KELLOGG – Larry “Pete” Marek was remembered Thursday as devoted family man and model miner, whose great strength made him a rock that others leaned on.
Hundreds of Silver Valley residents filled the Kellogg High School gym to pay tribute to Marek, who was killed April 15 in a roof collapse at the Lucky Friday Mine.
Marek’s condition wasn’t immediately known, and during nine anxious days, rescue workers worked around the clock to reach him, hoping he had found refuge from the falling rock and survived. Prayers and good wishes flowed in from all over the United States. But on Easter Sunday, Hecla Mining Co. announced that he hadn’t survived the collapse.
“Pete was courageous, as are all miners who go underground, risking their lives every day,” said pastor Corey Berti of the Silver Valley Worship Center, who officiated at the memorial service. “He was known for his strength and stability. He was the one that people went to because they knew they could count on him.”
Marek’s nickname, “Pete,” was given to him by his dad, Leo, when he was a child. Pete means rock, which is what he was for others, Berti said.
That was true in his personal life as well as his work, family and friends said. Marek, 53, was the one people called when they needed help packing a deer or elk out of the woods. He didn’t have the heart to say no. He’d drop whatever he was doing to help his brothers, his children or others in his large, extended family.
As a miner, Marek was known for his great physical strength and fortitude in harsh working conditions. When Marek worked at the Stillwater Mine in Montana, the dark-haired, mustached man was used as the model for a statue of a miner that Stillwater had commissioned for a local park.
Marek was born in North Dakota but moved with his family to the Silver Valley when he was a child. At Kellogg High School, he was a standout basketball player, an early sign of the athleticism he retained throughout his life. After his graduation in 1976, Marek spent three decades in the hard-rock mining industry.
When Marek worked with his dad at the Bunker Hill Mine, the two men set a production record for the most rock moved in their stope, or work area.
“He’s one of the best miners in the district,” said Dan McGillis, a Lucky Friday co-worker, who worked alternating shifts in the same stope. “He’d do all of his work and half of mine.”
Yet Marek had a quiet confidence. He never boasted about his accomplishments or belittled others, McGillis said. Mining jobs took Marek to Montana and Nevada as well as the Silver Valley, where he worked at several mines, including 12 years at the Lucky Friday. Marek also spent time in the woods as a logger.
A written tribute from his brother, Mike, who was his mining partner, was read at the service. “You are one of the best hunters, miners and friends … I will miss you. I will miss your smile when I yell ‘Pardner!’ ”
The two brothers were separated by the rockfall, which occurred more than a mile underground. Mike Marek escaped unharmed.
Four generations of the Marek family filled the front rows of the gymnasium. They were dressed in Carhartts and camouflage to honor Marek’s passion for hunting. “He was always texting BBD – big bull down,” said family friend Mike Shelley. That meant that Marek needed help getting his kill in.
Marek explored North Idaho’s forests as a hunter, a hiker and a camper. Scouting the forest floor for shed antlers was a favorite pastime and he was in the midst of turning his truck into the ultimate hunting rig.
But his passion for his family was even greater, Berti said. He took his wife, Pat, on hunting trips. He danced with his granddaughter, Lexis, and took her along when he cut firewood. He cherished family gatherings. And he was something of a prankster with his brothers. When he and his twin brother, Fred, went fishing, they couldn’t get the truck started for the ride home. Marek had put a perch in the carburetor.
Another family story featured three of the brothers – Pete, Danny and Don – chasing after a black bear. Marek was protective of his family and didn’t tease his younger brother Danny, who left the chase to hide in the back of the truck because he was scared of bears.
Marek’s death was the first fatality at the Lucky Friday Mine since 1986. The accident is under investigation by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration.
In addition to his wife, Marek is survived by four children and five grandchildren.
The family has requested that memorial donations be made to a charity of one’s choice.