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WWII vet from Willmar to raise flag at Twins’ Memorial Day game

WILLMAR — Ersie Quimby doesn’t miss watching a Minnesota Twins baseball game on television.

“I might fall asleep during them,” said Quimby, as he cocked his head just a little to the side.

But it’s not likely Quimby will fall asleep during the Memorial Day game against the Texas Rangers.

Quimby, a 96-year-old World War II veteran from Willmar, will be raising the American flag prior to the 1 p.m. game Monday.

He’s a little concerned that he might not be able to handle the task, but he won’t be alone if he needs some help because Quimby will be surrounded by 81 people — family members and close friends — who will be standing right beside him.

The group, including about 50 from Willmar and some from as far away as Texas and Nevada, will be wearing matching T-shirts that say “Ersie Quimby Fan Club” and feature a picture of a dashing young Quimby in his new Army uniform.

“Nearly all of his family will be there,” said Deb Grunwald, one of Quimby’s nine children who will all be at the game. “I’m looking forward to being all together and seeing his reaction to Target Field.”

Some of those in Quimby’s fan club, who will range in age from 5 to mid-80s, also will be holding signs, including one with a drawing of an elephant that will say, “Don’t forget our vets.”

As a collector of more than 500 elephant figurines, canes and statues, that message will be especially meaningful to Quimby, who acquired the elephants while antiquing with his wife, Ruby, who died in 2012.

Grunwald said her father is a “proud WWII veteran” and a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars in Willmar. A few years ago he went on an honor flight to Washington, D.C., with other World War II veterans — a trip that “he’ll never forget,” Grunwald said.

Quimby was drafted into the Army in 1942 and served in Africa, Italy and Germany.

He drove a full-track military vehicle that transported ammunition, including 200-pound shells that he said took four men to move into place and packed a loud punch.

“I think that’s why my ears went,” said Quimby, while sitting around his kitchen table Friday morning.

Quimby, who has a sharp wit and charming smile and is a voracious reader, struggles to hear. Grunwald used a white board to quickly jot down questions for her dad to read.

He’d give a quick read and then give a quick response.

His long responses came when he talked about his wife, with whom he shared nearly 70 years of marriage.

The Twins organization has a history of honoring veterans by having them raise the flag at home games. Quimby was nominated by a lifelong family friend.

Typically a short biography of the veteran is read while the person is shown on the stadium jumbotron. This part of the pregame is usually not shown on televised broadcasts, but Quimby’s family will record the event.

“He’s so dang sweet,” Grunwald said. “We’re going to bring Kleenex for sure.”

“It’s such an honor to have him do this,” said Jody Fernholz, another daughter from Willmar.

Audrey Pientka, the oldest daughter who lives in Reno, said she’s thrilled her father was selected to raise the flag on Memorial Day. “I’m just so excited for him,” Pientka said.

There will be other veterans in Quimby’s fan club, including his son, Bruce, and two grandsons, including one who is in the U.S. Coast Guard and will be wearing his uniform.

There also will be a niece coming from Texas who will be trading in her Rangers shirt for a Quimby fan club shirt.

With time spent playing baseball while in the Army and years of watching baseball on TV, Quimby gave his prediction for how the Twins will do at Monday’s game: “They’ve got a pretty good chance, I think.”

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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