Editor’s Note: “Their Way” is a regular Sunday column that captures the personal style of the many public officials and other personalities and events covered by former Mesabi Daily News Executive Editor Bill Hanna during his more than 40 years of newspaper reporting, writing and editing.
He was just a guy from Bigfork.
He was just one of 464 people living in the tiny northeastern Minnesota hamlet along the Bigfork River to the west of the Iron Range when he moved to the “Big City” of Minneapolis in 1961.
He then was one of 482,872 people in his new home — the largest city in Minnesota.
He was just another late-teen with a girlfriend miles and miles away in a large city.
He would soon become just one of about 2.7 million active duty military when he donned the U.S. Navy uniform in 1962.
He would marry his teenage sweetheart in 1965 and they would become just one of about 40.2 million married couples that year in the U.S.
He would work several jobs during his lifetime — often multiple workplaces at the same time — to raise four children with his wife, who also was part of the 78.5 million workforce in the 1970s that had grown to 213 million at the turn of the century.
He was a hard-working, blue-collar man with a strong and unwavering work ethic, who would much rather fix things at home than call on someone else to do what he considered his responsibility.
He lived most of his life in the Twin Cities, but with small-town values and principles nurtured by no-nonsense parents.
Jerry Manske was born on March 1, 1943. He died on Jan. 2, 2019, and was buried six days later.
Just a guy from Bigfork, Minnesota? No, much more than that.
Jerry was just out of Bigfork High School when he first met my sister Mary.
He was good to me and older brother John and younger brother Tom.
A good athlete — “Runs Like a Deer” read a tagline under a photo in his school yearbook — Jerry would take time to shoot hoops with the younger brothers of his girlfriend. And that was no small thing as we could certainly be obnoxious at times, especially trying to either impress our sister’s beau or embarrass Mary, which we were much more successful achieving.
He flew to San Diego for his Naval basic training on July 20, 1962. Gotta give Jerry credit for finding my sister a birthday gift she’ll always remember, even if not fondly. That’s something always challenging for guys.
Jerry was a Vietnam-era vet who was stationed at the Pensacola Naval Air Base in Florida, home of the Blue Angels flying aerobatic squadron, as a mechanic on some of the country’s best fighting aircraft.
My sister and Jerry would wed in February 1965 — proving that yes, the rural-urban divide can be bridged. And they would generously provide food and lodging for two incredible summer vacations for a teen who had his eyes open to so much more of life in this great country.
Those two summers were an education that could never be book-learned or replicated:
A first airplane ride.
A solo Minneapolis to Flomaton, Ala., train trip.
A face-to-face meeting with the ugliness of segregation through “Whites” and “Negroes” signs above drinking fountains at a rail depot in Flomaton.
A middle-of-the-night conversation with a soldier aboard the train on his way eventually to war in a little known country — Vietnam — at the time.
Learning some rural southern ways.
Ah, those southern gals.
Beautiful pure white sand on an isolated Florida Gulf Coast beach.
Unkind Florida mid-summer humidity-driven heat.
More lifetime memories with older brother John and older sister Mary while together in Florida one of the two summers.
Being wakened the second summer by my niece Beth who was jumping up and down in a crib.
Appreciating the adventurous side of a brother-in-law that was often not so evident for just a guy from Bigfork.
And so much, much more.
Naval lifestyle would give way to precious hopes and dreams fulfilled of working hard and enjoying civilian life amid a growing, loving family in Nordeast Minneapolis.
Mary and Jerry would open their home to my mother in her later years, easing her mind and soul with a coating of family love.
They would do the same for my younger brother Tom when he faced a medical struggle that would eventually take his life in late-sumner 2017.
And when I battled to survive with a heart pump as a bridge to an eventual heart transplant in 2016-17, a spare bedroom in their house was my temporary home for three months.
Jerry would meticulously change daily a nasty wound at the heart pump’s “driveline” site, before handing off those life-saving duties to the grace-filled hands of Angie that allowed me to return home in February 2017.
Jerry would face his own medical challenge in December 2017 — pancreatic cancer. It’s a cancer killer; but Jerry fought hard and with dignity, just as he lived his life of 75 years.
I last saw Jerry at Christmastime, three weeks before his death. I told him how grateful I was for his lifesaving efforts. He gave me a smile and thumbs-up, and in a raspy voice, now weakened by cancer, said, “We did it.”
Just a guy from Bigfork? No, quite a guy from Bigfork.