those are times I truly treasure.

Thanks to you, I always had a legitimate Packers fan rival, and I think I knew as many names of Packers players as I did Vikings.

Thanks to you, I always had quality intramural sports teams to play on…whether it was Dream Team IV, If My Mom Could Be Here To See This, Onna Buth, etc. Plus, you made the Dream Team IV video at least 22% funnier.

Thanks to you, I had a fellow PS2 nerd to get my Madden fix with. We played countless seasons of this game, and anytime our teams met up (usually in the Super Bowl) it was always a no-holds-barred blood match.

Thanks to you, we got season tickets to Gophers football right behind those girls, and got on the Jumbotron nearly every home game.

Thanks to you, I know how to play The Straw Game.

Thanks to you, I know that paying a little extra on my heating bill to stay warm in the winter is plenty worth it.

I could go on forever! But most of all, thanks to you I've learned so much about patience, staying positive in the face of adversity and seizing every moment to make the most of it. I've never known anyone who could bring such enthusiasm to almost any situation and create an energy on which everyone else could thrive. Your optimism and many passions in life are truly inspiring. For all of the laughter we’ve shared, for the ear you’ve lent, for the advice you’ve give given and all of the things in life to which you’ve opened my eyes, thank you. Kuke da man indeed, and your friendship is something that I will always cherish.

Ryan Dahnert
JJ was one of the first friends I made when I moved to Chaska. He made me feel accepted, and put my worries at ease while I was trying to make friends in a new place (regardless of when they moved here it seems that almost every other Chaska transplant from the class of '99 has a similar story). Most of my memories with Kuke involve some type of competitive activity or acting completely goofy. Here are a few:

• Playing meatball in Kuke's driveway with all of the kids in his neighborhood. A special thanks goes out to all the neighbors who tolerated countless tennis balls ricocheting off their homes.
• Friday Football in elementary, breaking the neighbors hoop during a basketball tournament in Kuke's neighborhood, playing street hockey at Moogs', NCAA brackets, fantasy football drafts, Phil ball, ping-pong tournaments, POGS, home run derby's …
• Mrs. Kearney's drama class with JJ and Garber, after school at the Community Center, sledding at Daly's house.
• Kuke having his license when I was still 14 (I think he had his license? He was driving anyway.)
• Chance encounters at the U, girls hanging on and around Justin from middle school on, the biggest smile I have ever seen.

What I don't remember about JJ:

• I don't recall JJ ever making anyone feel like they didn't belong.
• I don't remember him ever making any enemies.
• I don't remember JJ ever getting down on himself or allowing anyone else to.

Kuke, I will always remember the great times I shared with you, and I look forward to hanging out with you again someday. Borrowing from a friend of ours, "We can get a team together! Get a game goin'!"

Tony Bogden

These last six months since I've been back in Minnesota I had the pleasure of hanging out with you quite a bit, whether it was going to Buffalo Wild Wings on Tuesdays or getting together and watching the UFC with everyone. I am proud that I was one of the people that convinced you to become obsessed with mixed martial arts.

However, since I came back, I also know that these were the toughest times for you. I remember when you were going in for your last scheduled chemo this past fall, and then the bad news that came a few weeks later. Through it all, though, you kept as positive attitude as anyone could have.

I remember the day I filled in for Andy and we tooled all over town reminiscing about how small everything used to be. We talked about the basketball teams we played on, visited Jamie Zamjahn and Digger, and tried to see how fast we could go in my car on the county roads out to your mom's house (I think we got some air going over one of the hills).

I remember you, Moogs, Soul Train, Z-Bad, Polster, and a few others coming to watch and support me in my first fight in Mankato. You all were pumped and so was I! I will be at it again this month and I know you'll be watching.

I remember a lot, but most of all I will remember not to take life for granted. I have always tried to do my best in life. I have been everywhere in this world. Though, you passing and not being able to do everything in life you would have liked has left a lasting impression on me.

See you on Tuesday for wings.

Erin Karsten
If there was one word I could use to capture the essence of who you are, amazing would be it. I have never known anyone whose faith, fortitude, smile, and general love for life are such an inspiration to so many people.

I remember sitting on the 17th hole at Majestic Oaks with you all day last summer. There are few days in my life that rank as highly as that one. And, I know we would probably both agree that neither Motorcycle Diaries or Clerks II are ever going to win an academy award, but they will always rank high on my list of favorites!

I could write pages and pages about how amazing you are. The sound of your voice alone makes my heart smile. Throughout everything, you have taught me what it means to truly live, and there is no way to ever thank you for that. You truly are my hero and my source of inspiration. This is my wish for you:

Comfort on difficult days,
Smiles when sadness intrudes,
Rainbows to follow the clouds,
Laughter to kiss your lips,
Sunsets to warm your heart,
Hugs when spirits sag,
Beauty for your eyes to see,
Friendships to brighten your being,
Faith so that you can believe,
Confidence for when you doubt,
Courage to know yourself,
Patience to accept the truth,
Love to complete your life.

