Tragedy spurs town to action

Community supports victims’ families | Seeding bee is ‘a way of farmers giving flowers’

MOSSLEIGH, Alta. — One of Mossleigh’s primary landmarks is owned by the man the community now mourns.

Eric Donovan, 38, who died May 12 in a plane crash along with his 11-year-old son, Wade, and his friend and pilot Denny Loree, 59, owned the northernmost of three old grain elevators that are the town’s landmarks on Highway 23.

Donovan had recently put new siding on the fading elevator, replacing the flaking Parrish and Heimbecker paint with the colours of his trucking firm, EDT.

On May 16, Donovan’s family, friends and neighbours gathered on three quarters southwest of town to finish seeding the crop he had started.

Six air seeders, two semis and several tandems stirred the dust under a deep blue sky showing only a few high clouds.

With the wind light at about four knots, it would have been a perfect day for Loree to fly his Piper Cherokee.

The farmer loved flying and did it often. On the day he died, he was helping Donovan by flying to St. Brieux, Sask., home of Bourgault Industries, to pick up a part for Donovan’s seeder. Wade was along for the ride.

As they neared St. Brieux, the plane collided with another plane flown by Eric and Joy Jackson of Regina. No one survived.

“Because it was the weekend, they thought it would be faster to fly up and get them,” said Reno Bexte, a long-time friend of both Donovan and Loree, who works at P & H in Mossleigh.

Inside the crop services centre, a chair in the coffee area is overturned. It’s the chair Donovan used to sit in almost every morning, wearing the sandals he favoured in both winter and summer. His chair faced the door, so he could visit with everyone who came in.

What was he like? Every friend and neighbour has the same response to that question: a smile.

“He was a practical joker. He was in here every day,” said P & H general manager Monty Beagle.

“He was loud and fun and animated,” added Donovan’s neighbour, Nathan Weber, as he filled tanks with fertilizer before last week’s seeding bee began.

“Put him in a room of people, he was really a lot of fun.”

Besides farming, Donovan was a baseball and hockey coach, member of the Lions Club and drove the bus when local teams needed a hand.

Loree had similar qualities. Flying was his passion, as was farming on land he owned near both Nanton and Mossleigh.

“Denny enjoyed everybody,” said Beagle, who is also a private pilot. “He was a people person. They were great guys, both of them.”

Beagle shakes his head as he ponders the crash. He has since checked the statistics for midair collisions — 29 in the last 50 years. Odds against such an accident are astronomical, he said.

Loree’s plane took off that fateful day from the small grass strip just outside P & H.

Bexte recalled that one of the two men suggested they stop for coffee but then decided against it. Those 10 minutes would have made all the difference, he said, with tears in his eyes.

The local Lions Club plans to set up a trust fund for Donovan’s other three children: Scott, 10, Drew, 6, and Charlotte, 4.

The club will also help Donovan’s wife, Bobby, with seed and sod for the area around their recently built farm home.

Back in the field, Ken Weber wrestled the auger beneath another truckload of fertilizer and thought about lost friends.

“We own a piece of equipment together,” he said about Donovan. “He’s always been a good neighbour. You needed help, he was there. I’m glad to be able to help today.”

Loree also had farmland adjoining Weber’s.

“It was tough yesterday to see his outfit going,” said Weber, noting Loree’s cousin came out to finish seeding one field.

Loree leaves behind his wife, Joan, and son, Mackenzie.

Reese Risdon of Strathmore was in the field with his seeder, having just finished his own seeding and helping out another farmer.

“Eric was just the kind of guy who would do this for someone else,” Risdon said.

Gregg Percival, who helped organize the bee along with Donovan’s cousin, Ian, attended college at the same time as Loree.

“I don’t think you could ask for a nicer guy. He did it all and he did it all right,” as both a farmer and a pilot, said Percival.

Ian Donovan farmed with Eric until about eight years ago. The two men were close, sometimes mistaken for brothers.

The new MLA for Little Bow, who was sworn into office May 15, said he was not surprised at the turnout for the seeding bee.

“That’s just what the community is here,” he said.

“It’s kind of a way of farmers giving flowers. You don’t know what else to do, other than you’ve got the equipment and you know how to get in, and it’s just one less thing for his wife to worry about.”

Ian Donovan’s voice grows husky as he talks about his cousin and his friend.

“Denny would be the first guy to give you a hand. That’s why he was with Eric, flying him, because Eric needed a hand and that’s who Denny was.”

Loree’s memorial service was scheduled for May 17 at Nanton’s Lancaster Museum, a fitting venue for a pilot. Donovan’s service was held May 18 in Aldersyde.

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