POST KETV.. a long awaited trip to the Lake of the Ozarks. No partying, no late night booze cruises, just family time and the peace of the water. My Dad says it’s the Dane in us that pulls us to it.. that makes us feel complete serenity when we can hear the calming slap of water on the dock. Even in sweltering heat; a day at the lake is bearable. Even when you don’t catch a thing, fishing is nature’s therapy. There’s something about the water that puts everything in balance.
In a few short weeks, a Papillion family will once again answer a similar calling to the water. Four, incredible women will stand side by side and breathe in a place that helps them feel whole.. and at peace.
Sherry was a 15-year old cheerleader at Wayne High School. In the late 70’s, it was an annual tradition for the girls to muster up their courage and ask a guy to the Sadie Hawkins dance. Sherry, just a sophomore, had her eye on 17-year old Kevin Murray, a junior football player.
“We grew up together in Wayne, a small town, where everyone knew you,” said Sherry. “Kevin played multiple sports in school. He enjoyed hunting and fishing with his family and friends, a real guys’ guy.”
And from the beginning it seems, he was Sherry’s guy.
Their lives from that point on were a John Cougar Mellencamp song brought to life. They began dating after that Sadie Hawkins dance, and married less than a year after Sherry graduated from Wayne High. April 12, 1980.. two American kids doing the best they can.
“Kevin excelled in industrial tech classes and landed a job with a couple small town contractors building farm buildings,” said Sherry. “Work was slow in the winter months and after adding a child, Jennifer, 1982, to the mix we started to have bigger aspirations. I had an uncle in Omaha that said he thought Kevin could get a job with Peter Kiewit and Sons Construction Company if he wanted to move to Omaha.”
They did; Kiewit hired Kevin in August of 1984. He didn’t have a college degree, but he did have talent, determination, and an incomparable work ethic.
“He continued to work his way up the ladder with each job he was on,” said Sherry. “He impressed his foremen and the company bosses and was promoted many times.”
Kevin Murray climbed to the top; the VERY top, named General Superintendent overseeing all of Kiewit’s work in Omaha, including the First National Bank Tower. Kevin was superintendent for the project, the tallest building in downtown Omaha.
“He would say that was his mark left on the city, they couldn’t take that away from him,” said Sherry. “He had a very high standard that he held himself to. He was very proud of the man he had become, coming from a small town with no college education to holding one of the highest positions in the company’s construction world. He was lucky enough to become a stock holder with Kiewit and earned a fine salary for someone without a college degree, providing his family with a wonderful life.”
By then, Kevin and Sherry’s family had grown to five, the couple raising three beautiful, spirited daughters. The ‘guys’ guy’ was the ONLY guy in the Murray household, and taught his girls about the same simple pleasures he had known growing up; hunting, camping and family.
From Sherry: “Kevin had been fishing at a farm pond in Iowa and caught these nice bluegill that the girls helped him clean! Yummy supper that night!”
The Murray girls grew up with barbies, ribbons.. and fishing poles.
From Sherry: “Kevin and I and the girls fishing at a Buckskin lake up in NE Nebraska 1990!”
The Murray sisters grew up beautiful, well rounded and strong. Jennifer excelled in the arts, winning leading roles in musical groups and plays throughout junior high and high school. Ashley showed athleticism early on, a key varsity softball player on 2 state championship teams. Marissa, a born leader, set trends and standards from school hallways to the football sidelines as a competitive cheerleader. No matter what their activity, their parents were their rocks.. and their friends.
Fall of 2004.. Jennifer had moved to Lincoln to pursue a degree in dental hygiene. Ashley had just started classes at UNO, and Marissa was just starting her freshman year at Papillion-La Vista High. Kevin planned to attend the funeral of his favorite great aunt in Dixon, Nebraska, then stop in Crofton for an afternoon of walleye fishing with his cousin.
“The morning he left he was in a hurry and franticly looking for his sunglasses, and we were having a slight disagreement about a parenting issue. I guess you can say we left each other with mad feelings between us,” said Sherry. “I called him on the phone about 2:30 that day to let him know I had found his sunglasses in a basket of laundry I had put away. He said Gary already had two fish, he was eager to get out there ,too. He was just getting ready to go out on Lewis and Clark Lake, a place he and I had fished many times together, but this day he would be alone. I told him good luck and I love you.”
Four hours later, Sherry received a phone call. Kevin’s boat had been found adrift on the lake, but there was no sign of Kevin. His cousin, Gary, immediately joined a group of searchers that grew by the day to find any clues.. to find Kevin.
It took five days. On October 12, 2004.. Sherry’s 43rd birthday.. crews found her husband.
“His death was ruled a drowning,” said Sherry. “We will never know what caused him to be tossed from the boat. There was damage to the passenger seat and rod holder that looked as an impact of some sort caused him to be thrown overboard. I have kept those sunglasses and the lesson they taught me: to never forget to say I love you to someone you love. You never know if you will get that chance again.”
Jenni Murray-Rohacik is one of my dearest friends. In the days crews searched for her dad, I had dreams they found him alive; that everything was OK. I went to the Murray home during that terrible stretch of days and stood next to Jenni as she knelt down next to Sherry, who stared in her eldest daughter’s eyes, shaking her head, unable to form sentences. When Jenni and I drove to St. Columbkille to talk to a priest about services, Jenni broke down in grief. I broke down in tears days later, as Jenni bravely stood in that church and read the Fisherman’s Prayer in tribute to her beloved father.
