ANKENY - Communities across central Iowa are mourning the loss of Brent Helmkamp, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 46.
The Dodger family is taking Helmkamp's death especially hard.
Funeral services for Helmkamp, a former state wrestling champion and Fort Dodge Senior High Hall of Famer, will be Friday morning at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Ankeny. A visitation on Thursday attracted members of the Woodward-Granger and Ames school districts, where Helmkamp had taught, as well as Ankeny Centennial, where his two sons are currently enrolled.
Fort Dodgers young and old were also in attendance, including former Dodger wrestling coach and athletic director Don Miller.
''We lost a good man - just a terrific human being,'' said Miller, who coached Helmkamp through his junior year and then ''had the privilege to announce'' his state championship match on the radio in 1986. ''His passion for sports and life reached everything he did, as a father, a husband, a teacher and a coach.
''He was one of our special ones. An outstanding wrestler, but an even better person who became the kind of family man we should all strive to be.''
Helmkamp was diagnosed with stomach cancer two years ago. The 1986 FDSH graduate, who was born in Fort Dodge and grew up in Coalville, worked as the Ames High School Alternative Learning Program coordinator until very recently.
''He was still in the classroom as of about two weeks ago,'' Miller said. ''I remember him telling me last summer, 'Coach, I just hope I live long enough to see my kids graduate.' You just never know with this terrible disease; 'cancer' is the dirtiest of words in my book. He fought a courageous battle against it.''
Current Fort Dodge Senior High wrestling coach Bobby Thompson was a senior when Helmkamp arrived on campus as a freshman. The Dodgers were in the middle of a golden era on the mat, which saw the program place in the Top-10 at state every single season from 1979 through 1988.
Fort Dodge was crowned team champion during Helmkamp's junior year, when he was an individual runner-up at 112 pounds. Helmkamp won his title at 119 the next season.
Helmkamp then attended Drake University, where he was an NCAA national wrestling qualifier. He graduated in 1991.
''It's just a devastating blow to the Dodger wrestling community and really all of the schools Brent touched along the way,'' Thompson said. ''He was really an integral part in putting Fort Dodge back on the map in this sport, both for what he accomplished on the mat and what he stood for off of it.
''I was lucky enough to coach with him at Ames. He was just a top-shelf guy; a great, great person. We're trying to establish and define what we like to call the 'Dodger Way' at our school right now. Brent Helmkamp was the Dodger Way.''
Helmkamp is survived by his wife of 23 years, fellow FDSH graduate Sherry (Pederson) Helmkamp, and his sons, Alec (16) and Jackson (10).
''We have quite an angel in heaven now, looking down over all of us,'' Miller said.