Veterans planning drive-by party

Joe Berklich poses with a picture of himself from World War II when he served in the Army's Americal Division in the Pacific.

HIBBING — Joe Berklich told the Mesabi Tribune a few months ago the ages of his four children. "Michael is 73, Danny is 69, Timmy is 63, and Mary Scofield, my baby, she's 58." He added with his usual humor, "Then there's me — 65!"

Berklich's spoofing was off by just a few decades. The good-natured Hibbing World War II veteran turns 100 on Wednesday, February 24, and family members, special guests and many veterans will take part in a birthday drive-by celebration past his house on Sixth Avenue East.

Part of the momentous event will be this message from his daughter Mary and great-granddaughter Paige. Mary wrote: "I always wished that my father would add to his title of Son, Husband, Father, Grandfather, Great-Grandfather —Great-Great-Grandfather. My wish has come true." And Paige wrote, "Happy 100th Birthday, Grandpa Joe! We love you and wish we could be with you on your special day! We hope that come September you will be ready to meet your great-great-grandchild!! SURPRISE. We love you." The message was signed by Paige and husband Ross Fuchs.

And then this heartfelt thought from his daughter: "Joe's love of God, life, family and friends has been a great example to all of us. I truly believe that God is not finished with him here on earth and that we have more to learn from him. As his granddaughter Jennifer says….he gives us hope for a long healthy life. I never imagined I would have seen the day that my father would turn 100 years old! His health and state of mind are so beautiful. He shares with us so many stories of his past and remembers them clear as day. He tells his war stories in such detail that one would think he was just there a year or so ago, not 75-plus years ago."

Berklich still lives in the house where he and his late wife Margaret, a nurse for more than 40 years, raised their family. After the war Berklich worked for U.S. Steel at the Sherman Mine between Chisholm and Buhl and at Minntac in Mountain Iron. He became a foreman and also worked with heavy equipment and traveled the country working with vendors of mining equipment.

Berklich was president of the Hibbing Curling Club and has been a longtime member of the VFW and American Legion. He was a Hibbing city councilor, member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church and life member of the Knights of Columbus.

Berklich and his brothers John, Matt and Michael served overseas in World War II — Joe in the Pacific Theater of Operations, John in the China Burma India Theater, Matt in France, Michael a paratrooper taken prisoner by the Germans and rescued by American troops.

And here continues Scofield's tribute:

She writes of his generosity: "Dad has always had great pride in his family. When he was a teenager, he had two nephews, Joey and Louie, his sister’s children. They needed snowsuits for the cold winter and Uncle Joe bought them. He has always been a very generous man. "

And of family celebrations. "Precious memories for the grandchildren are the many, many, many Fourth of Julys spent at Grandma and Grandpa’s cabin on Bear Lake. Grandpa made sure to have the best firework display around! The day would start with each family arriving with their contribution of food for all of us! Riding on the pontoon boat, diving into the middle of the lake, playing in the sand with all of the cousins, driving the Honda mini trail bikes around and around the lake were the highlights of the day. Everyone waited patiently for darkness to come so that we could ohhhhh and ahhhhh at the beautiful display in the sky! We would sing patriotic songs, usually out of tune and missing many of the words, but no one cared. These days were precious and are still carried on today ....

She writes of Christmas. "Christmas Eve was the other BIG family celebration. The evening started with 4:15 Christmas Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church and then on to Grandpa and Grandma's. Every gift was especially picked out for each grandchild. Grandma and Grandpa loved watching the kids open their gifts. One treasured memory and still shared at family get-togethers was when Grandpa played a trick on his 4-year-old grandson Jason. He bought Jason a battery operated 3-wheeler and put it together for him and hid it in another room. Grandpa had Grandma wrap the big empty box and Jason was so excited that he had the biggest box under the tree. When he opened that box and found nothing in there, that excitement left instantly and the tears came just as fast! Grandpa felt horrible and to this day says he will never do that again!"

And of his gardening skill. "Dad had a garden up until he was 80. The fresh raspberries were always a family favorite and putting them on our ice cream was the biggest treat of all. His niece, Lisa Kinzel Shea, loved to go to Uncle Joes and eat and eat and eat the raspberries right out of the garden! She also loved to pick blueberries with Uncle Joe cause he would let her eat and eat and eat them too, when the rest of us would have to fill our cup first."

And Scofield writes of his fondness for playing cards. "To this day he still plays solitaire every day. He and my mother and relatives spent many hours at Bear Lake playing cards up at the cabin. They would get their penny or nickel jars out and laugh, argue, have a couple of drinks, and just play and play! Those card-playing events were also shared with the whole family at family holidays after the big meal was shared. Everyone loved these games and the young ones could hardly wait to grow up to play too!"

And she writes again of her father's generosity: "No one goes to his house without the offering of ice cream, candy or a baked treat. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been blessed with quarters, nickels, dimes that Grandpa saved for them when they would come visit. There also may be a gift of $5, $10, or $20.

"He tells them he can’t take it with him when he goes, so they might as well enjoy."

Drive-by details

Jerry Forsberg, quartermaster of Hibbing VFW Post 1221, provided the following details about the drive-by birthday event Wednesday, February 24.

Staging on Brooklyn Boulevard by the Hibbing Fire Hall and Armory — 10:30 to 11 a.m.

At the time of the submission of this news release, these are the confirmed special guests:

Brigadier General (BVT) Ronald Hein representing Minnesota Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard.

Larry Herke, commissioner Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, representing Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and the state VA.

8th District VFW Commander Robert "Rick" Stoehr, 8th District VFW Auxiliary president Julie Stoehr, 8th District American Legion Commander D. Marvin Hill, Hibbing Citry Administrator Tom Dicklich, St. Louis County Commissioner Michael Jugovich, spokesperson from Minnesota's U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber's office.

Minnesota Army National Guard, 114th Transportation Company, Mid-Range Honor Guard, comrades from VFW, American Legion, DAV, NEMN Women Veterans and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon, as well as Joe's family and friends.

Forsberg said, "Both my father and father-in-law served in World War II. Though they are both gone, it is an honor to have the opportunity to pay tribute to Mr. Berklich, a fellow comrade from their generation. He deserves to be recognized on his 100th birthday; it is certainly a noteworthy day and we want to thank him for his service to our country."

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