Remembering Howard Turck

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[Text of eulogy for my Dad. Howard Turck was born on September 4, 1923, and died on July 30, 2015 at Dassel Lakeside Nursing Home.]

We sure are lucky. That’s what Mom said during one of the times when we were sitting with Dad over the past few weeks. And she’s absolutely right. We sure are lucky to have shared time and life on earth with Howard Turck.

Dad lived right here on the farm in Forest City township for his whole life, except for his service in the army and his last months in nursing homes. He grew up on the farm, bouncing in a homemade swing in the barn as his Ma and Pa milked cows when he was a baby.

By the time the Great Depression came along, Dad was seven or eight years old, too old for the swing, but too young to milk the cows. So while his mom and dad were milking, Dad would stand up on a manger, and preach to them. He preached about the Great Depression. He preached against President Herbert Hoover and the big shots who wouldn’t help the little guys. As Dad preached on, Grandpa Henry Turck egged him on to greater oratorical heights. That might have been the beginning of Dad’s political career, which carried him on to serve in the Farmers Union and the DFL and REA and Consumers Co-op.

But I’m not supposed to talk too much about all the places he served. Mom warned me not to be too braggy about Dad. She probably wouldn’t want me to be too braggy about her either. But it’s hard to talk about Dad without talking about Mother, when they’ve both been right there together for almost 66 years. And it’s hard to talk about them without saying what loving parents and grandparents, loyal friends and generous church and community members they both have been over the years.

Dad found his life partner in family, service and farming at a dance in Cold Spring in 1946. He and his buddy, Archie Peters, spotted a pretty girl in a pink dress across the dance floor. Dad said that he was going to ask her to dance. “She’ll never dance with you!” Archie told him. But, as Dad told the story, when he crossed the room and asked her, “She couldn’t say yes fast enough!”

Dad didn’t waste any time — he asked her out to a ball game the same week, corresponded with her during his two years in the army, married her on September 28, 1949, and loved her until the day he died.

I grew up hearing that I inherited Dad’s nose, but I wish I had inherited his sense of humor. One of our favorite stories came from his younger days, when he attended the one-room school that was District 64. Besides skating and playing ball, he enjoyed playing pranks — like the time he and a buddy put a gopher in his teacher’s desk.

Dad liked to recall that he was number one in his class through all eight years of elementary school. Of course, he would add, I was the only one in my class.

While he and mother were bringing us up, Dad had to keep his mischievous side under control. But when he became a grandpa, he cut loose again, enjoying the freedom to just be goofy. I remember Paula’s first birthday. She was sitting in the high chair with a big piece of her chocolate birthday cake, and Grandpa Howard was just egging her on: “Go ahead! Put the cake on your head! Get that frosting all over your face — just rub it in!”

Dad thoroughly enjoyed being Grandpa and Great-Grandpa or, as Samantha and Alexandra named him, Great-Howard. He loved every one of his kids and grandchildren — I’d say all their names here, but Father Brian told me to keep it short.

Back in the day, Dad had big plans to be a major league baseball player. He played for Litchfield High School – state champions in 1941. He played one year at the University of Minnesota and played for the Forest City town team. He told a story about almost coming to blows with Eugene McCarthy, who played for Watkins.

Dad spent his whole life playing ball with every one of us kids and anyone else who would throw, catch or bat. He was still sliding into 3rd base on the 4th of July when he was 85. In baseball and in life, he told us to “keep your eye on the ball.” He kept his eye on the ball, and on all of us, too.

Dad made his home on the family farm in Forest City Township, literally as well as figuratively — he and his dad dug the foundation for the house by hand, one shovel full of heavy clay dirt after another. Like his father and grandfather before him, Dad knew every square foot of the farm. When he was in high school, he milked the cows by himself one winter, all by hand, so that Grandpa could go trapping and get enough money to buy a milking machine.

Dad lived his life to the fullest. He wanted to go to college, but World War II got in the way, so he had to go home and farm. That wasn’t his first choice, but he gave it all he had. He found the best seed corn by rolling up kernels of corn in damp newspaper, and counting how many of which kind sprouted, and in how many days. He kept track of each cow and pig and how well she produced, and the breeding lines that produced the best stock. He planted windbreaks and rotated crops to conserve the soil, and planted soybeans and alfalfa to fix the nitrogen for the next crop of corn. He took care of every acre and every animal on the place.

Dad loved hunting with his sons and grandsons. He was a good shot. He won a sharpshooter medal in the army, even though he was almost blind in one eye after a snowball fight gone wrong in grade school.

