PELLA, Ia. — The t’Lam Cemetery sits on the far east side of Lake Red Rock. It’s a 13-minute drive from Pella High School — take University toward Iowa-163, continue on Idaho Drive, turn right on Highway T15, then left on Hempstead. Follow the gravel road to the sign.
Sometimes, after soccer practice, Ethan Poulter stops by on his way home.
The headstone he seeks is easy to spot. There’s a Mickey Mouse figurine; a small Minnesota Vikings football; a cardinal; some flowers; a red cartoon firetruck; a couple of crosses; some pinwheels; and much, much more.
The gravesite belongs to Keaton Zachary Poulter, Ethan Poulter’s adopted younger brother who died suddenly more than two years ago. Keaton spent his life in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy and multiple special needs, and his death had a profound impact on Ethan.
Ethan discovered newfound motivation on the soccer field. This past season, as a senior, he led Pella to the Class 2A boys’ soccer state title. The Dutch went 18-2 thanks in large part to his 37 goals, the most in 2A. He is a boys’ soccer player of the year finalist at Saturday’s All-Iowa Sports Awards.
But Keaton’s death also pushed Ethan fully into ministry. He will attend Colorado Christian University in the fall, where he’ll study ministry management and accounting. He wants to become a missionary, live overseas, help those who are less fortunate and spread the same joy Keaton taught him in the almost four years they spent together.
“If Keaton hadn’t passed away, I don’t think I’d be doing all of this right now,” Ethan says. “To this day, I’ve never met anybody so joyful. We get upset at the smallest things, and he couldn’t even walk but was still so happy. He came to all my soccer games. He made the most of his time.
“Everybody thinks they have 70, 80, 90 years, but we don’t know. We didn’t know that his last day on earth was going to be his last day. My life could end at any moment, and I want to make a difference. Keaton taught me that.”
Back at t’Lam, Ethan explains that he comes to unwind and relax, to pray and be still. He comes after tough workouts and games. He comes after hard days. He tries to stop by every few weeks. Sometimes, he’ll come on a perfect day: clear skies, no wind — but, he says, the pinwheels will spin.
In those moments, Ethan can’t help but smile.