Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Happy Birthday Grandpa! - Part Two of Grandpa George's Legacy

Today is my Grandpa's 88th birthday and the first one that we celebrate his memory instead of with him.  We miss you Grandpa.

It's hard to put into words what a unique and amazing man Grandpa was.  It's part of why I haven't written about his passing or my time in Minnesota.  How do you summarize a man who was loved by all and hated by none?  

But today, on his birthday, I wanted to honor his memory by introducing you to my Grandpa George.
Grandpa and Grandma a few days before Curt and I got married - December 1997
Uncle Jeff wrote Grandpa's obituary.  It was really touching and a great introduction to a man we all love deeply.

George T. Klippenes, age 87, of Brainerd, rejoined his parents February 17th, 2013.  

He was the son of Charles and Nancy (Spohn) Klippenes, born May 8, 1925.  George grew up on the family homestead east of Brainerd and graduated from Crosby-Ironton High in 1943.

George placed second in the Minnesota state agricultural test and was awarded a scholarship to the University in Minnesota.  Instead he felt the patriotic responsibility to serve his country and enlisted in the army where he became a paratrooper serving in Okinawa.

Upon discharge, he returned home to marry the love of his life, Bernice Tarbell.  On March 6, 1947, they became man and wife.

George moved his family north to the Iron Range where he was employed by Erie Mining Company as a locomotive engineer.  He also worked for the city of Hoyt Lakes as a Michigan front end operator and served the city as a volunteer fire fighter as well.

In 1964 George gave his life to Jesus and Christ became the cornerstone of his life.

Every man that ever met George wanted to spend time with him, every woman in his presence felt warmth and acceptance.

George loved the outdoors, whether fishing, hunting or trapping.  He continued to participate in farming on the family homestead his whole life.  George, actually means farmer, and that he was.  Always mindful and ever grateful for the hard work that his parents went through to homestead the property.  The deep love of his life was and is his bride, Bernice.

All men die, not all men live.  George lived very well in a humble unassuming manner.  Perhaps that is why he is loved by so many and will be missed by all.

He will be deeply missed by his wife of 67 years Bernice, children George, Donald, Jeff and Shirley (Klippenes) Boelter; 17 adored grandchildren and 22 adored great-grandchildren.

Most of my cousins have dark hair.  Having blonde hair made me unique and from my earliest memories Grandpa always called me Blondie.  Even as an adult when I'd call to say hi, Grandpa would greet me enthusiastically, "Well how's my Blondie?"
Grandpa carried this in his wallet for 35 years

Grandpa never left the house without a hat and had a hat for every occasion.  When I was a baby I would sit on his lap, take off his hat, and rub his bald head.  It became part of our tradition and continued all the way until I saw him last.  He was so good natured about it.  As much as I dread an open casket, I was grateful to get to rub Grandpa's head one last time.
Grandpa and I
Grandpa was lots of fun.  When I was in college and far from home, I came to see Grandma and Grandpa for Christmas break.  Grandpa and I, on a whim,  went to the mall and got our picture taken with Santa Claus.  I sat on one leg and Gramps sat on the other.  We giggled about it for years. 
I definitely gained the Freshman Fifteen - awful picture of me, but I love this memory!
Grandpa was full of wisdom but he didn't offer it up without some prodding.  He did a lot of listening and would only interject if asked.  I wish I would have talked less, asked more and listened more.  He was a wealth of information about farming, hunting, fishing, the weather, Jesus and life.  His favorite saying was, "Life is too short to make those that you love miserable," and he lived by this motto.

Grandpa and Grandma had such a sweet marriage.  They were happily married for sixty-seven years.  Grandpa loved and cherished his bride.  His love for Grandma and his willingness to brag about her to everyone was part of his DNA.  Grandma and Grandpa set a beautiful example of marriage and enduring love, weathered over time and life circumstances.

