Charles (Charlie) Henry Vangsness
Passed away peacefully at Mayo Clinic Hospital- Saint Marys Campus in Rochester, MN on November 27, 2021 at the age of 89 after a very recent diagnosis of stage four cancer.
Born April 26th 1932 to Henry and Myrtle (Pearson) Vangsness in a one room house on the Indian Reservation in Roseglen Township, North Dakota. He was very proud of his North Dakota roots and spoke of that often. The family moved to Goodhue County, Belle Creek township around 1935 to the family farm which was settled by Charlie’s Grandfather in 1879. Charlie purchased the farm from his parents in the mid 1960’s, he lived on and farmed this land and resided there with his wife Janice until his last days. Charlie was a devout Christian and lifelong member of Minneola Lutheran Church. He was confirmed there in 1946 and later was a Sunday School Teacher for several years and served on many committees. Charlie attended Husevold country school through 8th grade and graduated from Wanamingo High School in 1950.
After high school, Charlie worked various local jobs: Hader Rock Quarry, Kenyon Railway Express making new tracks and helped at local farms. As a young man Charlie left home for a few years to find other opportunities. In 1954 he spent one year on the Great Lakes as a Merchant Seaman aboard the Joshua A. Hatfield. Around this time he also worked in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area, doing construction in St. Louis Park, worked at the railroad in St. Paul unloading and reloading mail cars, worked night shift doing metal finishing at Whirlpool Seeger and in the daytime worked at a grocery store, while in the winter he shoveled driveways. Later he returned to the family farm where he farmed with his younger brother Vernie for many years. Charlie also milked dairy cows until 1993. He never truly retired, as again he held additional jobs to stay busy: Maple Island Creamery, Welch Ski Village, Midwest Imports and many years working for Peterson Turkey Farm in Cannon Falls where he finally “retired” about three years ago. Hardest working man you’d ever meet but claimed to have hardly worked a day in his life because he always enjoyed what he did, (with maybe the exception of a long day of fencing). He also believed Sunday was a day of rest and respected that all his years of being a hard worker.
Around 1966 he met Janice Norgren at the Schlief’s Little City Ballroom in Inver Grove Heights. They were married in St. Johns Lutheran Church in Elizabeth, MN on March 31st 1967. They had twin girls, Kim and Kelly on March 19, 1968 and another girl, Karen on February 3, 1973. His girls helped on the farm in most everyway and looked forward to all the trips to town in the purple Chevy pick-up truck to the Wanamingo Elevator, Zumbrota Sales Barn and Pat and Bernie’s café. He taught them very important lessons such as being able to recite the names of their toes in Norwegian. Some of the most challenging days with his girls were getting heifers into the barn for the first time, this resulted in shouting confusing things such as, “go west, no east, now south” all while yelling each name, Kim, Kelly, Karen and maybe a few choice Norwegian words.
Charlie was a busy man and hardly ever sat still except to read the newspaper and to visit with friends and family while sitting on the deck. After the summer hay season was about complete and before fall harvest he would look forward to family road trip vacations “Up North” or “Out West”, a favorite trip was Yellowstone National Park. He and Jan also took a road trip to Alaska which he spoke of fondly many times. Summers he enjoyed gardening, he always had several very large gardens and planted a lot of squash, potatoes, horseradish, raspberries and most notably popcorn. Around the 4th of July for the past almost 15 years he looked forward to the fishing trip to Ely with his immediate and extended family. The first week of August was the Goodhue County Fair, he always went on the second day because that was the best according to Charlie. Also, for many years there was an annual fishing trip to Canada with his buddies and the trip to Deer camp with his brothers and nephews. Charlie was also an avid beekeeper for over 40 years and had a large “customer” base. He also made a lot of interesting candles from the beeswax and often gave them as gifts.
