by Nathan Warner
Elk River Youth Theatre Workshop’s performance of “The Wizard of Oz” was dedicated to Zimmerman native Lance Cpl. Jeffrey Beise, who died at Camp Pendleton in California on April 6 after having survived combat on the front lines of Afghanistan.
Beise served in Afghanistan from October 2010 to April 2011 in a platoon that lost 80 percent of its soldiers in combat.
He was interred in Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis April 16. After the service, Jeffrey’s life was honored at the American Legion in Zimmerman where family and friends celebrated his happy demeanor, sense of humor and impeccable style.
Later that week, Jeffrey’s mother, Lori Beise, saw the ad in the paper for the Elk River Youth Theatre Workshop performance of “The Wizard of Oz.” Lori has always loved “The Wizard of Oz” and has collected memorabilia since she was a child.
“Jeffrey was a mama’s boy,” she said, “and we were very close. I was his Dorothy and he was my Scarecrow.”
In the aftermath of the funeral, Lori wanted to see the play and Jeffrey’s aunt, Margie Achman called Anytime Fitness owner Jennifer Mueller to ask if they still had tickets for Sunday’s showing. “She only had five tickets left,” Margie said, “which was the exact number we needed for the family to go.”
Mueller couldn’t hold the tickets for them so Margie said she was coming down to pick them up from Zimmerman. While they were on the phone, she told Mueller about Jeffrey and his mother. “She started crying on the phone,” Margie recalls, “and said she’d hold the tickets for us.”
Mueller, a cast member in the play, approached the director, Eileen Bowersox, about dedicating the performance to Jeffrey Beise as a memorial.
“She thought it was a wonderful idea,” Jennifer recalls.
A table with photos was even set up outside the theater honoring the fallen marine. They also gave the Beise family VIP seating and a private opportunity to meet the cast and take photos, while the cast felt it was a great honor to meet Jeffrey’s family.
For the commemoration, Dan Hertsgaard, a 24-year veteran of WCCO Radio and announcer for KARE 11’s “Minnesota Bound” (with Ron Schara and Raven the black Lab), gave a stirring tribute to Lori’s “Scarecrow” at the beginning of the play.
Mueller had bumped into Hertsgaard during a birthday party at Rockwoods Grill the night before. “She recognized my voice and asked me if I would announce for the Elk River Youth Theatre Workshop,” Hertsgaard said, “then she told me about this young marine who was killed and asked if I’d be willing to dedicate the play to him the following day.”
Hertsgaard, a 22-year resident of Elk River, thought it was a wonderful way to honor a local hero. “I’m an honorary member of the U.S. Marines,” he said, “so I wore my uniform and a medal I was awarded for my work in the Minnesota National Guard Norwegian Exchange program.”
Hertsgaard said the tribute was an incredibly tough interlude and very emotional in the sold-out auditorium.
“No parent should have to out-live their kids,” he said, “and this whole tragedy has really devastated Lori, a single parent who’s just lost a son she was very, very close to.”
The audience saluted Jeffrey at the end of the play and gave a roaring applause that lasted until Hertsgaard couldn’t hold his arm in a salute any longer. “During the commemoration, the grief became too much for Lori,” he recalls, “and her daughter, Hannah, held her closely as the tearful emotions overcame her.” Even Hertsgaard had trouble keeping emotion out of his voice. “My knees were trembling when I left the stage,” he said, “and I was very shaken by the intense emotions surrounding the memories of this brave young man.”
Those memories of an active and courageous Zimmerman boy who grew up to serve his country are very much alive.
Jeffrey Blake Beise’s story began on Aug. 10, 1990, at Unity Hospital in Fridley, when he was born to Lori (Achman) and Jeffrey Beise Sr. The family lived in Isanti until moving to Zimmerman in 1995 when Jeffrey was just 5 years old. “He loved living on our farm in Crown,” his mother Lori says, “and he spent so much time hunting and fishing with his best friend and younger sister, Hannah.”
She says he was very protective of Hannah and the family in general, walking the perimeter of the property at night since he was a small boy. When Jeffrey was 5, he got his first Red-Ryder BB gun, which Lori sees as the beginning of his interest in the family’s strong military tradition. Jeffrey’s grandfather and aunt served in the Navy and two of his cousins are also serving in the military.
“Jeffrey always wanted to be a Marine,” Lori recalled, “and he wanted to be in the front lines.” In March 2009, Jeffrey joined the Marine Corps and was deployed to Afghanistan in September of 2010. “He served on the front lines in 3/5 Unit Dark Horse Battalion,” Lori says, “which had an 80 percent loss rate, losing more soldiers than any other platoon in the Marines has lost, including during Vietnam.”
In Afghanistan, Jeffrey became known as the “Hound Dog” for his ability to spot improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that the insurgents had set as mines for U.S. soldiers. “We were told he saved a lot of lives over there,” Margie says, “including the life of fellow soldier and friend John McCormick, who almost stepped on an IED, but Jeffrey spotted it and stopped him just in time.”
When Jeffrey returned to Camp Pendleton in April 2011, Lori says he felt guilty about leaving his brothers in the Marines behind. “He especially felt responsible for the young men coming to the front lines for the first time who didn’t know what was in store for them,” she says, “and he wanted to be back there looking out for them.”
Jeffrey was known for his good looks and impeccable style. Lori said he never went anywhere without some mints and a lint-roller. “We put his lint roller in his casket,” she said, “along with some mints and his cologne.”
“Real life doesn’t begin until we die,” Hertsgaard told Lori at the dedication, “this life is about preparing for eternal life in God’s heaven and that’s exactly what Jeffrey did. He’s gone on ahead of us to scout out eternity.”
Lori says she can’t believe Jeffrey’s really gone, and she still expects to see him coming home, strolling down the driveway with the contagious smile and humor that he’ll always be remembered for by everyone who knew him.