Love you.

Christi Johnson
Life is filled with many journeys. Along the way there are people with you; to guide you, to love you, to help you, to amaze you, to encourage you, to teach you, to laugh with you, to share with you, and to be a part of who you are. No matter where you go or how you get there, God is always with you. God has created the path you are walking on and He is with you each step of the way.

God has created my path. Along the way He blessed my life with you, Justin. Each day I am appreciative of this gift and each day I thank God for you. I am continuously amazed by your spirit. You have a wonderful, positive personality. Your quick wit and sense of humor are encouraging and contagious. You have a memory that is incredible, a smile that can light up a room, and a heart that loves unconditionally. You have changed my life in many ways! You have guided me, loved me, helped me, amazed me, encouraged me, taught me, laughed with me, shared with me, and a part of you has become a part of me. I am excited that God has created our paths with journeys toward one another. It is a blessing to have you in my life!

I am happy to see you heading off to experience another one of God's journeys. I pray for safe travels, lots of love, and many good memories. I will be anxiously awaiting your return. I am looking forward to hearing all about your experiences. I love you, Justin! See you soon.

Trevor Kukowski
As we finally are moving out of the winter doldrums and into the spring and summer, I always look forward to all the fun outdoor activities that will be happening in the coming months. This year, however, the excitement level doesn’t seem to be quite as high. On the one hand, I am excited as usual to do all those fun things this summer. At the same time, it's a sad time, as one of the reasons why all those times have been so much fun in the past is no longer here to enjoy it with us. So as my monthly calendar gets filled in and I start to remember times past, there are always great memories. Almost all of those memories involve JJ. He always seemed to make everything more fun. Camping, a round of golf, a bike ride, a family picnic and softball game on Memorial Day weekend, and weekends at the lake all seem to be very simple things in life. Things that I would guess most families enjoy every year. But JJ always seemed to make those simple times more special. At the Fool's Five race last month, uncle Don was interviewed in the paper and was quoted as saying that Justin lived a more of a full life in his 27 years than a lot of people twice his age. I couldn't agree more. He had a story or experience for every occasion, all of which were nothing but pure entertainment. He always had that signature smile and laugh, and always a joke or a funny story to tell. So, JJ, we'll keep a chair open by the campfire for you, and an extra sleeping bag in the tent just in case you decide to stop down for a visit. We might even take the shortcut on the Memorial Day bike ride in a few weeks, just for old times sake. And just remember to let off the throttle a little when you decide to turn the boat 180 degrees when you are pulling someone on the tube behind you. Or at least warn me to put on a helmet and knee pads and elbow pads. And one final request, if you wouldn't mind keeping a roster spot on your new team open for me someday, I sure would appreciate it. Take care, I love you.

Matt Olson and Lisa Ly
There are so many great stories and memories we wanted to share again with you, but one of the most memorable times was when Matt and I were in NYC last year and at times it was lonely to be in a big city by yourself. We were lucky to have a lot of visitors and it was always wonderful to have familiar faces come and share our experience with us. We were thrilled to have you come out and visit us for more than a week. Despite a couple days of rainy weather, bad transportation, and some New York attitude, we all had a blast! You were a trooper, especially having to conquer the four stories of stairs in our apartment every day! Even when our moms visit they opt to stay in a hotel because those stairs are rough. You went up and down that beast without any hesitation! Matt and I even had trouble keeping up with you at times, but it was a good thing because we saw more of that awesome city with you than we had in the last nine months we had lived there. We saw the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, Wall Street, Central Park, the South Street Sea Port, Ground Zero, Times Square, Little Italy, Chinatown, Soho, Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, and Yankee game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx with Jon Hipps. We even saw the filming of Spider Man 3 downtown Manhattan and were a part of the studio audience for a Comedy Central show. For me, one of the best memories of your visit was relaxing in Central Park. We met up with Mary Fox and Sara Lueck and after hanging out with them we wanted to go up to the MET Museum and look out of the rooftop of an amazing view of the park. However, the Puerto Rican Day parade was happening next to the musuem and we had to walk at least 1-2 miles around to get there and go through mobs of people because the parade is the biggest parade in the NATION. After an endless walk and only 10 minutes left before the museum closed, we made it and enjoy the view of the park and the beautiful blue sky. Matt and I can't wait for more memories like that with you!

Justin, you have been and always will be an inspiration. You're also frickin' one funny guy and a true pleasure to be around. Have fun on your trip, buddy. We love very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

Katie Pretzel
I hope this finds you well & enjoying your scrapbook. I bet you're getting tired of all the letters :) What memories you have with all of these amazing people.

