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Virgil Bockwitz: Man of the Hour

by Prof. Michael Rustad

The title of this little informal essay comes from an article I wrote in 1967 for our school newspaper, Border Scoop. I volunteered to write an essay about Virgil Bockwitz and I interviewed him and many others to research the story. I learned a great deal about the significant role Virgil had as a community builder from my respondents.  Virgil's death signifies the end of an era when Humboldt had a vibrancy far beyond many communities its size. 

The story of Virgil's life is the story of Humboldt which was settled as a community only a few decades before his birth.  

Virgil's father, Fred Bockwitz, was the equivalent of a bonanza farmer during my early childhood. My grandfather A.H. Rustad was a great friend of Fred. Our modest little farm 1.5 from town was nothing compared to the grandeur of the Bockwitz Farms.  The Bockwitz farms was built upon the core of Walter Hill's holdings. It must have taken a great deal of acumen to build such an impressive farm in such a harsh climate.

I remember that Grandpa and Fred would fish together and enjoy each others company. Grandma Margaret also considered Flora to be a good friend. The Bockwitz family were prominent members of the Methodist Church which was the core institution of our community. Virgil did a lot to help our community. He was one of those who would always be there in times of emergency. I don't remember this but during the 1950s flood, he made a lot of flights to help flood victims and did not charge. His personality and character was one of generosity and civic-mindedness. When I was a high school senior, I wrote an essay acknowledging Virgil's contributions to the Humboldt community. 

Virgil was always the first to donate his services or facilities for us. Humboldt had an indoor skating rink thanks to Virgil. He donated the water and the facility so we would have a place to skate when it was 20 below zero. One of my memories is playing hockey in this building and checking outsiders into the pole. I was never much of a skater but enjoyed the fellowship of these games. He served on our school board along with such community lions as Mark Baldwin.

I think that it took some vision and courage to build a school, hire good teachers, and develop the pride we felt as Humboldt-St. Vincent Huskies. We should some credit for the spirit and ethos of our school to Virgil Bockwitz who served on the school board during the golden years that we all remember. Humboldt/St. Vincent High School, in the final analysis, was a strong school. We had one of the top speech programs in the state of Minnesota from 1965-1970. By the mid-1960s, we assembled a strong core of teachers led by the peerless Martha Roberts who was responsible for so many of the academic programs at Humboldt: The Border Scoop, The Whip, Parent's Speech Night, the Speech Team, Office Practice, and English. I think school board members like Virgil played a role in attracting some talented teachers to the school. We had some pretty good science teachers, for example: Abelson, Schmidt and Westegaard, to name just a few. In the field of library science, we had Helen Tri, Virginia Ott and Harriet Docken. Our debate team, coached by Virginia Ott, was competitive even though the program was started from scratch in 1965-66. 

I was thinking back on our high school debate team the other day. They did reasonably well in their post-high school life. Cynthia Baldwin earned her Ph.D, became a recording artist, and a prominent counseling psychology professor at a national university. Cynthia's sister, Margo, is a college graduate and a professional.Ralph Giffen became a policy-maker in forest service management for the Department of Agriculture and plays a key role in setting policy for grazing at the national level. He served as a Brookings Institute fellow for Sen. Bingaham of New Mexico. I teach at Suffolk Law. My brother Tony received a B.A. and M.A. and has been successful in the field of sales. Sharon Short is a nationally known attorney in the field pension management. John Bergh has had a good career in government with postal services, which happens to be my family business. Every debate team member turned out to be what Mark Baldwin what call a "solid citizen." I list these former students of Humboldt to illustrate that Virgil's life work contributed to the community.

Suppose Humboldt had been a weak school during those years. I doubt whether we would see this pattern of accomplishment. So, let's remember Virgil for his contribution to the school as well as the larger community.

I have many fond memories of my life in Humboldt. When we built floats for Homecoming Parades at good old Humboldt High, Virgil was always the first to donate a shed and his assistance when needed. It sometimes took technical assistance to get that chicken wire to form a rocket when we played Kennedy or a Wildcat when we played Pembina. (Kennedy Rockets & Pembina Wildcats).

Virgil was in a word, civic-minded. He was the first to lend tools, his shop, or his expertise to a neighbor. Virgil had a democratic personality and helped everyone no matter their status in life. I think this is a good testimonial about a good man.

Area Death

Bockwitz, Virgil, 95, of Hallock, MN, passed away at the Kittson Memorial Healthcare Center in Hallock on Thursday, November 25, 2004.

Published in the Grand Forks Herald on 11/27/2004.