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Cashton man, 22, dies on wedding day

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Jacob Phillip Gronemus

Jacob Phillip Gronemus

CASHTON — There should have been wedding bells. There should have been music and laughter and champagne toasts; there should have been breathless words of excitement and plans for the future.

Instead there was the sterile hum of a hospital ventilator and the beep of life support instruments as 22-year-old Jacob Gronemus clung to life in a Madison burn unit and his family prepared to say goodbye.

A tragic welding accident had left the young man from Cashton with third-degree burns covering 75 percent of his body. His mother, Carol, remembers getting the call from her son Oct. 1.

“Mom, I’m burned,” she remembered him saying. “You have to get here fast.”

Doctors met them at the ambulance bay at Vernon Memorial Hospital, but Jake’s injuries were too severe to treat there. He flew by helicopter to the University of Madison burn unit where he fought for his life until he died Saturday, Oct. 5, the same day he was supposed to be married.

For his fiancé, 19-year-old Ashley Kast, the blow of losing her best friend is indescribable. The two met in 2010 when Ashley was still in high school and he proposed almost exactly one year ago, when the leaves were changing color and the air was turning cold.

“He took me squirrel hunting,” Ashley laughed through her tears. “I came back with a ring.”

Close family and friends gathered Wednesday afternoon in Cashton to pay their respects to the young man they remembered as honest and decent and full of life.

Tears of inconsolable grief turned to laughter as the family shared their memories of Jake and the old blue Dodge pickup truck he rebuilt and the old Cadillac motor that sat in his garage. He was a gear head with a vast knowledge of diesel engines who started his own business, “Jake’s Ag and Diesel.“

“We always used to say he reminded us of that Johnny Cash song, ‘Piece by Piece,’” Carol said with a faint smile.

The oldest of four siblings, Jake was a role model at home, at school and on the football field, where he played fullback for the Cashton Eagles. His brothers, Mark and Nick, carry on his tradition on the team.

“He was always the one giving the hits right back,” Mark said. “He was aggressive.”

But off the field he was kind and generous and hardworking with a luminous smile and an old fashioned kind of courtesy that seems lost on so many young men these days. Before he proposed to Ashley, he took her father, Gabe Clark, out to dinner and asked for his blessing and permission.

“He was perfect for Ashley,” Clark said. “She was a better person for knowing him. We all were.”

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