Colfax youth remembered with tractor parade
COLFAX - Braden Lemler loved tractors, mostly red tractors. His proudest accomplishment was restoring a 1947 Farmall H tractor with his Grandpa Jerry. So it seemed only fitting to have his friends, wearing red, drive their tractors to school on May 14, three days after his death.
Lemler, 16, died in a rollover crash in Dunn County on May 11.
It was a somber start to the school week, but students at the close-knit school of about 270, where everybody knows everybody, wanted to memorialize Lemler and "honor his memory by doing the thing he loved most — working on and driving tractors," said Colfax School District Superintendent William Yingst.
"The students felt the 'Tractor Parade' was a way to contribute something to their friend they know he would have loved," Yingst explained in an email. "This community still has deep roots with the agriculture and farming heritage."
Jackson Hellman, a friend of Braden's who helped organize the parade, said the parade was "the kind of thing he (Braden) liked to do and the kind of thing he'd like for us to do for him."
When putting the call out for the parade, Hellman thought they might have 20 tractors participate, but 32 tractors, and one lawn mower, drove to Colfax High School on May 14.
"A lot of kids that I would never have expected to have a tractor showed up," said Hellman.
Braden's Farmall H — the tractor that won grand champion at the Wisconsin State Fair — sat in front of Colfax High School in his honor during the week.
A sophomore at Colfax High School, Braden was a member of the Barron County Country Siders 4-H Club and the Colfax FFA, according to his obituary. He was also part of the Colfax High School football team and in the past years, Braden was a member of the Colfax Ice Fishing and Trap team.
Lemler is described as hardworking, always smiling, never sad, the kind of guy wanted to make everyone else happy. He loved working with his hands, loved working on tractors with his grandfather.
Lemler could be found doing chores at Grazin’ Acres Dairy in Hillsdale and Hill Creek Farms in Colfax, according to his obituary. Along with hunting, fishing and tractors, he enjoyed listening to Johnny Cash and morning coffee at the Sand Creek Cenex.
"Braden was one of those salt-of-the-earth kind of guys," said Colfax High School Principal John Dachel. "He was one of those kids that if you asked him for something he would do anything."
On the day of the funeral, May 16, Colfax High School students and staff wore red again. Despite the solemn significance of the day, the mood was "pretty upbeat," Dachel said.
As a final tribute to Lemler, tractors paraded to the fairgrounds after the funeral where family and friends gathered to "have a cookout for him," Hellman said.
"Braden wouldn’t want us to be all sad and gloomy. He would want us to really be positive and try to come together and do the best we can to honor him," Dachel explained. "That’s what our students have been doing. Like any other situation of this manner, it takes a few weeks to heal, but this is all part of that healing process."
Dachel said they want to support the family as much as possible.
"That support will continue on past today and continue all the way through until we believe they don't need it anymore," Dachel added. "We just want to be there for the family. That's our biggest goal."