Grandpa grew up knowing about God, but he didn't start on the adventure of following Jesus until he was thirty-nine years old.  By all accounts Grandpa was a changed man after he gave his life to Jesus.  Grandpa read his Bible daily and in the later years was often caught napping in his recliner, Bible open on his lap.
Grandpa's Bible
Grandpa was hard-working.  He and Grandma had very little to begin with but they worked hard, used their resources wisely, and were able to provide for their family.  He was a soldier.  Farmer.  Miner for the Erie Mining Company locomotive engineer.  City of Hoyt Lakes Michigan front end operator.  Volunteer firefighter.  Hunter.  Fisherman.  Trapper.  Often times he worked several of these jobs at the same time.
Grandpa hunted up until the last handful of years
Grandpa was strong. So strong.  He'd shake your hand and practically crush your fingers.  He was a big man too.  Tall with muscles stretched taut across his body.  I always knew I was safe with Grandpa.  It was hard to watch Grandpa's strength wane in his later years.  But he didn't complain.  He adjusted to a new normal and always found things to be thankful for.  

Grandpa was brave.  He was terrified of heights, but served his country as a paratrooper in World War II because he earned an additional $5 for every jump.  He was also compassionate.  Grandpa was stationed as an army cook in Sendai, Japan, for fifteen months after the nuclear bomb. The Japanese were starving and Grandpa had first crack at the food.  Grandpa befriended the Japanese and gave them food as he was able.  When Grandpa left Japan, his new friends sent him away with a Samuri sword, two Japanese rifles, and an officers saber.  That's just how Grandpa was.  Everyone was drawn to him.  No one disliked him.
Grandpa in uniform
Letters Grandpa wrote home during World War II
Saying goodbye to Grandpa was really rough.  Grandma asked all the grandkids to write a letter to Grandpa and put it with him in his casket.  I told him how lost we felt without him.  How sorry I was for not doing/being more than I was with him.  I told him I loved him and that I'll always be his Blondie.  I told him how I love to rub his head and sit on his lap.  I told him how glad I am that he can see again and breathe without oxygen.  That his strength is returned.  I told him that my friends can't "wait to meet him."  I told him we'd take care of Grandma.  And that I love him.  I tucked my letter inside the chest pocket of his suit.  My cousin Becca put hers under his tie.  My big brother Shane put his memento right above my letter.  We all wanted to be close to Grandpa's heart.  Then we stood there and wept.  What else can you do when your hero leaves this earth and graduates to heaven?

Grandpa's funeral was a beautiful celebration of the life he lived so fully.  Each of his three sons shared their memories of Grandpa and how he had influenced their lives.  Grandpa's son-in-law sang a solo.  How he could beautifully sing even a note, let alone an entire song, through tears still amazes me.  

When the remembering was done, the military honors began.  Two young soldiers in full dress blues solemnly walked through the thick silence from the back of the church to where Grandpa's casket lay. They saluted Grandpa's coffin while Taps was played.  

Then methodically and carefully, they folded the flag that draped his coffin into the symbolic triangle.  

When they finished folding the flag, one soldier gave the flag to the other and  

saluted the flag.

Both soldiers walked to where my Grandma stood in the front row.  The one with the flag leaned forward, presented the flag to Grandma and said, "On behalf of the President of the United States and a grateful Nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service." 

The military also gave Grandpa a gun salute and lined the sidewalk between the church and the hearse with soldiers standing at attention.  

We were wrecked emotionally by this moving tribute honoring Grandpa's service to the country that he loved so much.

Grandpa's grandsons served as the pall bearers.  When we got to the graveside, they each donned one of Grandpa's hat and carried his coffin to his final resting spot.  

my brother Shane is a Captain for Great Falls Fire Department.  He's wearing Grandpa's fireman's hat pin.
Uncle Jeff threw the first shovel of dirt and then we all took turns throwing in a shovelful of dirt, saying goodbye to a farmer who loved the earth.  
Me adding my shovelful of dirt
Slowly the crowd began to thin until it was just my Dad and his wife, my brother, cousin Becca, and me.  We just stood there looking at the freshly dug grave knowing there was nothing left to say or do, but refusing to leave.  It felt like if we stayed there long enough maybe we could turn back time.  Eventually we said goodbye and slowly walked away.

When we got back to the house, we celebrated the life Grandpa lived by telling stories about him.  We laughed and cried and remembered.  Shane put the flag at half-mast, even though I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to do that.  We needed each other.

We miss you Grandpa.  So much.  And we love you so much.  You were and will always be a great hero of our family of The Faith.  

Happy birthday.  See you soon!

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