To those who knew Gregory J. Kaiser best — his mother Marnie Johnson and his best friend Meghan Brathol — the New Richmond High School freshman will be fondly remembered as a smart, funny, positive, kind and deeply spiritual young man.
Kaiser was found dead beneath the water tower in downtown New Richmond on the morning of Monday, Nov. 4. Authorities aren’t sure whether the death is accidental, but they don’t suspect foul play. The death investigation continues.
On the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 5, more than 100 students, community members and city officials gathered at the water tower to pay their respects and hold a candlelight vigil.
“I was sitting at home, and I was crying,” Brathol said. “I’m sitting there in my room and I was thinking ‘Greg wouldn’t want me to just sit here and feel sorry. Maybe I should set something up, and maybe he’d like that.’”
The vigil came together almost spontaneously after Brathol posted on her Facebook page that she was going to be the water tower to release blue balloons.
Kaiser’s family, who lives across the street, joined the group as well.
“I loved him so much,” Johnson told the gathered mourners. “This means so much to me to see all of you here. I had no idea this was even happening. I was really overwhelmed when we came around the corner and all of you were here.”
“I was so proud of him, and I’m so proud of all of you for being here and supporting each other,” Johnson continued. “You don’t know what you have done to my heart, which has been broken. You put a little piece back together tonight.”
A smart kid
Kaiser lived the early years of his life in Stillwater, and moved to New Richmond a few years ago. Because of speech problems early in life, he participated in Stillwater’s Head Start program.
As he grew older and his speech improved, Kaiser continued to work with the Head Start program to help younger children.
Kaiser was also drawn to singing, and was a member of the New Richmond Middle School Choir and the New Richmond High School Choir.
In addition to choir, Kaiser liked to compete using his intellect.
“He was in a lot of clubs at school,” Brathol said. “He was in Math Counts, Science Olympiad, and all the advanced clubs.”
Johnson said science, reading and most subjects came easy to him, but he was especially gifted at mathematics. He hoped to attend the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology after high school graduation.
One particularly impressive feat Kaiser performed was memorizing and reciting up to 700 digits of pi.
Despite possessing a powerful intellect, Kaiser wasn’t always a model student. Johnson said he tended to turn in assignments late and procrastinate as much as possible, but he always got good grades anyway.
A strong faith
According to his mother, Kaiser had a very strong faith.
“He went to church every Sunday. He went to devotionals. He went to the chapel,” Johnson said. “I went into his room the other day and there’s six crosses in his room. It’s something that’s always been a part of Gregory.”
As further evidence of his faith, Kaiser has always worn a scapular since he was a small child, and he was wearing it when he died.
A kind heart
Kaiser was helpful and giving, and his friends and family recalled many times when he helped them, or was especially kind.
“He was really smart, really funny and positive,” Brathol said on Friday. “He always had a smile on his face. He tried so hard to make other people smile.”
Kaiser’s generosity was on display last June when he brought Brathol to the Park Art Fair at Mary Park.
“He bought me stuff for my hair, and food, and the most random stuff to give to me,” Brathol said. “He just spent all his money on me. He was a really good friend and we hung out all summer.”
Johnson said he was always helping her out, whether it was something big or something small.
“He was so dependable and reliable,” Johnson said. “I have an event center I own, and if I needed his help he would go over. He could set up the space and put the chair covers on. He’d do the flower arrangements. He’d get the candles lit. He would be there for the event. He’d take out the garbage. He would help the clients. He was just so responsible, and I depended on him so much.”
Life without Greg
Now that Kaiser is gone, his friends and family are left with just memories of their time together.
“I’m really going to miss having his presence,” Johnson said. “He was pleasant. He was never in a bad mood.”
Brathol is beginning to find strength thanks to an outpouring of support at NRHS.
“The first few days it was hard, because his locker is two or three lockers away from mine, and seeing all the cards and stuff,” Brathol said. “I read them every day over and over again. Just knowing he’s gone, I’m not used to it. But in the past few days I’ve been getting back on my feet just thinking that he’s happy now.”
High school students decorated Kaiser’s locker and posted dozens of notes and cards on it and on a nearby wall.
“That’s his wall,” Brathol said. “His picture is on it and there are cards surrounding it.”
Johnson was surprised with last Tuesday’s vigil at the water tower, and that wasn’t the end of the generosity the New Richmond community has shown her.
“I have been overwhelmed by the community,” Johnson said. “We were just transplanted here not that long ago. We own businesses in the Cities. Gregory goes to church in Stillwater. So it’s not like we’re really connected with the community. We don’t do a lot of stuff here.”
Volunteers have been bringing meals to Johnson’s house to feed Kaiser’s mother, stepfather, brothers and grandmother. As people light a candle or leave an item for Kaiser at the water tower, they often stop at Johnson’s home across the street to do a chore or bring a gift.
“I looked out my window the other day, and 15 people were raking my lawn,” Johnson said. “We have had meals coming in nonstop. Students stop here just to give me a hug. People drive by our house, sit outside our house, and I know that they just don’t know what to say, but they’re here.”