Keith Walter Anderson — who served more than three decades on the Crosslake Fire Department — will be remembered for his big smile, his great laugh and having a heart of gold.
Anderson, 50, Crosslake, died Sunday at the St. Cloud Hospital.
Several of Anderson’s friends and colleagues said Monday that Anderson’s death had not yet sunk in and that they’re waiting for him to walk through the door with his smiling face.
“It is very tough and I still can’t believe it,” said Buck Garin of Crosslake, who was a close friend and a fellow firefighter. “He was a good guy, everyone liked him, he was always bubbly and got along with people. He did a lot for the community.”
Garin went to high school in Pequot Lakes with Anderson and they joined the fire department together. Garin said both their dads were on the fire department and they joined too as “it was the thing to do if you were going to be around Crosslake.”
Anderson joined the fire department when he was 18 and he served as the fire chief from 2000 to when he retired in January of 2012. Anderson served 31 years on the fire department.
In a Jan. 11, 2012, news story in the Lake Country Echo, Anderson said the most meaningful part of his career as a firefighter was “being there to help people. When you live in a small community, you end up knowing just about everybody.”
Anderson added in that story that it was a big help for victims to know the first responders to their emergencies. “When you see somebody come to a tragedy and you know them, it’s very comforting. I’ve given a lot of hugs on a lot of rides,” he said.
Garin said, “He was a great guy to have on the fire department. He was a good leader, a good chief. He was open-minded and listened. He will be greatly missed by everyone.”
Garin said that he, Anderson and Tony Fraser spent a lot of time together. He said Anderson enjoyed the outdoors and they hunted and fished a lot.
A week before Anderson died, he became ill and went to the hospital. Garin visited with Anderson just before he was hospitalized.
“He seemed fine then and he was happy like he always was,” said Garin. “I told him to come over that night ... but he didn’t make it. It was tough to see him in that condition.”
Not only did Anderson serve on the fire department, he also worked at Simonson Lumber in Crosslake for 22 years.
“He was a wonderful man,” said Sadie Hoag, who worked with Anderson at Simonson Lumber. “He had a heart of gold and would do anything for anyone ... He was a very hard worker and his life was his work, his family and the fire department, those things were important to Keith.”
Hoag, who has known Anderson since she was 10, said he had a serious side, but he also liked to joke around. Hoag said Anderson was six months younger than she is and he would tease her about it. Hoag graduated in 1979 and Anderson graduated in 1980 from Pequot Lakes.
“He was a great guy, period,” she said. “I have so many memories of him.
“He was so wonderful, he will be greatly missed ... This has been a tough week for all of us. He is not replaceable in my book.”
Joe St. Pierre said Anderson played two important roles in his life: He worked with Anderson at Simonson for 11 years and Anderson also was his fire chief.
“Everyone had great trust with him as the fire chief,” said St. Pierre. “Our lives were in his hands. We went on a lot of first responder calls together, we drove to many together. He taught me how to stay calm. He knew how to be calm as he had been to so many. He always knew everyone. When we would be done with a call he’d tell us who the people were and what their story was. Everyone knew him.”
St. Pierre said, “The toughest part has been going to work and seeing that he’s not here. He always took the time to tell you his stories and what he did over the weekend. He loved his family and doing things with his kids.”
Crosslake Fire Chief Chip Lohmiller said, “I have treasured having Keith as my family, in only the way a firefighter can. In all of these years together, I have learned so many things from Keith and I am very proud to call him a brother. He will be greatly missed each and everyday.”
Sonya Kosloski of Crosslake said, “Keith has been like a big brother to me and everyone who has been on the department. Outside the firehouse he continued to be such a caring person and happy person to whomever he comes in contact with. We all looked up to Keith. He has touched so many lives in our area.”
Crosslake Police Chief Bob Hartman and Sgt. Erik Lee worked with Anderson for many years.
“Keith was one of the nicest people I have known,” said Hartman. “He was best known for his smile and his laugh. He was always laughing and smiling.
“He was always there to help people and teach people the right way to respond with medicals and other calls. He was always responding, to every medical regardless of what it was. It didn’t matter if it was Sunday or if it was 20 below out, he went. That was the type of man he was. He was so kind to everyone.”
Lee worked with Anderson for 15 years, responding to medical and fire calls.
“He always had a huge presence when he walked into a room,” said Lee. “He had a big smile and a great laugh. He saved so many lives through the years, and even in death he is still saving lives (through donating his organs). It’s incredible.”
Anderson’s daughter Jordyn Anderson shared thoughts of her father on his CaringBridge site and gave the Brainerd Dispatch permission to print her message.
“You always brought out the smiles, laughter and silliness. The positive side on life. You cared so much for others and loved us with everything you had. You put others before you in every situation. Helping people and seeing others happy meant everything to you ...You made such an impact on others and myself. You were my No. 1 fan and the first man in my life. I will always love you dad, and every night I’ll look up in that sky knowing you’re in a better place. I’ll smile instead of frown. I’ll keep positive instead of weak. I’ll think of you and tell myself, I want to be as strong as you.”
Services for Anderson will be at 4 p.m. Thursday at Crosslake Lutheran Church. Interment will follow at Pinewood Cemetery. Family and friends are invited to gather from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Brenny Funeral Chapel in Crosslake and also one hour prior to services Thursday at the church.