Summer evenings were spent at the pond fishing and cooler winter days he passed the time in his woodshop making most any wood creation you could imagine, such as a six-foot painted rooster cut-out for each of his girls or canes with a handsaw shaped handle. Charlie liked old time country and western music as well as a good polka band and dancing with his wife. He spent a lot of time driving his four-wheeler around the farm and neighborhood. He was a longtime member of the Cannon Valley Sportsman club and a big Minnesota sports fan of the Vikings, Gophers and Twins. If a game was close, he’d have to turn the channel because he couldn’t take it (and that is how you miss the Minneapolis Miracle!). In addition to reading the newspaper daily and watching the news he enjoyed the Readers Digest, National Geographic, Farmer’s Almanac. He loved interesting facts and mystery type of stories and really enjoyed Goodhue County History. He often said I can talk about anything because I do a lot of reading. Charlie was a creature of habit, he kept an eye on the weather daily, commenting on the temperature or the amount of rain in the gauge, he wore overalls (jeans) and snap up shirts, drank milk and coffee every day and ate horseradish and honey and hot beef with gravy, soup, butterscotch pudding, ice cream and sweets and like any good Norwegian he ate a lot of lutefisk and lefse (maybe a secret to his longevity).
Charlie had numerous “health related incidents” over his life but most notably, about every seven weeks for the past nine years Charlie received a week of chemotherapy to treat Myelodysplastic Syndrome (blood disorder). It is almost unheard of to survive from that disorder for this many years. Where many may face this diagnosis with despair it was Charlie’s simple optimistic attitude that found the bright side in most everything. Many times, upon picking him up after treatment, if you’d inquire if he saw anyone he knew at the Mayo Clinic and he replied with a “no”, he’d quickly follow up by saying he made a “new friend”. He would talk to anyone long enough to find a common connection.
Charlie had an uncanny gift for remembering people and names without hardly a moments hesitation even if 50 years had passed since he had seen or spoken to them. It didn’t stop there, he could recall that persons’ parents, where they lived and who they were married to, etc. He could also recite long poems and such from his childhood and story after story from the past like it was yesterday, it was truly amazing.
He believed in doing your business locally and that everything is worth something and if you didn’t agree on a subject he’d simply say “case dismissed” and that was that or “we’ll see what happens”. He was also famous for saying “I’ve got a job for you”, and really that could be just about anything, from shelling popcorn or going to get the mail, and very randomly saying “I’ve got a present for you”, which typically was anything he could find in his pocket, typically a butterscotch candy or spare change. Sometimes the gifts were bigger like a couple of dollars or some odds and ends from fairs or trade shows. He greeted you with a smile and the firmest handshake you will ever experience. Charlie loved giving people things: honey, popcorn, produce, his wood crafts, etc. He’d often have a “stash” in his vehicle, so he was always ready to give someone something (even if he had just met you). If you ever paid him a visit you hardly ever left empty handed.
Truly what bought Charlie the most joy were his Grandkids. He always loved babies and children and especially loved being a Grandpa. They were each treated very special, and he lived to see them compete or participate in their activities. He would amaze them with his ability to wiggle his ears, one at a time or both at the same time. Lots of time was spent teaching them how to fish and garden or working on a special project in the woodshop which was often followed up with a root beer float in the house.
Family was always very important to Charlie, he was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and cousin. He will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him, he will not be easily forgotten as everyone has a story or memory about Charlie, most of them being quite comical.
Survived by his wife Janice of 54 years; three daughters, Kelly (Kyle) Wallaker, Kim (Ronny) Thompson and Karen (Mike) Allen; five grandchildren, Luke and Ava Wallaker, Ivan Thompson, Easton and Hailey Blissenbach; brothers, Arvid (Barb) Vangsness and Vernon (Linda) Vangsness; many nieces and nephews.
Charlie was preceded in death by his parents Henry and Myrtle Vangsness; sisters Arlene Struck, Clarice Cardinal and Doris Kyllo; brothers-in-law Norm Struck, Eli Cardinal and Maurice Kyllo.
The memorial service will be 11 a.m. Saturday, December 4, at Minneola Lutheran Church (13628 County 50 Blvd, Goodhue, MN) with Pastor Hannah Bergstrom de Leon officiating. Visitation will be 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, December 3 at Mahn Family Funeral Home-Larson Chapel in Zumbrota, and one hour prior to the service at the church. Memorials are suggested to Minneola Lutheran Church or Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Online condolences are welcome and may be shared at mahnfamilyfuneralhome.com.