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Grand Forks native, youth minister dies at age 29 from pulmonary embolism

FARGO — A Fargo woman known for her involvement in the Lutheran ministry died suddenly Saturday, July 7, of a pulmonary embolism while at a lake with her family.

Rachel Coen-Tuff, 29, believed her calling was to work with children, youth and families. She served as the minister of faith formation at Faith + Journey Lutheran Church in West Fargo, where she worked primarily with the church’s youth population providing spiritual growth and direction.

As the daughter of pastors Karla and Peter Coen-Tuff of United Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, Rachel grew up with the church and wanted to share the positive impact religion had in her life with youth, said Pastor Michael O’Berg, who worked with Rachel at Faith + Journey for almost two years.

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“She was very passionate about developing faith among young people. She had a great vision for her position” he said. “Sometimes kids need someone other than a parent to talk to, and she was that person.”

O’Berg also said Rachel was passionate about coffee and the color purple.

“I never saw her without her coffee cup,” he said. “Now, I can’t look at a coffee cup or a purple pen and not think of her. She will be incredibly missed.”

Rachel was always making connections. If there was a cup of coffee involved, that made it all the better, said her sister, Sarah Coen-Frei.

“When Rachel was about 4 years old, a stranger walked by our family home in Grand Forks when my mom was outside doing yard work,” Coen-Frei said. “Rachel and my mom began speaking with the person and when the conversation was winding down, Rachel offered the stranger to come inside for a cup of coffee.”

She wanted every single person she encountered to feel like they mattered, Coen-Frei said. She would talk to anybody, from a 9-year-old to a 90-year-old.

“Rachel was special to us for the same reason she was special to everyone else, for her kindness and thoughtfulness,” she said.

Rachel is a 2007 graduate of Red River High School in Grand Forks and Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2011. She participated in the Young Adults in Global Mission program in England for one year in 2012 and earned her master’s degree in children, youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul in 2015.

Rachel was with her immediate family at a lake near Bemidji, Minn., when she collapsed and was taken to the hospital. The cause of her sudden collapse was determined to be a pulmonary embolism.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 14, at United Lutheran Church in Grand Forks, 324 Chestnut St. Visitation will begin at 9:30 a.m. and continue until service.

As a congregation, Faith + Journey is in the process of planning a memorial service for Rachel to be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 18 at the campus located at 127 2nd Ave. E. in West Fargo. The church plans to plant a lilac tree in remembrance of Rachel’s love for the color purple.

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