COTTAGE GROVE - It's a measure of the life lived by Steven Duane Cozad that his unexpected death affected so many.

Cozad, 48, of Cottage Grove died June 20 after he was found unresponsive at his home, Newport Fire Chief Steve Wiley said. Cozad served with Wiley on the Newport Fire Department for over 20 years.

Cozad's family lost a husband, provider, father and grandfather. The Newport Fire Department lost a capable and courageous comrade. Needy children and families from Newport to Kenya lost a benefactor and advocate.

And someone else will have to dress as Santa Claus during the Newport Fire Department Food and Toy Drive in December.

"The food toy drive, it really shows how much he cared," Wiley said. "He wanted to give back to the local community in addition to his service on the fire department."

Wiley worked with Cozad for more than 20 years. A day before his death, Cozad had attended a training drill at the firehouse, he said.

"We lost not only a great person but a great firefighter and a member of the community," Wiley said. "He was a good firefighter. He was always willing to step in and do what was needed."

Cozad's daughter-in-law, Angela Bray, said he been injured in a recent a car accident but could not say whether that was a factor in his death.

A licensed minister, Cozad went on more than a half dozen mission trips to Zambia, Kenya and the Ivory Coast for the nondenominational Church of God.

"That was where he felt the call to be a pastor," Bray said.

Cozad doted on his grandchildren, Rachel and Declan, she said.

"He loved celebrating grandparents day at school. He would come and do craft projects and listen to the kids' bad music and cheer them on."

Cozad was born in Chicago. His father, Duane, who was a quartermaster with the U.S. Navy, moved the family to Cottage Grove when he was 10.

As a boy, Cozad received toys that were donated by local firefighters. That left a lasting impression; around 2000, he organized the Newport toy drive. For about two years, he ran most of it on his own, he told the Bulletin in a 2016 story.

"I made homemade signs in my garage; they were probably pretty tacky," he said. "I would go drive around and pick (the donations) up."

The Newport Fire Department started bringing one of the trucks out to the North Pole at the Newport Center - where Cozad dressed as Santa Claus each year while collecting donations.

Cozad was remembered June 24 at a memorial service at Discovery Community Church in St. Paul Park.

Pastor Wayne Allen said that Cozad and his wife, Lynn, would volunteer at their annual church camp in Deerwood, where they would often do the cooking for campers for the entire week.

Allen described Cozad as "a fellow pastor, a great guy, fun-loving, good sense of humor, compassionate."

Cozad graduated Park High School in 1988. He earned his certification as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and worked with the Red Cross before getting a full time job with the post office, where he worked for 22 years.

He was an avid fan of the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Vikings.

In addition to his wife, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, Cozad is survived by children Misty Bray and Robert Bray; siblings Susan (Jeff) Welch and their son Duane, Sheri Cozad.