Sartell native lived life, Catholic faith at ‘full throttle’

Categories: Around the Diocese

By Kristi Anderson
The Visitor

Working on his own truck, washing a friend’s car or fixing a stranger’s brakes, friends say Sam Traut was always there to lend a helping hand, especially with all things mechanical.


Sartell native Sam Traut was killed June 23 at his Fargo home near the Newman Center, where he was active as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, lector, Bible study leader and member of the Knights of Columbus.

That’s the way he was with everything in his life, said friend Tara Splonskowski, including his ministry at St. Paul’s Newman Center in Fargo, where he attended and where she works as a staff associate.

“What stuck out the most about Sam was that, in whatever was going on, he was always there to the end. He believed in helping until everything was done,” Splonskowski said.

Traut, a 24-year-old Sartell native was the victim of a homicide June 23 at his Fargo home near the Newman Center. The suspect allegedly knocked on Traut’s door, asked for a glass of water but became nervous and attacked Traut, then set fire to his apartment. His funeral was held at St. Francis Xavier in Sartell June 29.

“Even until the end, he was still helping someone,” said Father James Cheney, director of the Newman Center. “Sam was a true servant. When that guy knocked on his porch door asking for a glass of water, Sam got him a glass of water. He was probably thinking he wanted to help him.”

Jumping in with both feet

Growing up, Traut was a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish with his parents, Lloyd and MaryAnn, and his sister, Sally. He graduated from Sartell High School in 2009 and attended North Dakota State University, graduating with a degree in civil engineering in 2013. It was there, friends say, his faith life blossomed.

“When he arrived, he was a typical freshman,” Father Cheney said. “By the time his second year rolled around, he was really getting involved. He was really touched by the outreach on campus.”

The Newman Center offered a lot of leadership opportunities that Traut “just jumped right into with both feet,” Father Cheney said.

“Through the years, there have always been standouts — people you recognize in an extraordinary way,” he said. “That was Sam. He was always working at full throttle and 120 percent invested in everything he did.”

The Fargo community held a Mass for Traut June 24, the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist.

“Sam just got back from a mission trip in Peru for 23 days of helping the poorest of poor,” Father Cheney said. “It is fitting that we celebrated his life on the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist. He was a lot like him — preparing the way for the Lord, sharing the Gospel through his wisdom and virtue. It was just amazing to see the impact of his life throughout our local community and beyond.”

St. Cloud seminarian Rick Aubol met Traut at NDSU during his sophomore year of college. Aubol’s younger brother, Dan, was Traut’s roommate.

“Sam was absolutely genuine and was always seeking to grow,” Aubol said. “He humbly approached everything he did with everything he had, yet always with a heart open to serve.”

Aubol, who was also part of the mission trip to Peru, said Traut knew his limits and strengths and he wanted to expand them.

“He wanted to perform his very best in all things, but most of all he wanted to be of holy help. He not only wanted to go to heaven, he sought to; he lived like it, and never with vanity or presumption, but always seeking to learn and to serve, to walk the path with those around him.”

The news of Traut’s death hit Aubol hard, but he said it also “whiffed on its malicious swing to injure us, too. Death is not the worst thing that can happen. Death comes for everyone eventually anyway, so what matters really is how you live.”

Dancer, prankster, steward

Traut most recently worked for Stantec in Fargo as a civil engineer and road designer while staying actively involved in the Newman Center as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, lector, Bible study leader and member of the Knights of Columbus.

One of the things Splonskowski is most proud of was convincing Traut to teach religious education to a group of ninth- through-12th-grade boys.

“He had a lot to teach them,” she said. “He really sat down with them and taught them what it meant to be a Catholic man. They respected him and appreciated that he could, at the same time, be fun, loving and always full of joy.”

Splonskowski doesn’t know how far the breadth of impact Traut’s life reaches but she knows the impact he had on hers.

“He showed me the importance of personal integrity, humility and protecting the integrity of others through honesty and confidentiality. … Mostly, he was completely himself, completely genuine, and always seeking truth and God. He helped me to be myself and to know myself so much better,” she said.

Besides being a “wicked swing dancer” and a harmless prankster, sometimes moving her office chair or tossing candy all over her desk, Splonskowski said, he loved doing mechanical things.

“We worked on our vehicles together, we washed them together,” she said. “And even that was a good time, it was always a good time with Sam.”

Just days after his death, Splonskowski and a group of Traut’s friends got together and washed his truck a final time.

“It was something we loved doing together and that he loved to do with his roommate, Dan,” she explained. “It is just another peek into who Sam was — he knew that if you had a gift you should take care of it as a good steward. I remember having a discussion with him about that very topic. You take care of the small things you are given in even the simplest ways, and it will help instill that same mindset in the big things.”

All of these values, Splonskowski concludes, were passed on to Traut from his family, whom she met recently.

“It has been nice to see his parents and sister, to see where he got his foundation,” she said. “He was raised with such values, morals and virtue. As adults, we have to make our own choices to follow our faith, but Sam had such a solid foundation. They taught him how to think for himself and to be confident in who he was.”

Splonskowski said she still feels his presence: “He is still with us. You can only cry for so long. Then the memories come back and they are all good, so you can’t help but smile.”

Christ Church Newman Center in St. Cloud planned a memorial Mass July 2 to continue to support Traut’s family.