The noblest aspects of Matthew Ryan Ahrens' personality -- the can-do attitude, the devotion to family and his dogs -- received due mention at his funeral Saturday.
But as friends and family took turns telling stories about Ahrens, the Bakersfield native who died last month in a Utah plane crash, it became clear that his sense of adventure was what many admired most about him.
There was the time he traded his motorcycle for an old Lincoln when he became old enough to drive. Soon he was jumping the automobile like it was a stunt car.
Another time, he insisted on taking a short-cut on the return trip of a group hike. It led them up an incline so steep that his niece didn't think she could handle it -- so he began making plans to have his dogs pull her up.
As compassionate and loving as he was as a son, brother and uncle, Ahrens was also a man who made sure to live unafraid the life he enjoyed.
"When he told me, 'You want to have some fun?' I knew we'd have some fun," said a close friend of his from South High School, Abraham Garza, who remembered Ahrens' 1960s-era Lincoln actually flying through the air, and how Ahrens taught him to stand up for himself.
Said Ahrens' sister Donna Moran, "Matthew was a surprise baby, and he's been surprising us ever since."
But an irresponsible pilot he was not, Ahrens' sisters said at the afternoon service at St. John's Lutheran Church.
Just like the way he would work late at his job as a young mechanic in Bakersfield to make sure his mother's car was in safe running condition, they said, Ahrens tended carefully to the small plane he owned, a Piper PA-28-181.
The plane crashed on a Utah mountainside Nov. 25 after leaving Shafter en route to his home in Wyoming. Investigators said Ahrens, 37, and his girlfriend, Trista Meyer, 34, and her daughter, Shyann Lenz, 9, were killed instantly, as were Ahrens' two dogs. An investigation into the cause of the crash is incomplete.
"We have no answers" as to why the plane went down, Moran said.
An avid camper, Ahrens was also a lifelong tinkerer. As a child he would take apart anything mechanical and make it run faster and better -- even including vintage videogames, said his niece Rachael Moran Hendricks.
"Matthew could do anything he set his mind to," said Moran, who also recalled how he had persuaded her to use birdbath water as a refreshment for their tea party.
As the church's stained glass windows turned Saturday's storm clouds into gleaming rays of color, Ahrens' sister Debbie Bolender thanked the gathering of more than 130 people for honoring her brother's memory.
"God must have decided this for a reason," she said, "and who are we to say we know better than God what should be done?"
When Ahrens' niece Amber Lamb took the podium, she challenged everyone present to learn a certain lesson from his life.
"If he didn't like his life, he changed it. I think that's why he ended up in Wyoming," she said.
"if you don't like something, change it."