GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - At 24, Matt Kutsche was not a stranger to missionary work. He was looking forward to being on a medical mission to Haiti with a group of others from West Michigan, including his father, Dr. David Kutsche.
On Jan. 11, the Kutsches and 16 others landed in Haiti to help people still struggling to recover from the devastating earthquake in 2010.
But that day, Matt Kutsche, Mary LaPonsie and Jim and Rita Cwengros died when the brakes on the SUV they were in failed, resulting in the vehicle crashing down a ravine.
On Thursday, Dr. Kutsche told 24 Hour News 8 he and his wife, Mary, and Matt's sister, Sarah, have all been deeply touched by the outpouring of support from friends. Saying thank you was one reason he agreed to speak.
Matt was engaged to Carly Andrews, who shared the story of when he proposed.
"He had it all planned out," she said. "He went prior and made reservations at a restaurant and he had a card made up. We finished dinner and he had the waitress bring out the tab with a card in it and it had a cute saying in there. And he got down on one knee."
Mary LaPonsie felt a deep calling to serve the people of Haiti. Shortly before she left to help out after a hurricane devastated the region, she told 24 Hour News 8 "there is something very special there."
"We know that whatever situation we are put in, we are put in for a reason and we will have the strength to get through it," she said at that time.
Now her family is trying to understand these deaths and are counting on each other for the strength to get through it.
"She was where she wanted to be and Mary had a lot of strength," her husband, Mike, told 24 Hour News 8. "We are going to try to feed off of that strength as we go ahead just like she would want us to."
For the LaPonsies, Haiti was a family affair. Each had made several trips, and daughter Debbie finds comfort in remembering her first trip on the same road where her mom lost her life.
"I was so scared and my mom was holding my hand and I remember exactly what she said to me. She said, 'Debbie, if anything happens, we are doing what we love.'"
Eric, Laura and Andy Cwengros said their parents had fallen in love with Haiti. Friends and family provide strength, but it will be the lessons they learned as children that will eventually heal them.
"I think our parents provided everything we needed to do to go on," Eric Cwengros said. "In fact, I think it is uncanny how at this point in our lives I think we are prepared."
The victims' bodies returned to West Michigan Thursday night on a charter plane.
Matt Kutsche's funeral is set for 2 p.m. Monday at 1st (Park) Congregational Church, 10 East Park Place NE.
Mary LaPonsie: Visitation Sunday, Jan. 20 from 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. at Arsulowicz Brothers Remembrance Mortuary, 3525 Remembrance NW. Funeral Monday, Jan. 21 at 11 a.m.at Holy Spirit Parish, 2230 Lake Michigan Drive NW
James and Rita Cwengros: Visitation Monday, Jan. 21 from 3-9 p.m.at Holy Spirit Parish. Funeral Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 11 a.m. at Holy Spirit Parish
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