This story was updated at 6:45 p.m. July 25 to remove a paragraph about plans to release Chinese lanterns. This will not happen.
Katie Pudas epitomized what it meant to be a friend to others and touched many lives, according to her family and friends.
Katie, a 2015 Eden Prairie High School alumna and recent graduate of the University of Kansas, passed away while traveling overseas on Thursday, July 19. Over 1,000 yellow pinwheels have been ordered and her friends hope that community members will join in putting up the pinwheels around town to honor her memory.
Yellow was chosen as the central theme because Katie always radiated positivity and joy, said Jack McDaniel, one of her friends.
“She was our sunshine. Boxes of pinwheels will be dropped off in different places so everyone in our community shouldn’t be too far away from one. That being said, we encourage everyone to make this theme their own and make our whole community bright. Katie would’ve loved that,” he said on Tuesday.
Katie traveled extensively and loved exploring, meeting new people, learning new cultures and understanding how other governments worked. She went to many places including Minnesota state parks, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, District of Columbia, Utah, Florida, Mexico, the Bahamas, Canada, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Slovakia.
This summer, Katie met up with a high school friend to travel throughout southeast Asia. They spent time in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. They were motorbiking through the Ha Giang Loop in Vietnam’s northernmost province bordering China.
Rain caused the roads to be slick and Katie’s bike slid into a car. A companion told the family that the car’s driver took a corner too tightly. Katie lost control trying to get out of the way.
The family first learned there had been an accident when the parents of Katie’s friend came to their house. A few minutes after they arrived, the consular officer at the United States Embassy in Hanoi called and delivered the tragic news.
At press time, not all of the funeral arrangements had been arranged, but the family said the visitation and funeral were planned to be held at St. Hubert Catholic Community, 8201 Main St. in Chanhassen, Aug. 3 and 4. The family is working with Huber Funeral Home, and an obituary was pending.
“We’re also in the process of setting up a memorial fund related to the high school. Katie was very passionate about politics, women’s rights and gender equality,” the family said. “She loved her high school trip to Washington, D.C., and we are hoping to open that opportunity up to others who may not otherwise be able to experience our capital city.”
Katie had a level of poise that was amazing to watch, even as a young girl, her family said. They have memories of watching group presentations on class projects where Katie calmly articulated the first part of the presentation, and when other group members were unable to get through their sections, she would calmly fill in for them.
“In high school, with Eagle Vision, she was always noticeably very comfortable and articulate in front of the camera and just appeared like she was a natural. She would admit later to being very nervous about getting in front of a group for a presentation, but she seemed to have a gift for looking comfortable, poised and at home in the situation,” the family recalled.
During high school, Katie played badminton and was crowned Homecoming queen in 2014. Her family said she very involved but not always as a formal member of a group. She participated in Trajectories and Broadway Extravaganza, was a peer counselor, was involved with Eagle Vision News and was in the High School Page Program at the Minnesota State Capitol. Additionally, she was a founder of the Women’s Rights Club.
The Pudas family said Katie was in shock when she was crowned Homecoming queen. Her friends were taking pictures for the dance, and she didn’t bring her crown out of the car until all of her friends made her, so they could photograph her wearing it. When they went to dinner later, her friends made her wear it while they were eating and the waiter at the Italian restaurant came and serenaded her.
“To all of us she was the perfect queen, but Katie truly believed that she hadn’t done anything special to deserve her crown and no matter how much we tried to convince her that that was one of the reasons why she did, she never quite believed it. She was too humble for her own good sometimes,” the family said.
After high school, she went on to earn a B.S. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from the University of Kansas.
During college, she was an honors intern for the FBI’s public affairs office in Kansas City, Missouri; was a marketing assistant for the Moravian Gallery in the Czech Republic; worked as a communications director for the Public Relations Student Society of America University of Kansas chapter and volunteered at the Emily Taylor Center for Women and Gender Equality in Lawrence, Kansas.
Maddie Palmer, another of Katie’s friends, said Katie was involved in many things and gave her heart to everything she was a part of. In particular, she was passionate about helping others, standing up for women’s rights and making a difference in the world.
“As well as being extraordinarily passionate about her friends. I’ve never met a bigger social butterfly nor someone who valued friendships as much as Katie did,” she said.
McDaniel agreed, saying that Katie maximized every facet of what it meant to be a friend. If they were continents apart, she sent reminders of her love and used Facetime to catch up. If their friends happened to be at one of their universities or in Minnesota, she would always plan a trip to get as many of her people in one place as possible.
“Katie never forgot about anyone. Her effort was unparalleled and the love she gave with it will be cherished forever,” he said.