I wish I could write you a note with all of the memories we have had together, but unfortunately I have only known you since last summer...since I've met this "Justin Kukowski" I had heard so much about I have been nothing but amazed by your attitude and outlook on life. Your ability to take life one day at a time and be a true friend to all in your life has been awesome to see...I know that you have made such an impact on people's lives and continue to every single day.

Thank you for being an inspiration and example of an authentic person of faith. Your energy & passion for life is contagious and it has drawn so many people towards you...including me.

I hope you have an absolutely fantastic road trip across the country. Have so much fun and take lots of pictures to add to this amazing scrapbook of yours.

Thanks for being you Justin. You are a really great person and I have loved getting to know you and look forward to the continued friendship...

Kim (Reff) Wittmers
You from the very beginning, hold a special place in my heart. We've shared laughter, tears, disappointments, silence, prayer and most importantly our hopes and dreams with each other. There isn't a day that goes by since our days at COG that I don't think of the journey we shared.

I believe faith builds on a foundation of people who inspire us on our path of life. Along the way paths meet. At times we lead and others we follow, but the best are ones walked side by side. These moments are the rocks that build a foundation and strengthen our faith in God.

We've walked side by side, went our own ways and now you are leading me, for I'm blind on this new path. When the time comes and our paths weave apart, I know they will join together again, for yours is an ever fixed mark on mine and we will soon walk side by side in paradise.

I can't say it any better than, LEAN ON ME. I'll shout for you, cry with you, laugh with you, listen to you and pray with you. Whatever you want, I'll try to make it happen. God is with you in your heart and soul. He is in the people who love you. And it is God carrying you on this path for He loves you like no other. Love and peace always.

Becca Rehn
Well, my first memory of Justin (and Garber) was when we first met and they told me that I looked like Lisa Loeb, the joke has been around ever since, and I still don't see the resemblance! I have countless memories of Justin and each one I hold near and dear to my heart. JJ was an amazing person and friend and I'm lucky to have known him as well as I did.

For just a moment
I'm sure I saw
a flicker of light ahead.
Perhaps it was your smile.
Though past now, remembered,
in my heart
like the small sound of
a butterfly passing by.
No night
is so dark
that can not be brightened
with memories of you.
Raindrops carry along
your blessings from heaven
to wash away my tears
and bring me hope anew.

God looked around His garden
And found an empty place.
He then looked upon the earth
And saw your tired face.

He put His arm around you
And lifted you to rest.
God's garden must be beautiful
He always takes the best.

He knew that you were suffering.
He knew you were in pain.
He knew that you would never
Get well on earth again.

He saw the road was getting rough,
And the hills were hard to climb.
So He closed your eyelids,
And whispered, "Peace be thine."

It broke our hearts to lose you,
But you didn't go alone.
For part of us went with you
The day God called you Home.

Eric Squires
The thing I will remember most about Kuke is his infectious, charismatic personality and his humor. He was the kind of person that people just wanted to be around. He was fun, he loved life, he was always laughing, and he made you feel better about yourself. JJ never had a bad thing to say about someone and he never acted better than others. He always had that special charisma about him; from the first time I met him in middle school until the last time I saw him, about seven weeks ago.

I am laughing now thinking about a trip we went on with the high school church youth group. We were camping in the mountains of Montana. Kuke and a few friends came into everyone's teepees with a flashlight and started singing 70's songs and dancing around. They called their service the "door to door disco" and everyone thought it was great. Later that day he told me of his master plan: to have some of the guys put bags over our heads and streak through camp that night. The genius of his plan was that we would talk in feminine voices so people would think we were girls. It is funny things like that which made everyone fond of Justin. It was impossible not to like the kid.

Chad Vogel
I remember all of the fun Justin brought with him wherever he went. He carried himself unlike anyone I have ever met, from his smile, which seemed to never end, and his ability to bring humor into any situation. I am grateful to have so many memories with Justin, from playing Phil Football every weekend, trying to beat him in a quick game of Slugfest before the day was over, listening to all of his stories he had to tell, driving 1 and 1/2 hours, one way, just to go grocery shopping at a Super Walmart. I have been lucky to have met so many people in my life and become great friends with many of them, but I have truly been blessed to have shared my life with Justin.

"The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart." -Helen Keller

Deb, Jon, and Sara Bauer
Justin has influenced my life through his mother, Kathleen, who has been one of my best friends for many years. In the last few months of his life, I have listened to Kathleen talk of Justin's faith and gracious attitude, and then I started watching this blog site, soon it became a daily habit to see how things were going for him, and to read the incredible stories from friends and family on here -- it moved me immensely! Then my kids and I went to visit Justin, Kathleen, Bob and Vicky and Don and what a wonderful family and gracious and welcoming! I was so impressed and moved, I passed the blog site on to members of my bible study group, friends in a bible study in California, and my womens group! Many people were led to pray for Justin and his family -- people whom they have never met! To me, that is the hand of the Lord working, and Justin teaching people about the Lord and his faith through his own life and actions! It personally gave me strengthened faith and hope! From what the Pastor said, and talking to Kathleen, it sounds like that's who Justin was as a person, and he is still giving even though he is not physically here. For encouragement I would like to quote 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17: "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."