Dad taught Steve and Kenny and Kevin how to shoot a gun, and they taught him to hunt with a bow and arrow. He was proud of the bear and deer that he bagged, and also of the time he was out in the field on a tractor, threw a hammer at a pheasant, and brought it home for dinner.

In his last years on the farm, he loved watching deer as they came up to the yard to eat, right outside the dining room window. He loved wildlife for themselves, not just for hunting, and saw the holiness in nature, as well as in people.

Dad didn’t hold back. He worked hard and played hard and politicked hard. He gave life everything he had. He gave us everything he had. And he didn’t count the cost. If he loaned you money or bailed you out of jail or pulled you out of the ditch, you wouldn’t hear about it again. When he helped you out, it was over and done and life went on.

And he took care of all of us. He came to our concerts, plays and school events. He loved watching his sons play football, baseball and wrestling. Later on, he watched Nathan and Jesse, “busting his buttons” as he proudly cheered them on in wrestling tournaments.

Years of work as a township assessor, as well as his political inclinations, kept Dad immersed in the community. He never passed up an invitation to sit down for coffee and conversation, especially if that included a piece of pie or cake and ice cream.

At family dinners, we’d ask him which kind of pie he wanted, or which kind of ice cream: “a little bit of each,” he’d say. That fit right in with Dad’s approach to life. He was ready to try everything and learn everything. He read newspapers and magazines and farm journals and books ranging from Dale Carnegie to Dostoevsky.

Dad and Mother taught by example, as well as by making us memorize the commandments and our catechism lessons.

I remember Dad going out into snowstorms to feed and water the livestock. Paths to the barn and the hog house were cleared before the driveway, ice broken in the water pans for the pigs, the fire lit in the tank heater to keep water open for the cows. In summer, we got strict orders to keep the dog and cat watering pans filled at all times. Dad and Mother told us it was a mortal sin to forget to water the livestock. They depend on you. You have to do right by them.

Kind of like living in a community. People depend on each other. You have to do right by them. And especially, you have to do right by the little guys, the children, the people who have less money or a harder time in life. Through his whole life, Dad kept the passion for justice that had him up on the manger and preaching when he was seven years old. We sure are lucky, all of us, to have lived in a world with Howard Turck in it.

In the last months of his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, Howard lost many things, but never his love of family, and especially of Mother, and never his sense of humor. He especially enjoyed hearing Annette sing to him, and she often led the whole gang in his favorite song – which we will sing now: HOME ON THE RANGE

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Remembering Howard Turck

  1. Pingback: Why I haven’t been blogging much lately | News Day

  2. Tom O'Connell

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful remembrance. I can see where you got your values–and your nose! My day who is 94 now also grew up on a farm, served in the war, played baseball for the Belle Plaine Tigers and knew–but never played against Gene McCarthy. I haven’t had to give a eulogy for him yet, but the day is coming–as it always does.
    I feel so many good people come from farms. I know I tend to be a romantic on the subject of the “family farm” but I wonder what we have lost Best wishes as you remember and miss your dad.

  3. Thank you Mary for sharing this wonderful remembrance of your dad. What “great” and important stories to share. Even though I don’t know you and Kenny personally, I have been with you professionally through the years and see “Great – Howard” in you both……and, we are ALL blessed for that.

  4. barbara

    Voni no wonder you are the beautiful person you are What a beautiful legacy to leave…Blessings lov you Barb’

  5. Marquita O'Connor

    Your words beautiful moving,loving and true, Mary. You d share y our Dad’s gift of telling a story and his commitment to making life better for the little guy. The photos take my breath away. May your myriad of memories sustain you and your family as you share grief with all its tears and laughter.

  6. Gloria (Lanning) Pfeifer

    Oh what a wonderful remembrance of your Dad.

  7. As I read this from my timeline memories today, I just want to tell you how beautifully you captured Dad’s essence in this reflection/these fragments really can connect the dots of Dad. Two years has passed and in some ways it’s strange because I feel and see him in these memories every single day and they are beautiful memories I am so thankful for. And I’m so thankful to you and for you Mary. I feel the longer we spend on the planet, we understand how important the quality of the dirt is in our own “soul” gardens and how fortunate we have been to have the lived experience, the incredible examples in real life, always a sense of purpose, the importance of making a difference/contribution, a richness in perspective (the many varied ingredients in our personal marinades), and connection/inclusion.
    Thank you for representing that here.

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