I thank the Lord I have never known grief like what this family went through. At some point in the weeks and months that followed, Sherry and her girls decided to channel their pain into something.. a fishing tournament to honor Kevin.
“That first year planning the fishing tournament gave me something to look forward to and to plan and focus on something positive,” said Sherry. “I used those sleepless nights to brain storm and ideas just kept popping into my head. With my daughters help, we had our first Kevin J Murray Memorial Fishing tournament September 24, 2005.”
66 fishing teams signed up. Countless friends, loved ones and colleagues came to take part, volunteer, or just show support. Dozens of items were auctioned and raffled off, all raising money for a scholarship or two at Wayne High School for students pursuing building trades just like Kevin did. The tournament was held at the same place Sherry lost Kevin, at Lewis and Clark Lake near Crofton, Nebraska.
“It was a gathering place for friends and family and coworkers who had come to help in the search at the time of his accident. It was the place where we had our summer home. It only seemed fitting that we have a reunion of sorts,” said Sherry. “I never dreamed we would have the response we did. But I also knew Kevin had so many friends and family that loved him and all wanted to do something to pay tribute to him as well.”
That first year, the tournament raised $8,000. Every year since, the Murrays have returned with another bigger and better event. Kevin’s daughter, Ashley, spends months in advance contacting sponsors, bringing in raffle prizes, and organizing the tournament.
“We have all types of fishermen; some who are local to the area and have never met our family, others who are friends and family from the Wayne or Omaha area. Some are experienced fishermen; others who fish once a year for our event,” said Sherry. “Regardless of fishing knowledge or expertise, our fishermen come away with memories, maybe a prize, and probably many exaggerated fishing stories☺.”
Later this month, the Murray family will hold their 12th fishing tournament honoring Kevin. Their hope: to top $100,000 in money raised for Wayne High. That plan for ‘one or two scholarships’ has grown to 25 scholarships and awards, as well as playground equipment, weight room rubber mat flooring, treadmills for rehabbing athletes, to welders for the tech department, softball and baseball field repairs, and more.
“I think Kevin would be very proud of the event,” said Sherry. “He would love to be sitting around telling fish stories with all the guys after a day of fishing. He would be happy that we have honored him in such a way. Together we leave a mark in history, to the place where it all started for us, Wayne High School, In Wayne, America as it is known there! I think he would be surprised that people still think of him and continue to come after all these years.”
His family thinks of him every, single day.
Of all of the incredible things Kevin Murray accomplished during his time on earth and inspired by how he lived his life, I’d argue THIS is what he’d be proudest of. The three confident, striking, INCREDIBLE daughters he raised who are all successful and happy. Joe and Deven, the two men who are raising his grandchildren and offering love and friendship to his girls. Nathan, Kyler and Maggie.. the kiddos who never got to meet their grandpa, but no doubt know him and learn his fishing secrets every year at the annual tournament named in his honor. And his high school sweetheart, wife and best friend who dug deep to find a new path, never forgetting what always mattered most to them; finding happiness through love, family, and to simply live like you were dying.
“After a tragedy you have choices to make.. shrivel up and die or move forward,” said Sherry. “I chose to move forward, with the emotional support and love from my family and friends. I guess when life throws you lemons make lemonade, is a message I always heard. A guy who was a small town boy made it in a big town. People like to see others succeed in life. He was a success. Although he didn’t get the chance to live a much longer life, being taken in his prime at the age of 45, I know he lived what he had to the fullest. He loved big and worked hard and always found time to enjoy the outdoors with his friends and family.”
I pray that I may live to fish, Until my dying day.
And when it comes to my last cast, I then most humbly pray:
When in the Lord’s great landing net, And peacefully asleep
That in His mercy I be judged, Big enough to keep.
On August 27, hundreds of people will once again drawn to the water to share their love and respect for a great friend. It’s another opportunity to raise money for students who want to follow in the footsteps of a man who climbed to the very top. One more day for Kevin’s family to remember their father, grandpa and husband, and to remind each other to make the most of every day we have.
“I have a different perspective on the fishing tournament than my daughters do.. I guess I think of it as a tribute to a man I loved. A love story of sorts, I guess you could say,” said Sherry. “Through the help of my friends and family all with a common goal to raise money with our event, it has helped to heal the hole left in my heart with Kevin’s absence. It is my way of paying him back for the wonderful life he gave me and our children.”
The 12th Annual Kevin J Murray Memorial Fishing Tournament will take place August 27, 2016 at Lewis & Clark Lake near Crofton, Nebraska at Weigand Marina. Teams of 2 are welcome to sign up in advance online or in person the day of the event; cost is $120/team, which includes shirts and a buffet meal at a banquet following the tournament at CJ’s in Crofton. Prizes include $500 for 1st place, $250 for 2nd and $150 for 3rd largest weight totals. Prizes are also awarded for largest walleye and largest non-walleye. Raffle prizes are available all day at the tournament.
For more information, CLICK HERE to visit the event’s website or