A crowd estimated at 1,700 filled nearly every available seat in the Southwestern Community College gymnasium Saturday afternoon to celebrate the lives of a Creston family killed during their spring break vacation in Mexico.
The emotional ceremony included some favorite memories and songs dedicated to the unique qualities of each Sharp family member — Kevin (41), Amy (38) and their children Sterling (12) and Adrianna (7).
The service was officiated by Pastor Mary O’Riley and Pastor Rick Titus. Personal tributes were also presented by Kurtis Sharp, brother of Kevin Sharp, and Chad Rieck, a close friend.
The service lasted just over one hour, starting with a message given by O’Riley about the unique circumstances that brought this large crowd together on a cool, overcast late March afternoon. The family was asphyxiated in their Mexican condo by toxic gas, a discovery made after they were not aboard a flight to St. Louis on March 22. They were scheduled to attend a Southwestern Community College basketball game in Danville, Illinois, in the NJCAA national tournament.
“We’re here to celebrate the lives of Kevin, Amy, Sterling and Adrianna,” O’Riley said. “None of us wants to be here under these circumstances, and yet not one of us wants to be anywhere else. Because, there’s absolutely no other place where we can receive the support and love from each one of you. We need to gain that support, to help understand how it makes sense of the losses in our lives.”
Many in the crowd wore the black and gold of the Iowa Hawkeyes, as the Sharps were avid fans of the Hawkeyes. Kevin was a graduate of the University of Iowa.
A reference to that aspect of the Sharps’ lives was made by Kurtis Sharp in his eulogy.
Kurtis walked to the lectern with a Hawkeye tiger hawk symbol on the chest of his black T-shirt. He stood silently until the the signature guitar riffs of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blared through the gym’s sound system. Kurtis raised his fist in the air and counted off — one, two, three, four — to each shout of “Thunder!” in the song’s opening.
Kurtis said that song was part of the pregame ritual for Kevin at Hawkeye home games, dating back to his days as a student.
No matter how hard the group hit the town on Friday night, Kevin made sure everyone was getting in the proper mindset for kickoff early the next morning.
“We’d go back to the house Friday night and play Mario Kart or NFL Blitz (video games) until there was no one left standing,” Kurtis said. “Then at 6 a.m. the next morning, you woke to the floor shaking and windows rattling with AC/DC. Kevin loved that song, ‘Thunderstruck.’ You knew it was game on. It was game day.”
The end of his tribute to this brother was just as powerful. Kevin drove the No. 2 stock car at the Adams County Speedway, and the double doors at the southwest corner of the gym were opened to reveal Kevin’s race car parked just outside. The motor was fired up by Kevin’s race crew, and revved four times — once for each member of the family. Many mourners in attendance held up two fingers in honor of Kevin’s racing number.
Kurtis spoke about growing up with his brother, who loved sports and competing. For example, when Kevin was third on the high school football team’s depth chart at quarterback behind Scott Coen and up-and-coming star Kyle McCann, he found a way to get on the field and contribute.
“He wasn’t fast enough or big enough to start on defense, so he decided to start kicking extra points,” Kurtis said. “His senior year, Kevin kicked 44 consecutive extra points, which I think was tied for the state record. The 45th attempt was the one we never let him forget. It would have put them in overtime in a game they needed to win to make the state playoffs. Chad Rieck snapped the ball to Scott Coen. Coen placed the ball, and Kevin kicked that ball right up Rieck’s (backside). After all the crap his friends gave him, most people would need a shrink. It never bothered Kevin, though. He gave it his best. He was good with that.”
During Rieck’s taped tribute, which first aired on Wednesday on Rieck’s Radio Ranch show on KSIB, Rieck said his friend made himself a good extra-point kicker through study and hard work, just as he did learning to become a race car driver.
Kurtis Sharp said he was amazed at the success his brother achieved as a racer in the competitive pro stock division, including seven regular-season wins, a King of the Hill victory and the ultimate speedway achievement, The Tradition championship.
“And, Kevin was a big part behind the scenes at the Adams County Speedway,” Kurtis said. “He helped a lot of people. He was never too proud, too busy or too good. He was a good man.”
