Those closest to him describe Matt Spates as an adventurer, thinker, loyal friend, caring brother and son.
Spates died on July 5 near Fort Collins, Colorado, in what authorities determined to be a rafting accident. The 26-year-old Spates left the world doing what his family said he loved best.
“He was so adventurous, and he would go camping for days on end without cell phone reception,” Liz Spates said of her son, while flipping through the pages of a family scrapbook Wednesday.
Although embarking upon adventure was how Matt Spates spent a good portion of his life, being a voracious reader had equal importance.
On an average school night in the middle of the week when most teenagers were perhaps playing video games or watching television, Spates was immersed in the second chapter of an Aldous Huxley book, searching for philosophical insight. His love of books is obvious; Matt's room has shelves filled with books by philosophers, renowned chefs and world travelers.
“He valued every book he read. He savored them,” Pete Spates said of his late son. “He had an art mind, because he had a creative and unique way of looking at things.”
Matt's passion for reading and learning translated to academic success at Mitchell High School and the University of Minnesota, where he graduated in 2011 and 2016, respectively.
Pete Spates said he always admired Matt’s ability to value an array of life viewpoints and opinions, whether or not he agreed.
“He definitely had strong opinions of his own, but he would listen and sometimes change an opinion after listening to someone else’s,” Pete Spates said with a laugh.
Spates' love for adventure was in his blood, as his great uncle spent a large portion of his life living in a cabin deep in the woods of northern Minnesota. For those who knew Spates, his fascination for his great uncle’s simplistic way of life was a common point of discussion.
Throughout the two years he lived in Fort Collins, he spent a fair share of time hiking in the mountains and getting lost in the wilderness with friends. Liz Spates said she knew Colorado was her only son’s happy place, and she cherishes the time her family recently spent there, exploring the Rocky Mountains together.
Shortly after college, Matt moved from Minneapolis to Fort Collins and became a server at a restaurant and climbed his way up into a managerial role.
“I loved seeing how much he enjoyed being and living in Colorado,” Liz said. “We had such a great time visiting him there and going to a Red Rocks concert.”
In the midst of many hikes and camping trips in the woods, Matt met a partner, Rain LeSage, whom his parents said he loved dearly.
Among the hundreds of Facebook posts friends and family shared of Matt, his younger sister Hannah Spates said one particularly stood out to her.
Hannah said the social media post read in part, “He was a fiercely loyal friend.”
“But he was an even more loyal brother. He never missed a birthday or Christmas. He would always do something for us all during those times,” Hannah said.
With matching tattoos on their bodies, it’s clear the three siblings shared a close bond. Emily, Matt’s youngest sister, said she will deeply miss the support her older brother provided.
“He always encouraged us to do what made us happy no matter what and be accepting of others because they were just trying to be happy, too,” Emily said.
Longtime friend Miles Johnson attests to the type of loyal friend Matt was, saying the two spent hours talking about life.
“He was my best friend, and he always pushed me to be a better person and to try new things,” an emotional Johnson said in an interview with The Daily Republic. “I remember staying up way too late and just talking about life. He had such a big heart.”
Logan Freidel, a former classmate and close friend of Matt’s, said he’s never met someone who cares about his friends the way Matt did.
Liz Spates said the overwhelming community support her family has received in the wake of her son’s death shows the positive impact he had on his friends, family and community.
Though the Spates family is mourning the loss of their brother and son, they find peace in knowing he was living in a place he loved with a partner he loved more. Matt Spates' obituary says Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Holy Family Catholic Church with burial at Calvary Cemetery.
While Spates died in the middle of another adventure through the rapids of the Poudre River of northern Colorado in a place he called home, his family believes he’s now embarking on his greatest adventure yet.
"We know he is in a better place, and we couldn't be more proud of how much the community has supported us," Liz Spates said.