June 13, 2023 at 1:17 p.m.
Plantenberg honored posthumously as Spunktacular Days grand marshal
Kort Plantenberg spent his life doing what he was designed to do.
“Kort lived a life devoted to service and filled with love for family, friends, animals and nature, and he had a passion for flying,” his father Steve Plantenberg said June 7 from his and wife Laura’s Avon home.
On Dec. 5, 2019, Sgt. Kort Plantenberg, 28, of Avon, and fellow soldiers and friends Chief Warrant Officer 2 James Rogers, Jr., 28, of Winsted; and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles Nord, 30, of Perham, died in a Minnesota Army National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crash, 10 minutes after it took off from St. Cloud during a mechanical test flight.
On Saturday, June 17, Kort will be honored posthumously as the 2023 Avon Spunktacular Days grand marshal, during the 7 p.m. parade. A National Guard color guard will lead the parade. It’s the same parade Kort drove an Allis Chalmers tractor in when he was a youth.
“He’d be shaking his head,” Steve said of how Kort would react to the honor. “He was the type of young man that didn’t want attention on him.”
The first-born son of Steve and Laura and a big brother to Isabel “Izzy,” Kort was a 2009 Albany High School graduate.
Steve said, as an old German Benedictine family from Stearns County, they wanted a short name for their newborn son.
“Laura and I were looking for a traditional German name, and we came up with Kort, an old version of the German form of Kurt,” Steve said.
From an early age, Kort was obsessed with helicopters and flying. He liked fishing and hunting and served as a lifeguard and on a ski patrol. He helped friends and neighbors, liked solving problems and met challenges with unbreakable determination.
“He was very soft-spoken and really conscious of other people,” Steve said.
Max, his German Shepherd, was his companion and friend.
Kort was an accomplished marksman and skier and started formal biathlon training at age 12. He was a member of the 2018 National Guard All Guard Biathlon Championship teams, and the National Guard All Guard team trophy has been named in his honor.
“That was really touching,” Steve said.
Kort loved nature.
“If you couldn’t find him, he was on the water fishing,” Steve said.
Kort had a passion for design and fabrication. At age 12, his first job was assembling new bikes, which led him to his interest of working with anything and everything that moves, Steve said.
An accomplished welder and woodworker, he made furniture for friends and family.
Kort sincerely cared about others and safety. After completing his studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth in criminology, he took a position with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department.
Kort wanted no regrets when it came to him flying.
“We remember him coming home and sharing with us that if he were ever going to fly, it was important that he wait no longer,” Steve said. “He stated, ‘I am going to join the Minnesota Army National Guard to pursue flying rescue helicopters,’ and it was important to him to be able to take them apart and repair them.”
He enlisted in the Minnesota Army National Guard in 2016, as an aircraft electrician. Kort served a nine-month deployment with the Guard’s Company C, 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion in Kuwait. He returned from deployment and was hired as a federal technician mechanic at Army Aviation Support Facility 2 in St. Cloud. He was selected to start the state warrant officer program in March 2020 and then flight school the next fall in pursuit of his lifelong passion. His ambition was to work on helicopters during the week and fly them on the weekend.
Kort was deployed with Rogers and Nord to Kuwait and Iraq where they developed close friendships and flew together as part of operation Northstar Dustoff. Upon his return, he was scheduled to leave for flight school training spring 2020.
The Dec. 5, 2019, crash changed his family’s life.
“When you reflect back, we were blessed. We, as a family, have a strong relationship, even though it was devastating,” Steve said.
They built a bond with the families of the other two soldiers who died in the crash and treasure the conversations with Kort’s friends.
“It’s been remarkable meeting his friends and realizing the many solid friendships he had and how close he was to so many people,” he said. “That makes you feel good.”
In memory of the loss of Kort’s life, the United States Congress passed legislation, introduced by Congressman Tom Emmer, to rename the Avon Post Office in his honor.
Steve admits, like many parents who have lost a child, not a day goes by that he does not think of Kort.
“There are things that remind me of him, or Laura and I and Izzy will talk about him,” he said.
If Steve is outside and hears a Blackhawk helicopter flying overhead, he gives a thumbs-up.
The Plantenberg family of four had a strong bond, and often when they were together the conversation ended with three words.
“Whenever Kort and I would have a conversation, it would usually be something about fishing or working on a project, and we would end it with ‘I love you,’” Steve said. “In our culture, we don’t say those words enough. Look someone in their eyes, say ‘I love you,’ and give them a big hug.”
Kort would be the first to do so.
The Plantenbergs are grateful for the honor bestowed on Kort by the Avon community. They will gather with family and friends to watch the parade, knowing Kort is watching from above, still devoting his heavenly life to service, family and friends – and flying a Blackhawk helicopter.