Kevin Casey had always wanted to combine his love for animals with tourism. It was only natural for the man whose family started one of the most unique wildlife attractions in the country.
In the early 1980's, Casey earned his biology degree from Carroll College in Montana and returned to work in Rapid City at Bear Country U.S.A drive through wildlife park, which his parents founded in 1972.
Then in 2000, Casey took over as president when his father "Doc" passed away. He would be the president of the tourist attraction for the next eight years.
"When he ran Bear Country, he wasn't a boss to these employees, he was like a best friend," said his brother Sean Casey. "They just really loved him."
Casey, 51, died Friday morning in a one-vehicle crash near Vivian in central South Dakota where he owned an 8,000-acre buffalo ranch, according to the South Dakota Highway Patrol.
According to highway patrol officials, Casey's 2010 Dodge Ram 2500 left the roadway while driving north on a gravel road between midnight and 7:40 a.m. He was not wearing a seat belt and was found dead at the scene.
Sean Casey, who said his brother was returning Thursday from a hunting trip, said his brother had been spending more time with his family since he left the park.
"He left Bear Country in 2008 and some of the best years of his life started then," Sean Casey said. "He spent more time with his kids, and bought that ranch (in Vivian) in 2010."
Casey is survived by his wife, Mary, two daughters and two sons.
The family attends the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and Mary Casey is a campus minister for the Rapid City Catholic School System.
"One word comes to mind for me that describes Kevin — charismatic — he could talk to anybody about anything," said Dave Hollenbeck, a friend who is the head basketball coach at St. Thomas More High School.
Hollenbeck remembers leaving the locker room in 2010 after his team earned a berth in the state title game with Casey's son, Connor, as a starter. He saw Casey waiting for the team.
"He was standing over there in tears, so happy. He was a proud guy. He was happy for our program and happy for everybody. That is just the kind of guy he was," Hollenbeck said.
Casey also was vice president of the Black Hills Stock Show Foundation, where he has been on the board four years. His loss will be felt, according to foundation president Lynn Husman.
"He looked out for everybody else first. He wanted to do what was best for the community and the stock show," Husman said. "This is a huge loss for the foundation and for the community."