Holly Respler took immediate notice of Brian Respler after he transplanted to Duluth from New York City in 2003.
He’d wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and settle down, she said. Holly recalled seeing her future husband around town first before finally meeting him at the library.
“For me it was love at first sight,” said Holly, 46.
Brian, 37, was killed Saturday in West Duluth when he was struck by a van. He leaves behind four children with his wife - three boys and a girl, ages 5-9.
The 27-year-old driver of the van that hit Respler in the afternoon in the area of Main Street and Grand Avenue is being held in St. Louis County Jail, having been arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance, according to Duluth Police. The driver has yet to be charged, but has a history of other driving while intoxicated and drug offenses.
“Brian never hurt anybody,” said Melanie Lin, who followed her son from New York City to Duluth to help take care of his growing family. “Unfortunately, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Lin described Brian growing up in Brooklyn, New York as a curious boy who spent much of his time working for cable access television - editing, filming and even hosting his own show based on his passion for professional wrestling called “Wrestling Connection.”
Brian worked the last 10 years at Goodwill Duluth, overcoming a learning disorder as he fulfilled multiple roles, including unloading trucks and picking up items from homes and businesses throughout Duluth. In a 2014 company blog post, Respler spoke about how much he enjoyed his work on the receiving dock, “I always try to keep a positive mentality when I come here,” he said. “I get to work with some really good people on the docks. I’ve learned from the best people back there on the docks.”
Goodwill Duluth issued a statement Monday, saying, “All of us at Goodwill Duluth are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and co-worker, Brian Respler. Brian was dependable, hardworking and took great pride in his work. Brian was well known throughout Goodwill and had many friends here. He will be greatly missed.”
Outside work, Respler was an assistant den leader for his sons’ Webelo troop.
“He was a good father who provided good times for his children,” Lin said. “He was a good son, too.”
Holly said she has alternated between crying one moment and feeling fine the next - her head swimming with funeral details and thoughts of how her family would move on without Respler.
“I love him and I miss him,” she said. “He was caring and helpful to friends.”
Respler’s funeral has been set for Monday at 11 a.m. at Elim Lutheran Church in West Duluth. Williams-Lobermeier Funeral Home is handling the arrangements, including forgoing costs to the family.
“I have never in my career had that happen,” said Breanna Warneke, medical examiner investigator based in Duluth who worked at the scene. “It’s so touching that the funeral home would do that.”
Mark Boettcher, a partner at the funeral home, said circumstances, including the holiday and tragic nature of the event, weighed into the decision.
“We’re here to help people out - whenever we can, however we can,” Boettcher said.
The couple’s children were back at school at Laura MacArthur Elementary School on Monday, with their grandmother, Lin, saying, “Right now getting they’re getting a lot of support from teachers and friends.”
A GoFundMe page was created to collect donations for Respler's family at gofundme.com/nsfwem44.