Friends and family on Wednesday gathered at the funeral for Jacob Beneke, the youngest of the six people who died last week in the workplace shooting in Minneapolis.
Beneke, 34, was well on his way to reaching his dreams, friends said.
"He had really found happiness," said Allen McQuade, one of Beneke's close friends. "He was on that path and it was tragic that it was cut short, but he was able to experience some of that happiness before he was taken."
Beneke had been married to his wife, Iliyana, for nine years, and their son Radomir just turned 6 years old. McQuade said Beneke loved to garden at his home in Maple Grove. He also had a workshop where he'd create mixed media sculptures made of recycled materials.
McQuade said Beneke's first priority was his family, but he also left plenty of room for his friends. After college at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wis., McQuade said Beneke kept in touch.
"There's something you hold dear and you fight to keep it alive. You fight to keep connections with people," he said. "He really valued his friends."
McQuade and Beneke shared an apartment with three other friends during college. Beneke kept everyone in line and made sure the bills were paid, McQuade said.
Tony Love, who also lived with Beneke during college, first met him in first grade at their elementary school in northeastern Iowa. Beneke grew up in the town of New Albin, and he and his friends loved camping out on sandbars on the Mississippi River nearby, Love said.
Love was best man at Beneke's wedding in 2003 and said Beneke was tall and was known as "the gentle giant."
"He had this calming effect on everybody, whenever you'd hang out with him," Love said. "You couldn't help but be a little happier when you were around the guy."
Another college friend, Michael Knothe, said Beneke's positive outlook was contagious.
"He was genuine and will be missed by many," Knothe said.
After college, Beneke worked as a cook at a resort in Lutsen, Minn., where he met his future wife, who is from Bulgaria. The two traveled to an art center near Florence, Italy, for two summers as Beneke studied with Brother Jerome Cox. Cox said he was a quick study.
"He was very talented," Cox said. "All my students learned jewelry work and sculpture, and mechanics, and electricity, and laying cement and a lot of other things. So he was very talented, a very hard worker and very humorous. A very nice person to be with."
Friends said Beneke was working as a graphic designer at Accent Signage Systems to pay the bills. He hoped his own graphic design company would become a full-time job someday.
Beneke also wanted to continue sculpture and painting, and was working with the Maple Grove Arts Center to display his work.
"He was ready to show his art to the world," said Lorrie Link, the center's director.
One of Beneke's sculptures — a rabbit made of recycled wood, a chainsaw motor and a Heineken beer bottle cap for a nose — is on display at the center. Link said the center is planning a benefit for his family, which is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 4.
Besides his wife and son, Beneke leaves behind his parents, Deb and Bruce, and sister, Jessica.
On his website, Beneke described his art as "the rebirth of society's rejects."
"Nothing is finite. Even fragile human life becomes part of the Earth as the physical form reduces to ashes. Life then renews as plants and animals thrive from those ashes buried within the ground.
"Therefore, I see the infinity of all materials," he wrote. "Join me as I celebrate the Earth and all that can be reborn. I have found that all matter — matters."
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