Bergstrom’s friends and family were by his side during battle with leukemia

Renee Shadforth
Courtesy photoKeith Bergtrom poses with his father Greg in this undated photo.

In their youth, they began life in Truckee, but life took them in separate directions as they got older. Yet somehow or another, Keith Bergstrom’s friends made it back to Truckee in the final days before he died on Tuesday after a nine-month battle with leukemia.

“He was in a lot of pain. He knew the end was coming, but he held on for two more days so he could see all of his friends,” said Matt Hanlon, who had been friends with Bergstrom since grade school.

When they heard the 25-year-old Bergstrom was losing his battle with leukemia, 20 or so of his buddies did what they could to come see him one last time.

Some of them even quit their jobs, Hanlon said. He just meant that much to them.

Although Bergstrom was the youngest in his group of friends, he was the leader, Hanlon said.

“He always had us laughing. We had our own lingo. Even until the end, he had us laughing,” said Hanlon, who spent a lot of time with Bergstrom since his diagnosis in September.

In addition to his leadership qualities, Bergstrom excelled as an athlete – his Tahoe Truckee High School football and baseball teams both took the state championships in 1994 – and found success during his time in the U.S. Navy.

While in the military, Bergstrom went to Advanced Electronics and Computers School, where he completed his schooling as a fire controlman. His success in class allowed him to select where he wanted to be based.

Bergstrom chose Yokosuka, Japan, and was stationed on the USS Vincennes. His captain recognized him for completing all qualifications for his ship in three months, where it usually takes years for sailors to complete requirements.

While on the ship, Bergstrom played on a Navy softball team, went snowboarding in Nagano, Japan, and started to learn Japanese. He planned on going to officer school and then, possibly, flight school.

For his three years in Japan, Bergstrom wrote home often to keep his family and friends updated on his adventures.

“When he set out to do something, he did it,” said Matt Hanlon’s mother Dianne Hanlon. Her home, she said, was the “hub of activity” while her boys and Bergstrom and his brothers were growing up. “He was one of those kids who was always the first one on the field and the last one off.”

She said Bergstrom and his circle of friends had “some sort of special bond” that couldn’t necessarily be explained.

“They knew [Bergstrom’s death] was coming, so they got to say all the things they needed to say to him. I told them they were very lucky,” she said. “I think [his death] just came a little bit sooner than we thought it would.”

Last weekend, Bergstrom spent his final days in prayer with friends. They held a seven-hour Indian Tribal Ceremony on Saturday.

“It was a pretty emotional night,” Matt Hanlon said.

Now all of Bergstrom’s friends and family will meet again to celebrate his life on Sunday at West End Beach at Donner Lake.

Keith’s mother, Teri Bergstrom, has set up a fund for an athletic scholarship in Bergstrom’s name for a Tahoe Truckee High School athlete.

“We’d like to keep it local. He would have liked that,” she said. “He got a couple thousand dollars from scholarships at Truckee High School. It really meant a lot to him.”

Bergstrom is survived by his parents Greg and Teri Bergstrom; brothers David and Andy; grandparents Marianne Kruse and John and Doleen Bergstrom; numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, and the Wood family.

A life celebration and barbecue is planned for Sunday at West End Beach at the pavilion at Donner Lake from noon until dusk. The Keith Bergstrom Memorial Fund has been set up at Plumas Bank.

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