God bless you all!

Jodie Jansen
When we were working together (with Brooke Hartman, Josh, Tom and Sarah Guse, Brent Grover, goodness, all kinds of people) out at the Town Course, Justin just happened to strike it lucky on the tips. As bartenders and wait staff, we used to pick on the women for being notoriously bad tippers...until Justin broke his jaw and had to have it wired shut. Al didn't want to put him behind the bar because he couldn't talk very well, but sure enough, I had never seen so many women give such great tips to a man they couldn't understand! I'm sure it was the "cute boy in distress" that did it for them :) For a few weeks, he had to eat everything through a straw...I think I even remember him bringing in a blender to make a meat and potato smoothy! Hope all is well with you and your family. :)

Kevin Kath
I've looked up to JJ since the first day I met him. He is strong in what he thought was right and full of love. That's what I see in him.

Joe Frank
I wanted to let you know that I am really glad that you have influnced my life so much and I never realized how much until my wife, also dealing with major medical trials, and I sat down together to watch your video. I want to take this opportunity to tell you that I am rooting for you. In high school you were the person that I wish I could be more like. You talked to me even though we hung out in different circles. You got the girls and went to all the parties and I never imagined that you would take your time to come up to me, so THANK YOU. You make me feel like I still have so much more to strive towards. Thanks again for being you.

Doug and Jill Kurkowski
To the entire Kukowski Family, we are deeply saddened by the loss of such a fine young man in Justin. We have followed the Web site blog and it was so good to see so much love and support for Justin. He will be in our thoughts and prayers.

Ned and Janel Garber
Our prayers and support go out to Justin's family and friends and all who loved him. He truly was a remarkable young man.

Kirk and Kate Walton
Heaven got one more all-star today.

All of us that ever knew Justin Kukowski were extremely blessed to have him in our lives. I always enjoyed every moment I got to spend with him, as one of his older brother's good friends. I'll always have such fond memories of "JJ.” I know my younger brother Kyle thought the world of Justin when they ran together in Cross Country -- Kyle really thought of Justin as a mentor and friend and I'll always appreciate the time Justin spent with him.

Kate and I will keep Justin and the whole family in our prayers. It's been amazing to see the support that everyone has given the Kukowski family during this time. God Bless you all and thank you.

And Justin, we will miss you so much! But the world is just that much better a place for the time you spent with us.

Lori (Westermann) Hemingson
I am greatly saddened by the news of Justin's death. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Kukowski family. Justin was a great man and he will be deeply missed.

Christine Mai
I am very sorry for the entire Kukowski family. Yet I know they must take a lot of comfort knowing that he lives eternally. His life touched so many people ... this comes from such a close walk with God. This thought gives me a bit of comfort. It is also something we can rejoice about too. The life Justin lead completely touched me. And I did not even know him. His parents must be very proud.

My sincere thoughts and prayers are with all of you in Justin's family as you face this ever so difficult time. What an amazing and loving gift you all gave him in surrounding him with such love as you cared for him, and as he cared for so many throughout this journey. It is clear his smile, his heart and his passion for life will live on so strongly not only through the countless memories, but through all of those he has touched. As already noted by someone, the world truly is a much better place for the time that Justin spent with us ...

His courage left me in utter awe, and I am forever grateful for the chance to have known him.

Thank you Justin -- for all shared with so many.

Cassie Squires
Justin was such an amazing person, spirited to the soul. He will be missed by everyone who ever had the opportunity to meet him. God has big plans for such a wonderful person! I'm sure he'll be waiting at heaven's gates with a smile for each one of us. To the Kukowski family, you are all in my thoughts and prayers.

Summer Rains
Thank you for sharing Justin with us. I am so sorry for the loss you must feel; however I am thankful that Justin's message will go on and on ... What an inspiration, what an amazing family of faith! I Can Only Imagine - but hey, Justin "knows. Thank you Andrew-you and Justin ; 2 amazing individuals.

Ben Garber
My thoughts are with the entire Kukowski Family. Justin was a great man and I am honored to call him one of my best friends, for now and forever. I am happy to have known him for how long I did. He has touched mine, as well as others, lives and will never be forgotten. A special thanks to Andy for keeping the blog up to date. I know we all appreciate it.

Chantel Rose
This is a terrible loss, but Justin is free of pain now and in an amazing place! He put up a good fight ... thank you Andrew for being such an inspiration to many and being incredible to Justin!! Don and family, you're in my prayers ... Love you guys soo much!! Take care ...

