Funds benefit teen’s dying wishes

by Dennis Dalman

Family, friends and well-wishers of BriAnna Kruzel of Sartell are determined to raise funds in honor of the talented, widely beloved girl who died suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically at the young age of 18.

Her mother, Tami, found her dead in her room on Sept. 28, 2013. Tami had gone to BriAnna’s room and found her face-down on the carpet. She frantically tried CPR, but it was too late. The terrible and mysterious death could not be explained, but researchers now think it was almost surely a rare arrhythmia in BriAnna’s heart that stopped it so suddenly.

The House of Pizza in Sartell will host a fundraiser in BriAnna’s memory from 5-8 p.m. Tuesday, March 18. In the meantime, supporters are seeking silent-auction items for the event. Anyone with items to donate should call Tonia at 320-630-2257, Angie at 320-230-7985 or Tami at 320-492-4691. On that night, House of Pizza owner Brandon Testa will donate from each sale of food to the “BriAnna Rose Kruzel Memorial Fund.” That is the fund established so the Kruzels can donate money to BriAnna’s favorite, most passionate causes. One such cause is the Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education’s Dance Program of which BriAnna was a dancer for many years. The Kruzels plan to buy a new sound system for the dance program.

Another cause is the Girl Scouts because BriAnna was an avid Scout for 12 years and had just been honored as a lifetime member shortly before she died. Yet another cause was Big Brothers Big Sisters because BriAnna was a “Big Sister” during high school to a Sartell Middle School girl named “Samantha.” At the time, Samantha’s father was serving in Afghanistan. BriAnna could relate so well because her own father, Randy, had been deployed in Iraq in 2003-04. In 2013, BriAnna was nominated for and won the “Big Sister of the Year” award for central Minnesota from Big Brothers Big Sisters. She also was honored with the “Youth Appreciation Award” by the St. Cloud Optimist Club for her hard work with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

When she wasn’t volunteering for the organization she so loved, BriAnna enjoyed scrapbooking, crafting and being around animals.

“She was a very happy person who had an infectious smile,” her mother said. “That smile! It could just light up a room. In an attempt to honor her legacy of giving back, the goal of the BriAnna Rose Kruzel Memorial Fund is to continue giving back.”

The Kruzels also want to set up a “BriAnna Kruzel Scholarship” at Sartell High School, from which BriAnna graduated just last year. At the time of her death, she was a student at the St. Cloud Technical and Community College where she was taking general-education courses.

BriAnna’s bright life

Needless to say, BriAnna’s family, friends, relatives and many others are still mourning her shocking, sudden loss.

Her mother works as a nurse in the telemetary unit at the St. Cloud Hospital; her father is a worker for the Stearns County Highway Department. They have two sons: Joshua, 23: and Brandon, 16.

“We try to live every day as best we can,” Tami said, choking back tears.

Tami still remembers how bad she and the family felt in January 2013 when they lost Oliver, their house cat of 17 years.

“I remember thinking at that time that Oliver dying is as bad as losing a child,” Tami recalled. “But it’s not. Of course it’s not.”

Again and again, BriAnna’ mother remembers how bright and beautiful her life was. She was the kind of girl who would never gossip and say mean things about others, Tami noted. She always found the “good” in everyone and would literally go out of her way to help anyone else. BriAnna’s kind and radiant smile, Tami noted, “said it all.”

At first, the Kruzels had no idea what had taken their daughter’s precious life. That made the sorrow even more difficult to cope with. Later, doctors and researchers agreed it was almost certainly arrhythmia of the heart. That cannot be proven in a post-mortem state. However, researchers at the Mayo Clinic have samples of BriAnn’s DNA, and they are studying it, along with other people’s DNA, to see if they can determine some gene that might be responsible for causing arrhythmia. BriAnna’s brothers, since their sister’s death, have gone through extensive tests to find out if heart arrhythmia may be a problem for them, too. Nothing definite has been found.

People have been so supportive through all the grief and sorrow, Tami noted. A woman who grew up in the same town as Randy Kruzel – Sobieski, Minn. – heard about the House of Pizza fundraiser and wanted to help out. The woman, Barb Zapzalka, owns the Pump House Creamery in Minneapolis. She called to say she wants to donate all the ice cream served the day of the benefit. People will be invited to give a free-will offering in memory of BriAnna in exchange for the ice-cream treats.

The March 18 fundraiser will be just three days before what would be BriAnna’s 19th birthday, March 21.

Tina feels confident BriAnna would be proud of what so many people are doing in her name – helping others.

“She was such a sweetheart,” her mother said. “She had the biggest smile. And she laughed all the time. She was just so amazing.”

Anyone who cannot attend the March 18 fundraiser is welcome to donate to the “BriAnna Rose Kruzel Memorial Fund” at any Wells Fargo bank. Or they can send a contribution to the “BriAnna Rose Memorial Fund,” 334 Pine Ridge Road, Sartell, MN 56377.

contributed photo
BriAnna Kruzel of Sartell was widely known among friends, family and strangers for her kind personality and her winning smile. She died suddenly, unexpectedly and tragically at the age of 18 on Sept. 28, 2013.

contributed photo
One of BriAnna Kruzel’s many passions was dancing for the Sartell-St. Stephen Community Education Dance Program. In this photo with BriAnna is the program’s long-time director, Shelly Teff. Kruzel’s family and friends are raising money to donate to the dance program as well as some of BriAnna’s other passions, which include Girl Scouts and the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.


Dennis Dalman

Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.
Dennis Dalman

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