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Derick John Brehm came into the world on May 1, 1994, with huge, bright-blue eyes, which never ceased taking in the wonders of a world that would continue to fascinate, amaze and intrigue him over the next 25 years.
Derick was a true renaissance man who never lost his curiosity, sense of adventure and essence of childlike wonderment.
He viewed the world as a classroom, in which learning new things and satisfying his infinite curiosity were much more important than report cards or test scores. He was known for doing his homework but not turning it in, as he figured the important thing was the knowledge he earned rather than the grade.
His many diverse interests included music, art, nature, hockey, geology, paleontology, athletics, water sports and “anything with a motor.”
Derick was an enormously talented, multi-faceted individual who defied conventional roles or black-and-white labels. He was a jock and motocross enthusiast who also loved art and music. He loved rocks as well as music, lifting weights as much as sketching pictures and researching dinosaurs as much as wakeboarding.
He could be a fierce competitor on the ice, but he also had a huge heart and great compassion for others. Derick was so soft-hearted that he would bring young turtles home to protect them from the dogs or gently release bats outside after they got into the house. He was acutely sensitive to the needs of those he loved the most, but rarely got embarrassed and cared little about what others outside of his circle thought of him.
The first and only son of John and Dawn Brehm, Detroit Lakes, Derick’s early life was spent in Fargo, N.D. He first stepped on the ice at age 3 and joined Fargo Youth Hockey at age 5. He was so excited when he first put on his equipment, running into walls giggling because he was invincible!
In 1999, Derick was excited to transition from “only child” to “big brother” status as baby sister Adrianna joined the family.
His school career began at Longfellow Elementary in north Fargo where he used his natural creativity and curiosity to make his first invention – the “no-spill milk pump.” His flair for innovation also helped him win the Cub Scouts’ Pine Wood Derby two years running as well as an impromptu paper airplane contest.
In 2002, Derick moved with his family to Detroit Lakes, where he attended Rossman Elementary, joined Detroit Lakes Youth Hockey and discovered his love for music through his piano teacher, Ann Jorgenson.
In December of 2002, another baby sister, Liv, joined the family, prompting Derick to tell Adrianna, “Hey, we’re getting the best Christmas present ever!”
Life in his new community also gave Derick another opportunity to showcase his wide assortment of interests, which he did by winning second in the adult division of the Vergas (Minn.) Loon-Calling Contest.
He also became a big dirt-bike enthusiast, racing competitive motocross and hare scrambles for seven years.
Through it all, Derick continued his love of hockey, becoming assistant captain of his high school team during his senior year. He had a firm sense of self, while also never judging others. When he was asked, as one of the team captains, to speak on leadership to elementary-age students in Detroit Lakes, he gave a shout-out to his little sister, asking: “Is my little sister Livia out there?” When she raised her hand, he proudly shouted out: “Love you, Liv!”
After graduation, Derick played hockey for the Steel County Blades in Owatonna Minnesota for one year. Shortly after the season was underway Alex Mason, a high school teammate, joined the Steele County Blades and him and Derick discovered a brotherhood. Unfortunately, he sustained a serious ankle injury, and thought he would never skate competitively again. Derick enrolled in college at MSUM.
During the following summer, when Derick was skating with his sisters, he realized his injured ankle had fully healed. Coincidently, he received a call from his former coach from the Blades, who now was the head coach for the Butte Cobras in Montana, this call sent Derick back into the junior hockey world. Derick played for Butte for a year where he was assistant captain. He earned both the Best Defender and Hardest Worker awards. While in Butte, he continued to appreciate and respect the people and developed friendships that would last his whole life and beyond.
Once again, thinking his hockey career was over, Derick was surprised to get a call from another team, the Tottenham Steam, north of Toronto, Canada. Unsure of what to do, he called his Mom for advice. She told him: “You’re only 21 once, so go for it!”
This time around, Derick had to work his way up on a strong team. He again became one of the top defenders and helped the Steam to steamroll its way to a Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League championship. He was also named “Most Improved” player.
Derick then continued on with his education at M-State Moorhead with plans to transfer to MSUM for Construction Management and Business.
In additon to his many goals and accomplishments, Derick proudly worked alongside his dad, uncles and best of friends in the family business, Zayic Concrete. Derick usually took the toughest job so no one could call him a “BK” (boss’s kid).
