Hagen: A grandparent's guide to leaving a family legacy
An opinion column from Mitchell Republic Editor Luke Hagen.
I only remember hunting with my grandpa once, but I spent a lot of time thinking about him on the day he died, Nov. 30, 2020. He died of heart failure.
It was because of him, in part at least, I was sitting under the South Dakota sky that evening waiting for a deer to walk into range. My grandpa, Gilbert Hagen, loved the outdoors.
He passed that tradition to his first son, my father, who kept the lineage of hunting and fishing moving down the family line.
My grandparents’ house on the lake near Alexandria, Minnesota, is still decorated heavily with scenes from the outdoors and with Budweiser memorabilia. My grandpa in 1960 joined his father, Gordon, in the wholesale beer business in Worthington, Minnesota, and purchased Hagen Beverage Distributing Co. a decade later. He ran it until 1996 and stayed involved until 2000.
It was sometime in those later years, I think, when I got to go duck hunting with my dad and grandpa in western Minnesota. The three of us shot some ducks in a small pond. When I was sitting there deer hunting last year, reflecting on grandpa, I couldn’t really remember much about that day. Today, what’s most important to know is I got to spend time hunting with my grandpa and dad, who both helped shape who I am. It wasn’t about the number of birds harvested. The day was about three generations being together.
My grandma asked me to give a eulogy at my grandpa’s memorial service in May earlier this year. I struggled and stumbled through some of it, but I’m still happy with most of it.
I opened, “I think my grandpa would be pretty proud of me today. Not because I have a successful career and a wonderful family, just like him, but because I can finally smoke a walleye pretty much as good as him.”
I shared my favorite memories of grandpa — how he was so patient when I was young, fishing off his dock, and how I would tangle my line over and over. Yet he would cut it, re-tie and send me on my way back fishing.
He later shared with me how to brine a fish in a salt-water mix and smoke it over charcoal and wood chips, known as “smoking” a walleye. I typically called him each time I was about to prepare a fish to go on the grill, just to tell him I was doing it and to catch up.
My relationship with him evolved as I got older, mostly because I wanted to soak up information and his knowledge. As I got married and moved to South Dakota for my job, his response was, “South Dakota? That’s a good tax state.” He was right.
Then, as I grew a family and the number of his great-grandchildren grew, he loved hearing about all our updates in life and he loved his family. Whether it was talking about my latest fishing or hunting trip, how my girls were growing or strategies with investing in the stock market, my one-on-one conversations with him while Frank Sinatra played in the background are still cherished. They’re missed.
He was cremated and buried at the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery at Camp Ripley near Little Falls, Minnesota, on a crisp spring afternoon.
I said goodbye to him that day, but his legacy lives on in so many ways. Someday I hope to make such an impact on my family.