Lake neighbors, Pelican classmates express sorrow

An attempt to rescue a dog that had fallen into South Lida Lake on June 18, became a fatal tragedy as the dog’s owner drowned trying to save the pet. 

The death of 48-year-old Eric Fife saddened neighbors up and down the Lida area beaches and backroads. 

Companion “Dakota” and Fife were a familiar pair on morning walks, according to Lida residents who got to know him. Dakota survived the incident—but his master did not. 

A year-round Lida resident for about two years, Fife was a 1992 Pelican Rapids High School graduate. An engineer, he was with a firm in the Twin Cities area and began working remotely during the COVID pandemic. Working from home was so attractive—he bought a house on South Lida and became a permanent resident in his old hometown area. His mother, Jill Fife, is a Pelican Rapids resident. 

“He was my pandemic buddy,” said Connie Evenson. “Every time I walked down the road, he would be walking with Dakota. We would visit. He was super friendly…and the dog got to know me too!”

Pelican classmates quickly commented on the Larson Funeral Home website. Among them Melissa (Zimmerman), Chad Christianson, Eric Berg, and Ray Jatczak. 

“Hearing of Eric’s passing breaks my heart. I am so sorry and am keeping you all in my prayers….Eric was like a brother to so many of us from the class of 1992,” wrote Christianson. 

Fife made numerous friends on the South Lake Lida beach community called Isle View. 

He and Dakota were a familiar pair on walks, as well as on the lake for pontoon rides.

The incident remains under investigation by the sheriff’s department, but weather conditions may have been a factor, as extremely strong winds blew across the Pelican-Lida lakes area all day Saturday. 

The sheriff’s office received the emergency call at about 1:16 p.m. Saturday of a possible drowning.

According to the report, Fife was boating with friends when he entered the water to help his dog, which had jumped off the boat and into the lake.

Moments later, it became clear to his friends that Fife was in distress and struggling to stay above water.

A friend entered the water and pulled both Fife and his dog back to the boat, where efforts were made to provide Fife with CPR until emergency responders arrived at a nearby lake access and took over efforts to revive Fife.

However, those efforts were not successful, and Fife died at the scene, the sheriff’s office report said.

Otter Tail deputies, Pelican Rapids city police, Ringdahl Ambulance Service, and Maplewood State Park staff all assisted at the scene. 

Arrangements are with Larson Funeral Home Pelican Rapids.