Corenchuc Family
I am so sorry for your loss and want you to know that your family is in our prayers as you face the days ahead.

The Bushaws
We are so sorry for your loss. Our thoughts and prayers will be with your family.

Eric Dafoe
I think the world is a little dimmer today. Even though our lost was heaven's gain, I will miss Justin terribly. My heart goes out to the Kukowski family. Thank you for giving us an amazing person.

Jamie Personius
My Prayers are with the Kukowskis. Kuke you're now in a better place. Keep on smiling like we all now you will!

Johnny Taylor
Words cannot express how saddened I am, but it helps so much to know that Justin is in such a better place than we can think of. I'll miss my little neighborhhood buddy!! He and his family are in my thoughts and prayers!

To Justin's family and friends,

I offer my heartfelt condolences to all. My thoughts and prayers are with you along with those of countless people whose hearts Justin touched. He touched people all over this country, people he had no idea even existed. He did more than touch their hearts, he brought many closer to God through their prayers. Like so many of you, I don't understand and I sometimes question. But this I know, God is real, only He has the answers, and I am not Him. God creates and we all belong to Him. He calls us home at different times according to his purposes and timing. I believe Justin has heard Jesus speak these words: "Welcome home. Well done, good and faithful servant. Let's celebrate together!" (Partial quote from Matthew 25:21) Justin probably now has a new assignment and new responsibilities.

Many of us prayed for Justin. Did God hear our prayers? Yes! But He answered them in a way other than how we wanted. He answered them His way. Justin is now made perfect in heaven ... with an even bigger smile!

I did not have the pleasure of meeting Justin, but I will meet him when my time comes -- and we will celebrate. (But I will be wearing my Seahawks shirt!)

May our loving God bless everyone with his presence, his love, his comfort, and his peace during this time of grief and always. He blessed us all already, even if it was only for a while, with Justin.

Michaela Hartman
Justin, What an amazing person! How we will miss you. "I can only imagine", you standing in God's glory right now. In your short 27 years you change this world. I feel honored to have known you. My thoughts and prayers are with your family. May God's peace be with you.

Heidi M.
My thoughts and prayers are with Justin's family. He was a wonderful person and will be greatly missed by his friends and family. He's in good hands.

Heather Kerber
My thoughts and prayers are with the Kukowski Family. Justin was an amazing man who always brought a smile to everyone.

Mark and Connie Morris
We send our deepest sympathy to all the Kukowski family. I am so glad you stopped in Colorado Springs on your trip. It was a pleasure to see Justin and visit with all of you! You must be so proud of him, we are all inspired by his courage.

Mike Brokofsky
My thoughts and prayers go out to the entire family. I knew Justin as great guy who could always make someone laugh. In reading all of these blog postings it's obvious that he has and will continue inspire everyone who has ever known him. Although he will be deeply missed by many, it's good to know he is in a much better place. Thanks to Andy for creating this, your guys friendship is truly amazing!

Sarah Westin
To Justin's family and friends; I am truly sorry for your loss. Justin was such a wonderful person and great friend to everyone who was lucky enough to know him. He will be missed.

Matt and Katy Schoen
Our deepest sympathies and prayers go to the Kukowski family. We all lost a wonderful young man and a great friend to all. Although he will be greatly missed, all of us now know that Justin is in peace with our Lord in Heaven.

Eve Kupcho
My thoughts and prayers go out to all of Justin's family. I was deeply saddened in hearing the news yesterday, but once again, knowing he has now gone to a better place has made me feel a little better. Justin was a great person and will be deeply missed by everyone who knew him.

Bob Schneider
My thoughts and prayers go out to Justin's entire family. I am very honored and privileged to have known Justin. He was a man of extreme kindness and generosity. He will be deeply missed.

Lacy Wittman
Our "big brother" Kuke was the best brother my sisters and I ever had, he inspired so many in more ways than we could ever know, we were all lucky to have known him. My thoughts and prayers go out to Justin's family and friends. Thank you for being there for him.

Erica (Welch) Falconer
I am so sad to hear of Justin's death. He was always the guy in high school with the biggest smile and warmest heart. He had such a joy for life. My thoughts and prayers go out to your entire family.

The Perkins
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Justin's family and friends. I am sure he is in Heaven making someone SMILE. He was a great person and accomplished much in his short 27 years on earth. He will be deeply missed, but all we have to do is look up and he will be smiling down on us.

Andy Granowski
My thoughts and prayers go out to Justin's entire family, and to his friends who loved him so much. Kuke was someone I always looked up to, and always will.

Julie (Schanzenbach) Canham
My thoughts are with the Kukowski family during this difficult time. I remember Justin's smile from kindergarten through high school. His positive outlook on life was infectious and he was so loved and respected by all of his classmates at Chaska. He will be deeply missed.

