Blustering winds and rain may have stopped the Soldotna senior softball league from playing their final game of the season Tuesday, but it wouldn’t stop them from gathering at the bank of the Kenai River to say goodbye to a lost friend.
About a dozen of the league’s players turned out to lay a wreath of flowers on the river near Centennial Park’s boat launch to honor Kurt Keltner, one of their teammates, who was lost in the river earlier this month.
Keltner, who lived in Sterling during the summers and Colorado in the winters, has been missing since Aug. 4, when he was thrown from a fishing boat due to a mechanical error near Centennial Park and was not able to swim to shore. Three other people in the boat were able to make it to shore. None of the boat’s passengers were wearing life jackets at the time, according to an Alaska State Troopers dispatch. At the time of his disappearance, Keltner was wearing a black sweatshirt with a red fish on the back, camouflage pants and boots.
Community members, his extended family and the local police and park rangers conducted extensive searches, but to date, no trace of Keltner has been found. The Alaska State Troopers have listed him in the state’s missing persons database.
Keltner’s family, who came to Alaska for the search effort from Colorado and California, returned home after searching for several days with no success. A GoFundMe account to fund the search effort created Aug. 10 had raised more than $13,000 as of Tuesday.
The softball league players joined in the search efforts, cruising the river in boats to look for signs of Keltner, but without any luck. Paul Montenieri, the founder of the softball league, organized the wreath-laying as a way to say goodbye, with Kate’s Flowers and Gifts partially donating for the cost of the wreath, he said.
Keltner had been playing with the league for about two years, just after he survived a terrible car accident, Montenieri said. When Keltner joined, Montenieri said the other players offered him a runner to round the bases in case Keltner wasn’t up to the task.
“He said, ‘No, I’m going to do it,’” Montenieri said. “We miss him.”
The team members snapped pictures and watched quietly as Montenieri laid the wreath on the surface of the water, bearing a small wooden sign reading “Rest in Peace, Kurt.” The fast-moving current pulled the flowers away downstream, and before long they passed out of sight.