Brad Nagel and another person look out over a body of water after a climb.

Brad Nagel

It is with a heavy heart that I reach out to you today to share my thoughts about the passing of our good friend, Brad Nagel. It is moments like this that remind us how precious life is and we lean into our relationships a little closer and squeeze our loved ones a little tighter.

There are people you meet along the path of life who you will never forget. Those who make a true, deep and lasting impact. For me, Brad was one of those people. We both grew up in this beautiful river town, went to the same church, the same schools, and both had a love for nature and exploring the natural world around us. I truly came to know, and love, Brad through the Red Wing Environmental Learning Center. As a twelve-year-old boy just starting out in the ELC, I looked up to Brad, who was just a few years older, but at that time a junior instructor helping Bruce Ause lead programs in the local wilderness. Even then, I could see Brad’s passion for the outdoors and the inevitable career path that seemed to lay ahead for him.

One of my fondest memories with Brad was whitewater kayaking on the Flambeau River in northern Wisconsin. Watching him play in the water with his boat—truly an extension of himself—was a thing of beauty. Even from a young age, you knew when you were on the water with Brad that you were safe and in good hands, he was always a leader and you felt it.

Years passed, and when Brad returned to Red Wing as a full-time instructor/naturalist with the ELC, I knew that he was going to touch the lives of even more people than he already had. I was lucky enough to serve on the ELC board for many years, attempting to give back for everything they’d given me, and all the while I got to see Brad at work. I listened to the stories of other young kids and their families about how much fun they had with Brad, and how much they’d learned, and I could relate, knowing EXACTLY what they were talking about because I had seen it firsthand, so many years ago. When my own son was finally old enough to participate in ELC, he was also blessed enough to have Brad as an instructor on several expeditions. From ice fishing in the Cannon Bottoms, to pioneering in Hay Creek, to sailing on Lake Pepin, my son also shares great memories of Brad, and for that I am even more grateful!

I am just one of thousands of people Brad touched along the way and I venture to speak for each one of them and say that our lives are indelibly better for having experienced Brad’s incredible wit, his steadfast leadership, his sense of humor, and that big, wonderful laugh. His smile, and the lessons he shared will forever be etched in our memories.

I would like to express my love and support for the entire Nagel family, as well as Brad’s ELC family; Bruce Ause, Jason Jech, Chad Nelson, and Laura Schmidt. Together with Brad, these people have created and sustained one of the finest outdoor experiential programs in the country and it’s right here in our backyard! I will be reaching out and donating to the ELC in Brad’s memory. If you’re able to do the same, the ELC can continue to build something even stronger and more sustainable, something I think Brad would have loved.

Looking forward to seeing you on the trail or the water again someday, until then…we will miss you, Brad!

Dave Lewis
Owner & President
Sargent’s Nursery

Photo courtesy of Red Wing Environmental Learning Center, Inc.