Army vet from Belmont remembered for his passion for snowmobiling
By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News | March 18. 2017 10:59PM
Nate Proulx and his fiancée Cheryl Bernier enjoying a family night out at a Monarchs game with daughters Alexis and Olivia in Manchester. (Courtesy)
The Belmont father of two died last weekend from injuries he suffered in a snowmobile crash on Feb. 15. His funeral was Saturday.
Proulx, 34, was riding on a Belmont trail at night with two friends when he missed a corner in whiteout conditions and crashed into a metal gate. He was thrown from his snowmobile and struck by the one behind him, suffering critical injuries, according to the state Fish and Game Department.
An Army veteran who had survived a combat tour in Iraq, Proulx spent more than three weeks at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon before succumbing to his injuries.
During that time, friends and relatives here received messages of support from across the country, revealing just how far Proulx's generosity with his time and expertise had spread.
Proulx's family includes his fiancée, Cheryl Bernier of Belmont, and their two daughters, Alexis and Olivia; his mother and stepfather, Sandy and Pat Speikers of Franklin; and brothers David Proulx and Andrew Speikers, both of Franklin.
Mark Shell of Windham became friends with Proulx through their mutual love of snowmobiles. Proulx, he said, "had a smile that would light up a room."
"He was a good friend to everybody that knew him," Shell said. "You needed anything, he was there. Your sled was broken and needed a part, he'd take it off his sled to get you going."
Shell said Proulx, who joined the Army soon after graduating from Franklin High School in 2001, didn't talk much about his military service in Iraq.
"His kids were his life, and snowmobiles were his life," he said. "Especially if it was a Yamaha - everything else was junk."
For Proulx, it was all about the Yamaha SRX, Shell said. Whenever he heard about one that needed repairs, Proulx would insist on finding the right part and bringing it back into operation.
"He'd never let one go to a junkyard," Shell recalled. "People brought him their sleds from all over. He'd come home from work and there'd be a new sled in his yard."
"He hardly ever charged anybody anything," Shell said. "That was his love."
The day of the crash, Shell said, Proulx had called to invite him to ride along with him that night. And when Shell arrived home from work, there was his friend in his driveway, urging him to come north with him.
But it was snowing hard and Shell was dreading the long drive home, so he declined.
Early the next morning, Shell awakened to multiple messages on his phone: There had been an accident and Nate was at Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
After the crash, Proulx's friends started a gofundme page to help his family, and held a fundraiser at a local restaurant. They made up stickers and T-shirts with the Yamaha insignia and the words "Nate Strong."
On March 11, Proulx's brother, David, announced on social media: "Nate Proulx passed away peacefully this morning with family by his side. ... R.I.P. Big brother I love you more than you may have known."
According to Fish and Game, the investigation into the crash has been turned over to the Belknap County Attorney's office to review. The agency said in a news release that speed and reduced visibility due to snow were contributing factors in the accident.
Sean Anderson of Petersham, Mass., is one of those folks who met Proulx through online snowmobiling forums. "I had a problem with my sled and he offered to help me out," he recalled.
"You're going to hear that over and over. He was very supportive in the snowmobiling community."
Finding out that his friend had been critically injured in a crash was "a real shock," Anderson said.
"Nate was a special guy," he said. "One of those rare people that always thought of other people first. That's how I'll always think of Nate, as someone who always tried to help other people, no matter what was going on with him. That's just how he was."
Cheryl Kipreotis of Franklin was among many who posted condolence messages on the website of Thibault-Neun Funeral Home, where calling hours were held Friday. Her daughter, Emily, was Proulx's high school classmate, and Kipreotis remembers him as a kind-hearted, generous person, even as a teenager.
"He was always smiling, always caring," she said. "When he'd come here to visit, he would be, 'I'll help you with that.'"
Kipreotis said her church's prayer group had been praying since February for a young man who had been critically injured in a snowmobile accident. She only learned it was Proulx after his death.
"It breaks your heart," she said. "He's young, and so much loved."
The last time Kipreotis saw Proulx was a couple of years ago. He was excited about his family's new home and the new baby they were expecting, she said. "He was just so, so happy."
Shell said his friend "lived every day for the day."
Here's what he wants Nate's little girls to know about their dad: "The guy was loved. Everybody loved him."