Even after his death, Eagan High School graduate Matt Thuente is still having a big impact on his local community.
Just ask Ryan Wensmann, one of Thuente's best friends, who helped coordinate a fundraiser last week at Al Baker's Restaurant in Eagan. The event, which featured a silent auction, live music and drinks, drew in a crowd of more than 200 people and raised more than $16,000 in Thuente's name.
All but $500 of that money will be donated to the Eagan Foundation to provide funding for a series of college scholarships organized in Thuente's memory, Wensmann said. The remaining $500 is earmarked as a donation for the Children's Cancer Research Fund.
Thuente, beloved by his peers for his caring attitude, was diagnosed in 2008 with neuroblastoma after doctors found multiple tumors in his pelvic area, thighs and shoulder. He died in 2011, after a two-year battle against the cancer that included a battery of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He was 24 years old.
But Thuente's story didn't end there, thanks to the efforts of a close-knit and dedicated group of friends.
Last year, classmate Emily Pollock decided to start the Matt Thuente Memorial Scholarship for Eagan High School students. Using Facebook to get the word out among friends, Pollock raised more than $2,700 in several weeks. That money fueled two, $1,000 college scholarships, which were distributed by the Eagan Foundation to a pair of graduating seniors earlier this year.
The first scholarships were a strong start for Pollock, Wensmann and others. But to build on Thuente's legacy and raise enough money to continue giving out the annual scholarships, the group decided to go a step further.
At a brainstorming session this June, Wensmann and others settled on the idea of a large-scale fundraiser. They recruited local band Big Bob and the High Rollers to play and collected roughly 40 silent auction items. The fundraising effort was also bolstered by a $5,000 donation from Herregan Distributors.
The group was hoping to raise $10,000 in Thuente's memory, Wensmann said.
"At the time, we thought it was going to be extremely hard to get to, but we ended up far exceeding that," Wensmann said. “It was unbelievable, the support that came out that night."
Wensmann, who became friends with Thuente in elementary school, planned to have Thuente as the best man in his wedding.
Wensmann was in law school when Thuente was diagnosed with cancer.
“I had a hard time dealing with that," Wensmann said. "I made some choices in law school, where I probably could’ve been doing a lot more school work, but instead I was going to visit him."
It wasn't intentional, but Wensmann finds it fitting that roughly one year after the death of his best friend the community gathered at Al Baker's—where Thuente used to work—to celebrate his life.
"I think he would just really like the fact that we were all able to get together this one time and celebrate," Wensmann said.