Rieck recalled the night nearly 13 years ago when Kevin and Amy Sharp stopped to visit him and his wife, Amy, in Wisconsin on their way to Green Bay to look at possibly purchasing a motor home. Both wives were pregnant with their first child.
“Both Amys were pregnant with Carson and Sterling, so they were not much fun that night,” Rieck recalled. “But Kevin and I had a case of Miller Lite and a lot of catching up to do. We talked for hours that night. Both of us were excited about the upcoming births of our first child. At the time I was working for Badger Sports Properties and Kevin for Principal in Des Moines. We both had really good jobs, but both of us wanted to provide our children with some of the same opportunities that we had. It was that night that we both agreed in the next six months we would both return to Creston to work in our family businesses.”
Indeed, Rieck returned to join his parents at KSIB, and Sharp came back to a position at his family’s business, Southwest Distributing Company, as the treasurer and sales manager.
The Sharps were active in the community and supportive of many school and SWCC activities. Kevin and Amy often hosted SWCC athletes unable to go home on the holidays.
O’Riley shared memories of Amy, Sterling and Adrianna. She said Amy was known as a hard worker who was the organizer of things ranging from class reunions and trips with friends, to Sterling’s sports activities, Adrianna’s dance classes and family vacations.
As a child, Amy was known to be deathly afraid of gummy worms and the movies “E.T.” and “Snow White.” As she grew older she loved to collect bears, Swatches and all kinds of watches. Yet, ironically, she was not often on time for appointments.
In honor of Amy’s memory, the family chose the Tim McGraw song, “May We All,” to be played during the ceremony. Also played was a recording of “Dancing in the Sky,” by Dani and Lizzy, as sung by Keyana Peterson, a 12-year-old member of the extended family.
Adrianna “loved her glitzy bling and glamour,” O’Riley noted, and enjoyed wearing colorful, mismatched outfits. She loved dancing at Spotlight School of Dance, and just before spring break had mastered the “back bend kick over.”
Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” was played in Adrianna’s honor.
“Can’t you just imagine Adrianna dancing to that song ... with attitude,” O’Riley said, smiling.
Her brother’s anthem was Luke Bryan’s “Most People are Good.” O’Riley said the song contained a lyric appropriate for the day — “Every breath’s a gift, the first one to the last.”
Sterling was active in several sports and Kevin had been involved in coaching youth football, basketball and baseball. Sterling was a big fan of watching several sports, as well, and enjoyed activities with all of his grandparents. He often went fishing or hunting or went on trips with Ken and Carol Sharp, and developed an interest in gardening and growing his own produce with grandparents Roger and Beth Fry.
Rieck’s tribute to Kevin concluded with the Garth Brooks song, “The Dance.” He said the last concert they went to together was Garth Brooks in Des Moines two years ago.
Rieck said the hardest part of not having his friend at his side in the wake of this tragic news was the uncanny knack Sharp had for providing comfort during a rough time.
“A couple of years ago when a good friend of ours was about to lose his mother to cancer, it was Kevin who grabbed me and said, ‘We need to go see her.’ I don’t do grieving well,” Rieck said, “because I don’t know what to say. It didn’t matter to Kevin. He said we had to go and we did. This is what makes this hard for all of us who knew him. He would be the one who would put an arm around you and let you know it would be all right. I could really use that arm right now.”
Titus and O’Riley both referred to scripture from the Bible to provide some comfort in understanding the sudden loss of an entire local family.
“There’s never the right words to say,” Titus said. “There are stories to tell. Lives will be changed. The weight will get lighter as the days grow longer. Our hearts will heal, but the memories will stay. Hold on to the memories.”
The entire gym joined hands to recite the Lord’s prayer. The event concluded with those same hands clapping to a recorded rendition of the Hawkeye marching band playing the “Iowa Fight Song.”
Just before that, O’Riley had brought up Easter as a season of hope and salvation.
O’Riley said the family was known to do everything together, including so many trips to new places with new experiences. Their lives ended on one of those excursions, and they remain together, she said.
“Each of us here today perhaps knew them as individuals, perhaps knew them as a family, because this family did everything together,” O’Riley said. “They worked hard, they were competitive, they played hard and they truly lived life to the fullest.”
The family exited the gymnasium first to attend a private interment at Graceland Cemetery. All arrangements were coordinated by Powers Funeral Homes.