The Taylors
Our hearts and prayers are with Justin, Don, Vicky, Kathleen, and the entire family today. Kuke was always supportive, always bright and ALWAYS SMILING. He will forever be “One of our boys!” He’s in a better place now … but we’ll all miss him very much.

Andrea Wittman
I have countless fond memories of my wonderful friend, Justin. He became an essential member of our family, and how our faces would light up when we heard him barge through the front door. I can't help but smile looking back at our silliness. I know his spirit will always be a part of me and with that, I am truly blessed. Kukowski Family: I am so sorry for your loss and I send you my love and sympathy.

The Teigland Family
You are all in our thoughts and prayers. May God bless you and help you as you grieve. Justin was such a wonderful, fun loving young man, with a wonderful smile! He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

Shaun and Tyler Karlberg

You will be greatly missed, not only as a great friend but a great person. Anyone who was lucky enough to be close to you really had a true understanding of what life really was. Live life too the fullest, take nothing for granted, and live every day like it was the last! Your smile, laughter, and kindness will never be forgotten! Our thoughts and prayers go out to your entire family and all of our friends. You will be greatly missed and always remembered.

Hipps, you are a true friend and a great person. If only everyone in this world would be lucky enough to have you standing by their side!!!

Andy, Becky, Rachel, Tony, and Greg Lane

We are very sorry for your loss. Your entire family will be in our thoughts and prayers. JJ was very lucky to have such incredible friends and family by his side. His gigantic smile will be missed at the Chaska Cubs games.

Adam Meyer
I am extremely saddened by Justin's passing and my deepest condolences and sympathy goes out to the entire Kukowski family. You are a wonderful and amazing family.

I am honored and privileged to be able to say that Justin was one of my very best friends. He was just a remarkable person and one of the funniest, friendliest, sincere guys I have ever known. He always made every adventure we went on a blast and I will always treasure the time we spent together. He has made more friends and meant so much to so many people it is down right amazing someone who only lived 27 years could touch all these lives. I look forward to the day we meet again my friend.

Nick and Shayla Teigland
We are extremely saddened by the news that Kuke has passed. He was a great friend of ours and even more, one of the greatest people we ever knew. The Kukowski family is in our prayers each day and we'll miss Justin forever. Thanks for all the great memories Kuke.

Reuben Prasil

You showed me the true meaning of faith and courage. I have never met a person with such a positive outlook on life. It is obvious that your positivity touched so many others, and that is a testament to your wonderful family.

I will always remember your smile and your ability to make others laugh. We shared a lot of good times, and I am so proud to be your friend.

I will remember you forever!

Amanda Molnau
My heart goes out to all of Justin's family and friends. He was truly an amazing person and will be greatly missed. His smile would light up any room and that will never be forgotten. My thoughts and prayer's are with you all.

D.J. and Julie Kearney
I am very sorry to hear about Justin's passing. He will always be remembered because of his wonderful spirit. His smile and charisma always made you feel welcome. I consider myself privileged to have known such a strong, caring person. You are in our prayers.

Andrew, thank you very much for all your hard work keeping us updated.

"An Irish Blessing"
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, my God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Tim and Barb Schafer
Our deepest sympathy to Justin's entire family. We have been following JJ's trials and tribulations since Eric told us about the blog. We just want to say what a remarkable young man Justin was. His unforgettable smile and sense of humor, we will always remember, but it is truly his undying faith and tremendous courage that has inspired us ALL.

It is such a wonderful tribute to read just how many people considered Justin their "best friend!” How lucky we were that God let us borrow him for 27 short years.

Josh and Kelly Jansen
Kukowski family,
Justin was amazing guy to so many people and touched everyone he knew. I will forever tell stories about the fun loving Kuke!! Thoughts and prayers go out to your entire family.

Nicole (Helbling) Schoonover
Although I haven't kept in touch with Justin since high school, I do know what a wonderful person he was. Growing up with him as a fellow neighbor on Haering Circle I have many great memories. Playing kickball in the park until it was dark out, Justin giving me rides to school in the morning, and hanging out at the bus stop before school. You will be terribly missed by all, what an inspiring person you were.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

JJ Knows by Carter Kukowski

I prayed for your body
And I prayed for your life
I still curse the cancer
That caused this strife

Sick of this disease
That has overcome the people
Leaving loved ones weeping
And crawling slowly from the steeple

Some cope by screaming
While others stay silent
Tell me, how did these cells
Become so violent?

