The best friend of the man who died at Conestogo Lake in Wellington County, Ont., on Sunday says he was loved by everyone who knew him.
According to Graham Brown, Matt Ottens was a loving family man, a hard-working farmer and even a cancer survivor.
“We need more men like him that are tuned into their family, that are willing to work hard and that have those strong Christian values that can be shown broadly in a community without even saying a word necessarily,” said Brown.
Wellington County OPP say Ottens jumped into Conestogo Lake from a boat to help one of his children in the water on Sunday afternoon and never resurfaced. Following a lengthy search, his body was found by divers later that night.
Ottens, who is from Mapleton Township, leaves behind his wife Leona and their four young children: Lilah, Jack, Seth and Kara.
“He was an amazing father,” Brown said. “Matt loved his kids and his kids loved him. His wife and him had a love that is just so passionate, so obvious to every single human that was around them.”
Next to his family, Ottens loved his farm. It was his father’s before being passed onto him.
His Twitter profile filled with photos and videos has become a tribute of sorts to his two loves — his family and his farm.
“He would take his kids out on the tractors and show them how everything works and Leona was right there with them too,” Brown said.
Brown said he only knew Ottens for a few years, but they had already become best friends. Their families would be together often, and Ottens and Brown got together every Sunday to work out.
“There are no words to explain how great this guy was and how much he meant to me and my family,” Brown said.
“It is a loss that I hope I never have to bear again in my life. He was my guy and I think he was for so many people in so many different ways and he’s going to be really missed.”
Along with being a loving family man and a passionate farmer, Ottens was also a cancer survivor. According to Brown, Ottens was diagnosed right about the same time he found out he and Leona were having twins.
“Matt’s a competitive guy. He was a fighter,” Brown said. “It was not an issue to him and he said, ‘well it’s just something I’m going to deal with’ and he fought through it and he was five years cancer-free.”
The Ottens have since held fundraisers on the farm in support of the Canadian Cancer Society.
Ottens also believed in God and prayed every day. Brown said faith was important to Ottens and because of that, Brown takes comfort in knowing that his friend is in heaven.
“That was always his end goal, was heaven,” Brown said. “The bugger was competitive and he beat me there. So I’m kind of grateful for that at this stage, but I know where he is.”
That faith is also helping the rest of the Ottens family through this time.
“They would all have comfort in knowing that he was in a far better place, that he was there with God and he’s just going to be there waiting and smiling before the rest of us show up,” he said.
An online fundraiser has been set up to support the family, specifically for the education of the children, and in one day it had already raised $100,000.
Brown said it speaks to Otten’s life and the impact he made in the short time he was here.
“He touched so many lives and people loved him,” Brown said. “They care for him and his family and they want to make sure that they’re going to be OK, that the farm is going to be OK and that the kids are going to get a good education,” he said.
As of Tuesday afternoon, funeral arrangements had not been announced.