GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Four West Michigan residents were killed Friday, Jan. 11, on the first day of a mission trip to Haiti when a Toyota Landcruiser they were traveling in tumbled off the side of a mountainous road and into a ravine.
The accident was attributed to a brake failure.
The mission trip is an annual trek organized by Holy Spirit Parish in conjunction with the local group Haiti Needs You.
The four who died, Jim and Rita Cwengros, Matt Kutsche and Mary LaPonsie, were remembered at a prayer gathering Saturday night at Holy Spirit Parish. MLive is sharing memories of them as the community mourns their deaths.
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Terry Madden recalled a 2003 mission trip to Haiti and a visit he made with Mary LaPonsie to the Parish of Seguin.
LaPonsie was working in a medical clinic while Madden spent time testing water for bacteria. People traveled for miles to visit the makeshift clinic that was stocked with fresh supplies.
“It would bring tears to her eyes as she talked about it. It was deep within her,” Madden recalled of LaPonsie’s care for the Haitian people. “She was a true humanitarian.”
Madden was not surprised to see LaPonsie had made another trip to Haiti last week, but was deeply saddened to learn of her death in a mountainside vehicle accident. She had likely traveled to the country a dozen times, he said.
Related: On church humanitarian trip to Haiti, four from Grand Rapids killed on narrow mountain road
LaPonsie was always ready to go back. Though Madden never returned, he continued helping prepare a missions team to travel south to the country each year from Holy Spirit Parish in Grand Rapids.
He spoke of LaPonsie as a “warm, passionate person” who always did what she could to help others.
Denise Terpstra, a neighbor of LaPonsie’s, talked of she would secretly plant 50 to 60 Easter eggs in Terpstra’s yard each spring, as a surprise for her children.
Terpstra’s son didn’t learn until the age of 11 that it was LaPonsie’s gift all along.
“She was beautiful on the outside just like she was on the inside,” Terpstra said.
Marillyn Bolden met LaPonsie through a mentoring program at St. Mary’s Parish and most recently worked with her at Advantage Health, where LaPonsie was a director of finance.
Bolden spoke with her as she departed Michigan for Haiti last week. LaPonsie was “excited to go, as always,” Bolden said. “A very beautiful soul. Giving, caring.”
LaPonsie had two daughters, one who is studying to become a doctor.
Related: 'No logical explanation of why,' Bishop tells hundreds gathered to remember Grand Rapids missionaries
Brake failure on 'widow-maker' mountain road led to death of four Grand Rapids missionaries in Haiti
Haiti missionary deaths: Amway plane will bring remaining members of West Michigan team home
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