Who gave them the right,
To do this to you?
Tell me you're kidding
Say there's something you CAN do

The headaches you suffered
Shouldn't have lead to all of this
They're typically a minor ailment
Usually cured by a mother's kiss

Trying every which option
They put on the table
The treatments always failed
To keep your vitals stable

The side effects were tough
But so was the heart in your chest
Testing new treatments
But none passed the test

They continued to replicate
And never once ceased
But along with the cells
Your support group increased

The blog laid out your journey
And pictures captured your smile
The essence you possessed
Did not change throughout the trial

Swinging and kicking
You knocked those odds down
Refusing to give up
You lit a fire in the town

Influencing lives
To the left and the right
Though physically you're not here
You still won the fight

You swung for the fences
You lived with no fear
I’d like a glimpse of your courage
When I look in the mirror

I never got to say it
I was informed too late
You left earth without my goodbye
So now I'm left in this state

A sense of numb emotions
Not too sure what to feel
Still doubting the validity
Of this actually being real

Your absence left the family
Wearing black and wiping tears
Inconsolable past the point
Of the help of a couple beers

When your casket rode away
You became out of reach
Begging on my knees
Still the reason I beseech

Yet, your journey proves
That life can be quickly lost
So the price for procrastination
Is much too high a cost

Who knows if you'll get the chance
To set things straight
Presently speak your mind
Before it's too late

Our days are numbered
They have been from the start
Stop hiding emotions
And reveal your honest heart

Who knows what tomorrow
May eventually bring?
Who knows if the flowers
Will again bloom in the spring?

Who knows who is wrong?
Who cares who is right?
Let go of all doubts
And enjoy the clear sight

You lived for the moment
So I'll let go of the past
I'll follow in your footsteps
And live each day like it's my last.

Written in honor of Justin
A Son, Brother, Cousin, Uncle, Nephew, Grandson, Friend, Role Model, Angel
We can "Only Imagine," but JJ knows
Stay STRONG, and God's blessings, Carter

Monday, March 03, 2008

Happy Birthday, JJ!

Since JJ's birthday is today (March 3), I thought I would post a short video of him opening gifts at a birthday party. Even though JJ has left us on earth and is now in heaven, we can all share in watching him open gifts on his birthday.

Happy Birthday, JJ, from all of us!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chaska cross country paying tribute to JJ

The Chaska High School boys cross country coach Andy Powell e-mailed me today to let me know that the program is going to pay tribute to JJ, who was an extremely gifted runner, on October 2. I'm so thankful and excited that the Chaska cross country program is doing this. Andy Powell (pictured left) and Scott Stallman (pictured right) are wonderful people. If anyone is interested in attending this event on October 2, please let me know … and I will let you know the details as it gets closer. The e-mail is below.


We are going to recognize and pay tribute to Justin at the Victoria Lions Invite on October 2. The boys varsity race has been re-named in his honor and will be called the Justin Kukowski Memorial 5K. That will appear on all the plaques given to top finishers for teams and individuals. We're going to contact Justin's mom and dad and ask that they attend the awards ceremony. Can you give me some contact info for them (e-mails/phone numbers)? That would be great. We'd love it if you and anyone else from Justin's CC era (Mark Williams, Matt Schoen, etc.) could attend as well. We're very proud to be recognizing Justin in this manner and hope this race will serve as an ongoing legacy to his accomplishments and tremendous spirit. Any involvement you'd like to personally have or suggestions you want us to consider are welcome. We hope you can be a part of this event.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Celebration/Ashes Spread

There will be a celebration with some of Justin's ashes spread on Saturday, July 28 in the valley near Lewiston, Minnesota. More information and directions will be posted on the blog as the date gets closer. If you are a non-family member interested in attending, please send an e-mail to, so that we can get an accurate head count. Thanks!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Leaving Earth and Going to Heaven

By Kim Wittmers:

On Sunday, March 11, I made the trek to Chaska to visit JJ. I brought along the finished scrapbook and JJ asked me to read it. On the last page I put the poem by Robert Frost, "The Road Less Traveled." We spent time talking about the road JJ was on. We both knew it wasn't the road he chose, but he was thankful his friends and family were walking it with him and that made all the difference.

I asked him if he was scared. He thought about it for a moment and replied, "No, just a little nervous." He told me he didn't want to miss all the amazing things here that his friends and family will experience. But he also said there will be amazing things in heaven. He just couldn't have the best of both worlds.

We talked about how his family and friends left behind will miss him the most. That we will carry him with us forever in our hearts. That his life will go on because of his love for us and Christ.

We talked about our youth trips at COG, the late night discussions about God, faith, purpose and the spiritual high we always got on those trips. We always wanted that spiritual high to last forever. I told JJ through my tears that he's going to have that high for eternity. That he will be made whole again and will understand everything. Somehow, I think he knew this before he left.

The last thing we talked about was why he didn't go into youth ministry. He didn't think he had the qualifications and didn't know what to put on his resume. I said he was over qualified with all the volunteer work he did at church in the youth program. I could have written a reference letter for him just like I did for all those college entrance forms. He joked and said, "Well, maybe I should put it on my resume for the Big Guy," and pointed up. I laughed and said, "He already knows."