Besides all of his other interests and talents, Derick was a natural musician who could pick up and play almost any song by ear. His parents still recall him taking piano lessons from Ann Jorgenson
at the front of Trinity Lutheran Church during the weekly pre-service lunch.
As the elderly church members sat at the back of the church, enjoying their leisurely, pre-Lenten coffee and bars, Derick suddenly began pounding out Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” on the church piano. His parents felt like they were mired in quicksand as they struggled to run to the front of the church to stop his impromptu rock concert.
It was classic Derick. He wasn’t thinking about what was appropriate; it was simply the song he felt like playing at that moment.
He went on to play a variety of instruments, ranging from clarinet, baritone and trombone to bongos, ukulele and guitar. He competed at the state level several times in piano and also in band.
Derick’s love of the guitar came from his Grandpa Armato. Who was the one who showed him how to play “Stairway to Heaven.”
After his grandpa played the song once, Derick replayed it almost perfectly. His grandfather was so impressed that he immediately handed over his Washburn guitar to Derick as a gift, telling him it was now his. The guitar became one of Derick’s treasured possessions and would later hang on the music-themed wall of the apartment he shared with friends. This beloved guitar will continue to play on in the hands of Kody Dinh.
Throughout his life, Derick would pick up the guitar after ignoring it for months and play it effortlessly. During a family trip to Epcot, Derick was over-the-moon excited about buying bongos. He immediately sat down in the street and started playing them, prompting people to gather around as if he were part of the professional entertainment. His mom laughed and said: “Derick, you need to put out a cup.”
When he wasn’t playing music, Derick enjoyed music other ways, either by attending concerts with his friends or unabashedly breaking out into what became known as “the Derick Dance.” His musical tastes were incredibly eclectic, encompassing anything from electronic to classical. His only requirement was that the musicians showed real skill and talent.
Fittingly, Derick was as interested in mechanical things as he was in the mechanics of music. His passion for anything with a motor fueled his love for motorcycles, snowmobiles, his jacked-up Suburban (Thank you, Bender!) and his big red truck.
His family laughs as they recall how his curiosity in learning how things work drove him to take on major projects, such as converting his sister’s bike into a motorcycle with a chainsaw motor. Typically, he would get distracted by more interesting projects before he was done, and left her bike disassembled for many months afterward. For Derick, it was more about the idea and the inspiration than the finished product.
Derick had an insatiable interest in facts, learning and knowledge. His family and friends called him the King of Useless Information. They joked that he could have run his own website, “Derick Says,” where people from all over the world could ask him questions on just about any random fact.
When Derick found something interesting, he studied it relentlessly – watching YouTube videos and reading internet blogs and articles for hours until he was an expert on the topic. He would debate enthusiastically with others over his favorite topics and he was usually right – although he would back down if his opponent could prove they had also done their homework on the topic.
Not surprisingly, Derick was a formidable trivia partner, losing interest in the game only when the pizza was delivered.
As interested as he was in research and facts, Derick also believed in the power of magic. As a fifth grader, he asked his mother if leprechauns were real. When she had to tell him they weren’t, he was devastated. Derick possessed an intuitive, spiritual quality, including an understanding that there was a great power in what you couldn’t necessarily understand or see.
As an old soul with a young heart, Derick wasn’t materialistic or status-conscious. He preferred collectibles that showed the patina of use and the character of their histories. One of his most loved possessions was his “treasure chest,” a well-traveled box filled with items and collectibles from his travels. The box contained everything from old coins, crystals and favorite rocks to dinosaur bones and even a dehydrated blowfish. His former roommates, Kody and Alex, recall the role this treasure box played when they moved into their first apartment. They didn’t know much about interior decorating, so they weren’t really sure where to hang pictures or how to decorate their pad.
One day, both came home from work to discover Derick had taken the lead in the decorating department. He had removed the hundreds of rocks from his treasure chest and precisely spaced them out in columns and rows to cover every bit of counterspace and shelf space in the apartment. His idea of HGTV was Home Geology TV.
Although the three opted not to turn their apartment into a museum, Derick still occasionally took out his rock collection and dinosaur bones from time to time to examine, enjoy and enlighten guests.
Derick was never one to sit around the house and watch TV. He would either sit in silence (pondering on deep, philosophical questions such as: “How many eggs do you crack in a lifetime?”), research topics on the internet, doodle or draw, listen to music or play guitar or ukulele. His mind and body were constantly on the go.
