Lon Elwood remembered Kim Ellis as "a friend who was there before you knew it and a friend who would lend a hand before you could ask for it."
Hundreds of friends and family members gathered in a South Salt Lake chapel Friday afternoon for the funeral of Leroy "Kim" Ellis. Local LDS Church leaders and speakers lamented the tragedy of Ellis' death but celebrated the generous life of a husband, father, son and pal who was dedicated to serving those he loved.The 37-year-old father of seven drowned July 15 in the raging, frigid waters of Kolob Creek while hiking with a youth group through the rugged backcountry of Zion National Park.
Elwood's voice often cracked with emotion as he recalled the friendship and assistance Ellis always extended to relatives and neighbors.
"Kim died in the same way that he lived - in the service of others. He loved barbecues, Dutch-oven cooking, camping and hiking. Most of all, Kim loved to gather the people he cared for around him to celebrate the baptism or blessing of someone in his family," Elwood said.
The five teenage boys and their three adult leaders had been trekking through the first leg of their expedition when they encountered surprisingly swift water. Another group leader, David Fleischer, 28, also of South Salt Lake, jumped into the creek to inspect a pool below a waterfall that the group would be required to pass through and became entangled and trapped in the undertow of a whirlpool.
Recognizing his friend's distress, Ellis plunged into the water to assist Fleischer. Survivors said Fleischer was rescued, but Ellis' head struck a rock, and he was sucked into the whirlpool.
The third adult leader, Mark Brewer, jumped into the pool and pushed Ellis out of the raging waters after a few moments of intense struggle. Brewer told the Deseret News that he and Fleischer performed CPR on their friend, who never regained consciousness.
Shortly after, Fleischer lost his life in swirling waters of another pool.
Elder Loren C. Dunn, a member of the LDS Church's First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Utah Central Area, offered spiritual comfort to the Ellis family and challenged the children to live the type of life exemplified by their father.
"When I look at the Ellises, I see a lovely family that grieves because a member of their family has gone on. But I also see a lovely family who will enjoy eternal life together," he said.
Speaking directly to the Ellis family, Dunn added, "If Kim was born in Dugway, he was probably used to making his way on his own. . . . Now there will be good days and bad days for you, the family. But the covenants of Christ's gospel will heal you."
Jack Ellis, an uncle, spoke of Kim Ellis' love for fishing and his concern for family members at a young age. "When Kim's father died, he spent a good portion of his savings to make sure there was a proper burial. The word `me' was just not in Kim's vocabulary, it was always `you.' "
Kim Ellis is survived by his wife, Tina Marie, and seven children: Shayne, 14; Brandi, 13; Jeffrey, 11; Cyndal, 8; Zachary, 6; Ashley, 2; and Joshua, 8 months.
The funeral was held in the Riviera Ward Chapel, 601 E. 3115 South. A graveyard service followed at South Jordan Cemetery.
Bishop Craig Criddle said a family memorial fund set up in Kim Ellis' name has been established. Anyone wishing to make a donation can contribute at any Salt Lake City Credit Union office.