JJ asked me to stay longer, but I knew he slept more often than not. We said our good byes and that we would see each other soon.

It's been just over three weeks and I still find myself in tears. Not a day has gone by in my life since I left COG, that I didn't think of JJ. Something reminds me of him - a runner, baseball, camping, church, a comment on the radio, my son. Life - I guess.

I thought he was invincible, I just never knew how invincible he is. He beat cancer, just not the way I expected.

Peace and love -


Monday, April 02, 2007

Fools Five: Supporting Team Justin

Article Link

By Rick Solem | Winona Daily News

LEWISTON, Minn. -- They were in it in strollers.

They have walked it, ran it and worked it.

This year, Morgan and Lacey Hennessy couldn’t take part in the 29th Annual Fools Five road race.

Not in Lewiston, Minn., anyway. Not even in the United States.

The sisters -- Lacy, 23, who graduated from Lewiston-Altura in 2002 and Morgan, 21, who graduated from St. Charles in 2004 -- took part in the Fools Five this year from Iraq and they did it in memory of their cousin Justin Kukowski.

From their military base just north of Baghdad, the Hennessy sisters raised more than $2,500 for the Fools Five, which donates its funds to cancer research.

The sisters were supposed to be home from Iraq already -- home for their cousin’s funeral; home to run in his memory.

"They have been there since last March," their mother, Karen Hennessy, said. "Now, their stay is extended until August."

So they couldn’t be in Lewiston, but the sisters were taking donations for the Fools Five and took part in Susan G. Komen 5k Race for the Cure on Saturday.

On March 12, their 27-year-old cousin Justin died of a brain tumor, which he was diagnosed with a year and a half ago.

Team Justin, however, was at the Fools Five. Family and friends, wearing orange "Team Justin" hats were scattered throughout the field of runners.

"There are about 20-25 of us," said Justin's father, Don Kukowski. "He always ran this race."

Justin was a man who lived life to the fullest, even after he was diagnosed with cancer.

"He was still visiting friends in New York, Colorado and Wichita, (Kan.)," Don Kukowski said. "Even though he was just 27, he lived life twice as fast. He did more in those 27 years than someone at 54."

He never let the cancer get him down or slow him down.

"He touched a lot of lives," Justin's uncle, Randy Kukowski said. "I know he made me a better person just by knowing him.

"He never lost his sense of humor despite going through what he did."

Kukowski was born in Shakopee, Minn., and graduated from Chaska High School before moving on to the University of Minnesota. He finished school at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with a Mathematics degree.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Justin's Cousins Run Lewiston Race ... in Iraq

Article Link

If things had gone according to schedule, sisters Lacy and Morgan Hennessy would be home by now, and looking forward to running in another Fool's Five road race on Sunday.

Those plans have been changed.

They'll be in Iraq, where they have been stationed with the Minnesota National Guard now for close to a year.

Their thoughts, however, will be in Lewiston, their hometown and site of the 29th running of the Fool's Five.

"We got extended; hopefully we'll be home in August,'' said Morgan. "We've always looked forward to running that race.''

This year, especially. Proceeds from the race, now in its 29th year, go to the cancer research at the Eagles Cancer Telethon and also to the Gundersen Lutheran Medical Foundation.

And cancer has really hit home; their 27-year-old cousin, Justin Kukowski of Chaska, died March 12 of brain cancer.

"We weren't that close to him growing up but recently we became real close,'' said Lacy, talking last week via a videoconference from National Guard headquarters in Winona. "Both of us were going to school at the University (of Minnesota) and we lived three houses from Justin.

"He was really a neat guy, he had so many friends. It would have been nice to run in his honor at the race.''

Instead, they have raised over $2,000 in pledges at their base, all for the Fool's Five.

"And we expect to get more,'' said Morgan.

The sisters are stationed at Camp Anaconda, a base housing over 20,000 soldiers just north of Baghdad. On Saturday, along with hundreds of other soldiers, they'll be running in the Susan G. Komen 5K Race for the Cure, a race which has become very popular in the United States as well.

Proceeds go to breast cancer research.

Both Hennessys ran cross country and track in high school.

Lacy, 23, graduated from Lewiston-Altura in 2002. Morgan, 21, graduated from St. Charles in 2004. Lacy first went to school at Truman State in Missouri and then transferred to Minnesota, where she joined the National Guard. Morgan went to Minnesota and also joined the Guard.

In Iraq, Lacy is a mail clerk and Morgan works in the administrative department.

"Being stationed together really helps,'' said Lacy. "I have someone I can always talk to.''

They are daughters of Mike and Karen Hennessy of Lewiston.

Donations to the Fool's Five for Lacy and Morgan Hennessy can be sent to Karen Hennessy, 620 East Main Street, Lewiston, Minn., 55952.