• Annual Lions Park gathering filled with music and recognition for effort in battlefield and on the homefront
by Paul Rignell
Military veterans, their families and other friends from the Elk River community gathered at the Lions Park band shell Memorial Day morning for an hour of music and remembrance.
Specifically this year, however, the crowd was reminded of area veterans who had died since last June. American Legion Post 112 Commander Tom Kulkay honored the memories of those 13 individuals by reading their names: Frank Arnold, Vernon Bohlman, Wallace Houle, Rudy Keezle, Ben Kratzke, Willard Laundando, Leon LeFebvre, James Lenz, Roger Ostby, Roy Van Dyck, Bill Weatherly, Lloyd F. Werner and Vernon Whiteoak.
An honor guard representing American Legion Post 112 and also VFW Post 5518 displayed the colors of the flags, and they later fired rifles near a flagpole and away from the band shell in further memory of deceased veterans.
Much of the crowd then left the rising humidity outdoors and found its way to the air-conditioned Legion hall, on Railroad Drive, for bratwurst among other food and drink while enjoying more music from the Elk River German Band.
Kulkay said he was pleased by the size of the crowd that gathered for the service of remembrance, but he noted the Lions Park open space allows for even more to be present.
Veterans and their sacrifices could always be honored by more people.
“I was more pleased with the weather, to be honest with you,” Kulkay said of the dry conditions for the outdoor event. “All in all, I think it went off fairly well.”
Surviving veterans, supporters recognized
The local American Legion and VFW posts also take time each Memorial Day to thank surviving veterans and other supporters who have volunteered in aid of the post operations, veterans’ causes and other charitable programs.
Committee members find ways to ensure most of their honored guests will attend the annual program without those guests being aware their names will be called as award recipients. Some of the honored volunteers are there because they have helped coordinate the program.
Guests who accepted honors this year included Tony and Norma Belanger, Ramona Doebler, Sylvia Frolik, Bob and Sharon Hackenmueller, Bobby Johnson, Irene Kostreba and Mike Leistico.
Many of them jump right into their next commitments for American Legion Post 112 or VFW Post 5518 projects.
Leistico had less than one week remaining before the annual Post 112 smelt fry dinner May 30 that he was co-directing with fellow volunteer Mike Beyer.
During other months when there is a fifth Friday, the public comes to the Legion hall those nights for dinners of ribs and chicken tenders.
Fish and shrimp are served on the first three Friday nights each month, followed by roast turkey and mashed potatoes on the fourth Friday night.
To honor the memory of his father and Elk River native Richard Leistico Sr., an Army veteran who served in the Korean War, Mike Leistico also has helped to prepare a Memorial Day breakfast for the honor guard participants who tour 10 area cemeteries for services starting at 6 a.m.
Leistico joined the Sons of the American Legion five years ago.
“I am overly happy that I got this award (at the Lions Park event),” Leistico said. “I had no idea it was coming.”
Bob Hackenmueller is a Navy veteran and electrician who served more than three years through the mid-1960s, partly on the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier but mostly on the USS Proteus submarine tender (then stationed in Guam).
Originally from Robbinsdale, he has been married and lived in Elk River for 38 years with wife Sharon, a native of Hopkins.
Bob was active with a Legion post in Robbinsdale before joining Post 112 four years ago.
Among other Post 112 projects, the Hackenmuellers are now involved in starting food preparation Friday mornings for the regular Friday night dinners. They shop for the groceries earlier during the week.
Proceeds from the dinners support veterans’ causes and the Elk River post’s operations.
“The Legion is a good organization for the veterans and community,” Bob said. “I would like to keep it going the way it is or only get better.”
“I like to express support and honor veterans who have given their all for us,” Sharon said.