At 5 feet 11 inches tall and 200 pounds, Derick was physically imposing – so strong that when his sister, Adrianna, once asked him to crack her back, he accidentally cracked her ribs in the process. His friends will never forget the sight of Derick leaving the grocery store with a cart overflowing with groceries, then deftly picking up the full cart and putting the whole works in the back of the team van.
Derick kept in top form by faithfully hitting the gym and lifting weights, missing workouts only when the gym was closed. Upon learning that coffee was the ideal pre-workout beverage, he responded with classic Derick-sized enthusiasm. He would brew up a full, 10-cup pot, and when friends asked if they could have some, he would smile and say no, get your own pot. He figured he needed all 10 cups of caffeine for the best workout.
Derick and his roommates also focused on eating well, with pizza included, especially in the protein department. Once, after a new roommate moved in, he opened the refrigerator and asked: “Do you guys eat anything but eggs?” The friends kept six dozen eggs in their refrigerator at all times.
For all of his curiosity, intelligence and talent, Derick could be like an absent-minded professor, growing so absorbed in what interested him that he could forget the task at hand. His mother recalls that, as a boy, Derick could have excelled at sports like baseball and soccer, but sometimes butterflies and pirate ship looking clouds took his focus from the game. He frequently lost things like his driver’s license, debit card and sunglasses. He would lose his wallet for months at a time and yet, somehow it always wound up “finding him” again. Once, after Derick spent a whole winter with no idea where his wallet was, the spring thaw uncovered the elusive item in a Detroit Lakes park – with money and cards still intact.
Derick would respond to these odd twists of fate by grinning, shrugging and quoting George of the Jungle: “Derick just lucky, I guess.”
His mind was too busy mulling over creations, dreams, possibilities and inventions to bother with the boring everyday details of modern life. He could tell you the difference between igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, but he didn’t bother memorizing his social security number. And yet, when the chips were down, he knew what was important to know. His timecards for the family business could look like they had been filled out by a distracted kindergartner. Even so, he could glance at his paycheck, make a quick mental calculation and immediately inform his dad that his salary was exactly $87 short in that pay period.
Derick’s big heart and compassionate outlook made him a faithful friend. His friend Kody Dinh says Derick was an easy choice to be best man at Kody’s wedding – a duty he took very seriously. In fact, he agonized for months over the task of delivering a best man’s speech, writing pages and pages about their friendship.
When the time came, Derick wound up speaking off the cuff and, predictably, put the BEST in Best Man.
When their circle of friends grew older and started going their own ways, Kody says “Derick was the glue” that held them together.
Derick held many roles in his lifetime, but his most cherished one was a member of Team Brehm.
He worshipped his little sisters, Adrianna and Livia, who eagerly followed in his skating strides by also playing hockey. He was always excited to see them play, proudly saying, “I have some bad ass sisters.” He was especially excited and grateful to be able to accompany Liv and two of her friends to Detroit, Mich. in 2018 so they could compete in in the two Nations tournament.
In return, his younger sisters said they looked up to their older brother and were always striving to succeed to please him.
Besides hockey, the siblings shared a love of music, any creative adventure and a chance to see the world in all its wonder, leaving no rock unturned. Every rock was a treasure, and sand was for making face molds and complex castles.
Derick also lived for spending weekends at Loon Lake with his family and could often be found surfing with Liv on his shoulders. On a surf board, he looked like a little kid, again, sporting a smile as big as the sun.
Derick loved his mother more than life itself, and they shared the same enthusiasm for music and art. Together, Derick and Dawn concocted the most creative school projects, Halloween costumes and classroom treats (including monster cupcakes and kuchen to celebrate his German heritage). One year, he taught his class how to make snow globes out of baby food jars. Another year, when family funds were low, Derick and his mom led the family in making homemade Christmas gifts: 12 paper-mache snowmen holding pictures of the Brehm children.
Derick would do anything for his mom. When Dawn received double-knee replacements several year ago, he literally carried her anywhere she needed to go.
Through this whole horrible tragedy, the comment we’ve heard most often is that Derick made them a better person. Derick never lost his childhood curiosity or respect and compassion for people – traits that have been lost in so many of us. We only hope that, through this tragic event, whenever we are stressed or angry, we remember to sit back and cherish the little things in life. After all, that’s how Derick lived his life 100% of the time.
Written by dear friend, Tammy Swift