Published 12:00 am Friday, August 15, 2008


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE – This isn’t the first time Ken Horzelski has made the front page of a newspaper.

When he was about 8 years old, he was fishing for crawfish in the Bonnet Carré Spillway with his mother and three older brothers when along came a reporter – “a city boy,” as Ken’s brother Jason calls him with just a hint of deprecation– who got a brand-new jeep stuck in the mud. Jason said Ken and his mother, Frances, helped the gentlemen out of the mud, and the grateful reporter, who had initially phoned for help, helped the family onto the front page.

It would not be the last time – or anywhere close to the last time, actually – that Ken helped someone get a truck out of the mud.

Some time later, the same reporter was on his way to an appointment in the back of the River Forest subdivision, where the Horzelskis live, but was quickly distracted by a cardboard sign Ken had placed in front of his family’s home on Somerset Road. “Petting Zoo, 50 cents” read the smeared red paint on the sign.

One may have been hesitant, however, to pet some of the animals Ken had caught and displayed in buckets and aquariums in front of his house – among the pretty rabbits, gerbils and geckos were poisonous snakes. Again the reporter was impressed and again a front-page story and photo of Ken holding a massive bullfrog. It was also agreed that, given the inevitable fame and fortune the story would bring him, the admission fee should be raised to $2.00 per person.

But by no measure were these amusing anecdotes the only actions in Ken’s life worthy of front-page coverage. To tell the story of Ken Horzelski is to tell a story of the heroism he showed towards his dying father in the final year of his life. It’s a story of late nights of joking and playing poker with family and always being there for friends. It’s a story of hunting and fishing – and enjoying life to the fullest.

But it’s a story that tragically ended after just 22 years. Horzelski lost his life along with four of his friends last Saturday in a boating accident on Blind River. Frances Horzelski, who lost her husband earlier this year, said she’s handling the loss OK. “They’re all still together,” she said Thursday sitting on the tailgate of Ken’s truck. “That’s what I keep telling people. And everyone has always told me they’ve never seen boys so close.”

Jason says Deuce, the family’s Doberman Pinscher who often slept in Ken’s room, has taken it the hardest. “He’s still waiting for him to come home,” Jason said. “He’s been really depressed this week.”

When his father became sick more than a year ago, Ken dropped everything to take care of him. He had been taking classes at the Louisiana Technical College in Reserve and wanted to become a technician some day. Adam Coniglio, a lifelong friend of Ken’s, said Ken planned to return this semester to finish what little bit he had left. But as he did so many times in his life, he put a loved one before himself. Family members said Ken was still holding his father’s hand when he breathed his last.

Ken’s devotion to his father offers a glimpse of the affectionate dedication he showed toward his friends – including the men he died with – and family. “It didn’t matter what time of the day or night you called him, he was always there for you,” said Jake Boudreaux, Ken’s best friend since seventh grade. “He would give you the shirt off his back.”

When Ken’s brother, Shan, spent a year in Iraq with the military, Ken looked in on and sometimes stayed with his brother’s wife, Lisa. “He took the trash out a lot for me, that’s for sure,” she recalled laughing.

Ken would often leave the house in the middle of family poker games – which, even though Jason swears Ken knew the least about poker in the family, he always seemed to win – to go rescue friends of his who, like the reporter several years ago, had somehow gotten stuck in the mud somewhere.

But Ken also had some notable escapades of his own when it came to vehicles and getting stuck. Boudreaux, who says he played pool with Ken about once a week, recalled a time when his friend had just gotten a nearly-brand-new Toyota Tacoma but insisted on driving it to the spillway the same day. Ken managed to sink his truck halfway into a pond before Boudreaux arrived to bail him out.

Another time, Boudreaux said, Ken drove a Chevrolet into a tree driving down from the family’s camp in St. Francisville. “We purposefully spilled coffee on his pants and said that he had spilled hot coffee on himself, which is why he wrecked the car,” Boudreaux said.

Ken loved to hunt and fish with his brothers and friends. Jason said the four brothers often competed when it came to cooking as well, always cooking what they caught. Jason said Ken could whip up a mean deer stew.

The Horzelskis are coping with the loss of Ken by celebrating his life. Frances said this week has been full of story telling and laughing. And they couldn’t be happier knowing that Ken passed having fun with his friends and that’s he’s reunited with his father.