About 50 to 75 people gathered at the University of Alaska Southeast to remember the two Juneau brothers who drowned when their skiff capsized near Tenakee Springs last Friday.
Faculty, students, family and friends stood in a circle around a bonfire in the Noyes Pavilion sharing stories and memories about Casey and Kelly Newman, ages 26 and 23.
“There’s a whole bunch of us here that don’t know each other, have never even seen each other’s faces, and we all knew Casey, and that’s why we’re here — and he’s not here,” Patricia Kalbrener, 26, said, choking up. “Memories are good to talk about because that’s all we have right now to hold all of us together.”
Casey Newman was a full-time student at UAS, which prompted his professors to host the memorial service. It was coordinated by one of Casey’s English professors, Sol Neely, who has known Casey for the past two and a half years.
Neely said Casey was not only a model student, but a friend of his.
“From what I saw of Casey, there was absolutely no distinction between inside the classroom and outside the classroom,” Neely said. “He was really incredible like that.”
Casey took an interest in both biology and literature, his teachers said. He had a reputation for being insightful, a thinker and a beautiful writer.
“I had him in both a large and small class, and he stood out in both of them,” Biology professor David Tallmon said of Casey. “He just had a great zest for life and he was a really engaged student, and he’s also a really sharp student.”
English professor Kevin Maier, who taught Casey in three classes including this semester, read an except from one of Casey’s essays about encountering a bear in the wild near a river full of salmon.
“Was this the unease of propriety?” Maier read aloud. “Had two competitors per-chanced upon the same resource, ensuring a connection conditioned by war? If it was, then we must be the first to concede. For the fish, there was left only the river. For the bear, there was the river, the valley and mobility. But for us, we could wait. The state fed us well.”
The essay will be published in its entirety in the UAS literary journal, Tidal Echoes, in the spring, Maier said.
Casey transferred to UAS after taking classes at Montana State University. Kelly Newman graduated from Montana State University and returned to Juneau to seine fish on the Osprey.
They were born and raised in Juneau and are survived by their father Joe Newman and mother Nancy Davis, both of whom attended the evening memorial service.
Joe Newman told the group that his sons were honest kids who grew into men that always looked you straight in the eye. He joked with the crowd that you have to love your kids, but you don’t have to like them.
“I liked them,” he said. “I liked them, you know?”
The sole survivor of the boating accident, Jim Brown Jr., a lifelong friend of the brothers, also attended and relayed his horrific experience to the tearful crowd.
Brown said a wave came over the stern of their skiff, causing it to capsize.
“All of a sudden we were swimming,” Brown said quietly.
They were in about two-foot seas. Brown was the only one not wearing a life jacket or float coat, he said.
They were spread out and couldn’t see the shore, but Brown found Kelly who told him he was going in the right direction and to keep swimming.
It was dark and the waves were picking up, and Brown said he took off his gear and stripped down to his long johns.
He and Casey found each other and continued swimming together. Finally, they could see the beach, but Brown said Casey fell out of his float coat and sank.
“He sank on me,” Brown said.
Brown made it to shore and alerted a local resident, which prompted a search and rescue effort. The brothers were found but could not be revived.
“I loved them dearly,” Brown said. “I can’t believe they’re gone.”
The survivor’s brother, John Brown, said he dropped Jim and the Newman brothers off at the boat that morning.
“That was the last time I saw them,” he said.
He added, “I feel like I lost two brothers.”
The family will also be hosting a celebration of life service at the Twisted Fish from 5 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. They asked attendees to bring a dish and stories to share.
In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations be made to the Casey and Kelly Newman Memorial Fund at Wells Fargo to establish a scholarship at Eaglecrest.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.