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Favorite stories of 2015: people of Henning, MN step up to fund funeral of man that touched many even though he couldn't speak or hear

Henning, MN (WDAY/WDAZ TV) - We are celebrating some of our favorite stories from 2015. One piece from WDAY 6 Reporter Kevin Wallevand happened in a small town in Otter Tail County where people said good-bye to a long-time legend. Not the mayor, ...

Henning, MN (WDAY/WDAZ TV) - We are celebrating some of our favorite stories from 2015.

One piece from WDAY 6 Reporter Kevin Wallevand happened in a small town in Otter Tail County where people said good-bye to a long-time legend. Not the mayor, banker or long-time farmer, but an 85-year-old man who arrived in Henning in 1944 unable to speak or hear.

For all these years, the town took care of Junior Bloemke and that care and love kept on despite an Otter Tail County rule regarding burials involving its welfare cases.

Over the years, Junior Bloemke made the front page of the newspaper more than most. He was known as the guy on the John Deere mower. He drove it in parades, he mowed lawns with it, blew snow with it and drove it to church.

"Every Sunday once in awhile we would pick him up, but he would beat us," Junior's caregiver Darcy Boldt said.

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Today, friends that cared so much for him drove that mower to the front of the church where an 85-year-old man would be remembered.

"He gave so much joy, that it all came back to him," Junior's sister Jan Dalzell said.

"Motivated everyone to make sure he had a good funeral. He deserved it," Former Henning mayor Dave Holmgren said.

A high fever struck Junior as a child leaving him unable to speak or hear. It impacted his motor skills as well. Since day one, the town of Henning was his family. He lived here on his own with no relatives nearby.

"Could not have been better for him and the town. When you think how they came together now, that is how Henning is," Church organist Doreen Salvog said.

They came in droves packing St. Paul's Lutheran Church. So many they printed more funeral programs.

"I tell you, that it is the biggest thrill you can have," Junior's friend Dick Cloeter said.

They filled the balcony. All for a man who was the fabric, the pillar, the fixture of downtown Henning every day.

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"He would be there every morning at 8:30. He would sit and have coffee and we would get his mail," Nancy Friedrich with Henning Hardware said.

From the hardware store, he drove his John Deere tractor to the café, the pub, then the gas station where the guys would even bring him to movies.

Junior's funeral almost didn't happen. Junior received assistance from Otter Tail County and most people here thought they would pay for the funeral, but the county has a new rule for welfare cases. It won't pay for a church funeral.

In just a few hours on Monday, the people of Henning raised $5,000 so Junior's funeral could be held in his church. No county money involved.

"No troubles getting anyone to support us and looking at the crowd of the ages here. Junior touched everyone," Fundraiser organizer Shari Haberer said.

Church ladies made lunch, the police gave Junior one last escort and this town that took in a teenager 70-years ago said good bye. No one here will forget how a man who talked with his hands and eyes changed them all with his heart.

Those John Deere rider mowers Junior used all those years were bought by members of the community through money they raised.

Related Topics: HENNINGOTTER TAIL COUNTY
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