TUOLUMNE CITY — Hundreds of people crowded into the Summerville High School gymnasium Sunday afternoon to honor hometown hero Lucas Gruenther, Class of '99. Many were dressed in the green of his Air Force squadron.
Gruenther, 32, died Jan. 28 when his fighter went into the Adriatic Sea off Italy during a nighttime training mission.
Friends and family remembered Gruenther, a captain posthumously promoted to major, for his determination, enthusiasm and sense of humor.
"No matter what capacity you knew Luc, you knew the same guy," said longtime friend Daniel Twining. "He was also one of the snarkiest guys I ever met."
In a service marked as much by laughter as by sniffles, those who knew Gruenther best told stories about him as a boy and as a man. They described the adventures of a fighter pilot, including intense hikes, ultrarunning and driving a car 150 miles per hour. Not everything on Gruenther's bucket list, which he kept from high school, was legal, Twining said.
They talked about his excitement at the prospect of being a father. His daughter, Serene, was born shortly after his death.
But they also talked about a guy who called everyone, even his wife, Cassy, "Dude." And a high school student who, assigned to do a report on how people respond to certain stimuli, decided to try a certain bodily function in a department store.
"I still have the fart machine," said his mother, Romel Mathias. "He did a whole paper on it."
She told a story about when another driver flipped off her son during a traffic incident.
"Luc said, 'I'm going to see what's going on with that lady,' " Mathias said. He followed the woman to a nearby gas station, approached her and asked what he had done to offend her. She told him he'd cut her off in traffic.
"He said, 'I'm so sorry I did that. I apologize,' " Mathias said. "By the time he left her, she was apologizing to him."
Those who knew him advised attendees to "live like Luc" with passion, dedication and a sense of joy.
The service featured an address by Gruenther himself, offered last year during a visit to Summerville High students. He talked about growing up in Twain Harte and landing the cheerleader girlfriend he would marry.
"It's all about the car you drive in high school," he said, showing a photograph of his 1981 Toyota Corona.
He also talked about the sadness of losing friends and of the importance of following dreams.
"Whatever you do, don't suck," he advised students. If they dedicate themselves to what they want to do, "People will bend over backwards to get you where you want to go because you're a champion."
A full military funeral is scheduled Friday at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter @pattyguerra.