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Family, friends pay tribute to Hawley grad who died unexpectedly

The family of Katie Bjorndahl who died Saturday gather’s with her portrait Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018, in their home in rural Hawley, Minn. They are Nick, 24, from left, Aaron, Lisa, Grace, 14, and Katie’s dog Lola. Michael Vosburg / The Forum 1 / 3
Katie Bjorndahl. Special to The Forum2 / 3
Katie Bjorndahl was a former softball player for the North Dakota State College of Science Wildcats. Special to Forum News Service3 / 3

HAWLEY, Minn. — Katelyn Ann Bjorndahl knew how to make people smile.

The 20-year-old's sense of humor was as infectious as her personality, those close to her say. If you were in a room with Katie and you didn't know who she was, you wanted to get to know who Katie was.

"People gravitated towards her," said her mother, Lisa Bjorndahl.

On Saturday, Sept. 29, Katie died unexpectedly at Sanford Health Hospital in Fargo. Her mother asked that her cause of death not be included in this story.

"There was no warning," her mother said. "If it can happen to her, it can happen to anybody."

A visitation is planned for Friday, Oct. 5, from 5 to 7 p.m. at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Hawley. A prayer service will follow at 7 p.m., with the funeral taking place Saturday at 11 a.m. at St. Andrew Catholic Church.

Katie was born on Oct. 8, 1997, and grew up in Hawley. She attended Hawley High School, where she excelled in art and softball.

"As an athlete, she was very tenacious," said Mike Martin, principal of Hawley High School. "She loved softball and was very good at it."

Katie's softball talents led her to Wahpeton, N.D., where she went on to be a standout player for North Dakota State College of Science. In 40 games during the 2017-18 season, Katie hit .388 with one home run, 18 RBI and 17 stolen bases. She lead the Wildcats to one of the teams' greatest seasons in school history, finishing third in the NJCAA Division III National Championship last spring. Katie graduated from NDSCS with an associate degree in liberal arts.

"(Katie) was a beautiful artist who could take a picture of something and make it come alive in a drawing or painting," her obituary reads.

This winter, she was registered for classes at Mayville State University to pursue a degree in elementary education and coaching.

"Katie loved kids and kids loved Katie," her obituary reads. "She had a way of making each one feel like they were the center of her universe when she interacted with them.

"She coached and taught skills to many young softball players in a patient way that made them feel important no matter how many times they struck out or missed a catch."

Katie's sudden death has left an unavoidable pain in the hearts of all who had the pleasure of knowing her. Since her daughter's death, Bjorndahl said the outpouring of support the family has received has been overwhelming. "We're getting tons of notes," she said.

On social media, close friends of Katie's have shared messages of love, support, and heartbreak.

"No matter what was happening you made sure I was okay," Camryn Falk wrote in a Facebook post. "You and Kenzie always made sure your 'little one' was okay. I'm completely heartbroken. I'll love you always Katie."

"You might be a little further away now, but I know you will forever be with us," Trystin Harden wrote on Facebook. "I'm gonna miss your positive, energetic attitude."

"Rest easy, Katie. You'll always be one of the kindest, most loving souls I've ever met," Sam Dauner wrote on Facebook.

Martin, who is family friends with the Bjorndahls and lives a mile down the road from them, said that he always used to call Katie "neighbor girl" when he saw her.

"It was always an icebreaker," said Martin. "It always made us laugh."

Katie had a sense of humor that was adored by all. For Katie, it is what described her best. "If you met Katie once you had a friend for life," her obituary reads. "She always put others before herself and when Katie was in a room you could feel her presence and energy."

Martin recalls one story, in particular, of when Katie's unique sense of humor was on full display.

"I had a picture hanging on my bulletin board of (Katie) pointing to the clock at 8:17 a.m. showing that once in her high school career she showed up to school on time," Martin said. "It was so genuine Katie."

Known as the "tribe of five," the Bjorndahl family, which, along with Katie, included her father, Aaron; her mother, Lisa; sister, Grace, 14, and brother, Nick, 25.

"To Katie, our 'tribe of five' family was everything, and she protected her family members with a fierceness," her obituary reads. "Katie shined the most when she interacted with her siblings Nick and Grace on the many little family weekend adventures, Duluth being her favorite."

Every week, no matter what, the close-knit tribe of five would get together for Sunday dinner. Both Katie and Nick, who lived away from home, always made sure they made it back for the weekly tradition.

"It was mandatory that the two big kids had to come home," Bjorndahl said.

The family even had a group text where they'd communicate daily. Often times, Katie would be the one sending a funny picture or saying a funny line, Bjorndahl said.

"There wasn't a day that went by where we weren't all talking to each other," she said.

Katie's legacy will continue to live on in the lives of those that are in need through organ donation.

"Many people will go on to live a better life because of her," Katie's obituary reads.

A GoFundMe page for the Bjorndahl family has been started to help cover the costs of medical and funeral costs. If you'd like to donate, click here.

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