Jack Cronquist passed away on April 29, 2017. He had just turned 92.
My name is Tom Dickson, and I grew up in Gilby, North Dakota. I have been asked by the family to say a few words to hopefully find the insight to properly tell the life story of this good man.
Who was he?
What was he?
When did he do it?
Where did he do it?
Why did he do it?
If you answer these five questions, you have completed your story. But, in Gilby, we value substance over chronology. We have to take those rules out of order. When we are measuring the life of a man like Jack Cronquist, the story begins with “Where?”
I. Where was he from?
With these Gilby people, you start with “Where?” And the “Where” is Gilby. It was the Cronquist farm in Gilby, North Dakota. That was where Jack grew up. Parents were Hannah and Floyd. Sisters Fran and Jean. Brother Clark. Jack was raised in good ground by good people. Gilby is one of those small towns that has not only survived, it has thrived. Some say it’s the land, the topsoil, the glacier, the drainage. But it’s not the glacier, the topsoil, or the drainage… it’s not the land. It’s the people. People who grew up there, went to school there, raised their families. People like Jack. When the farmer works hard, the land is never lazy. Jack Cronquist worked hard, his land was not lazy. Gilby is the “Where” in Jack’s story.
II. Who was he?
Jack was a farmer, a businessman, a shopkeeper, a risk-taker. An entrepreneur. He was a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a great grandfather.
That is who he was?
That answers the question of Who?
III. What was he?
He was successful. He was good at stuff. He was smart. He listened. He learned. He paid attention.
In Gilby, when Jack grew up, boys learned things in one of three ways.
Some learned by reading
A few learned by observing.
The rest of us; well, we had to pee on the electric fence to find out for ourselves.
Jack never had to pee on the electric fence. He was smart. He did his homework. He paid attention to detail. He got the job done. So, when I asked myself this question. What? What was Jack Cronquist. I struggled answering this question, myself. We always wonder if successful men see things the rest of us don’t see.
I never peered into Jack’s soul to see what it was that he saw. Quite honestly, Jack never wanted anyone to peer into his soul. So, I can’t tell what it was that he saw.
But I knew him well enough to tell you what he didn’t see. He didn’t see any wild oats. Jack hated wild oats. He was obsessive about eradicating wild oats. This was long before fancy chemicals. Wild oats grew above the wheat as it headed out. They were taller, slender stalks. They sucked vital nutrients and moisture needed for the wheat. He got those Cronquist kids up early. Jan, Nancy, Kim, Kent, and Lisa got up. Plucked the wild oats. They didn’t use Patagonia, North Face, or Cabela’s bags. No, they used burlap, potato gunny sacks with a piece of twine for the shoulder strap.What was he? He was successful. He was meticulous. He was also very well groomed… always carried a comb.
IV. When did he do this?
He did this for 92 years. 92 years. Day by day, week by week, year after year after year. Success did not come to Jack overnight. He was not a flash in the pan. He was dedicated. He was disciplined. He was persistent.
And we answer the question “When?” It’s 92 years.
Why was he Jack Cronquist? Why was he successful? Because he chose to be. He did it the old-fashioned way. He earned it. And then we have answered the question “Why?” Because he earned it.
And so, we have answered the five fundamental questions of writing a complete and thorough life-story. Who, what, when, where, and why of Jack Cronquist. The story is written. The words reduced to writing. Print it up. Put it in the church bulletin. The end.
But as I sat at my desk in Bismarck last night, I was left with one more nagging question about Jack Cronquist.
How did this happen?
How is this possible?
Lots of people are smart. Lots of people work hard. How? What about Luck? Did luck play a part in all this? Did Jack ever get lucky? Did he ever have the winning ticket? Did he ever catch lightning in a bottle?
He did one time. One time Jack won the lottery. One time he did catch lightning in a bottle. He met Yvonne. Yvonne Smith from Hunter, North Dakota. Graduate of Jamestown College. She came to Gilby to teach school. Yvonne was and is as pretty as the morning.
Remember how smart I said Jack was? Well, in the courtroom, Yvonne would be Exhibit A. Jack asked her out. He showed up to pick her up on their first date. Jack, meticulous, well-groomed. Carried a comb in case one hair got out of place. Jack was actually pretty spiffed up. But the farm pickup… not so much. In those days, farm pickups had fuel tanks, toolboxes, and seed bags. They were work vehicles.
They went out for supper. Maybe a movie. They came back and walked to the door. Certainly he wanted to, certainly he tried too, but Yvonne wouldn’t kiss him goodnight. She wasn’t that kind of girl. She wouldn’t kiss a boy on the first date. So Jack Cronquist was shot down on his first date.
But he wooed her. He pursued her. He charmed her. He proposed to her. She accepted. They were married 65 years. It would have been 66 years next month. Five beautiful children. Jan, Nancy, Kim, Kent, and Lisa.
So, luck did play a part in Jack’s success. Jack did have a lucky charm. Her name is Yvonne.
And so now we truly answered the final question of “How?” and now we are at the end of the story. This story of Jack Cronquist ran for 92 years. And during those 92 years, life has taken Jack from Erskine, Minnesota, to the Cronquist farm in Gilby, to the United States Air Force, to a tiny upstairs apartment in the Gilby Hotel, to a one-story tin hut on the Ryan Farms, to the family home in Gilby, to Union Lake, to later homes in Grand Forks and Arizona, and finally here to a Methodist church in Grand Forks, ND.
Ninety-two years. All those people. All those places. All that love.
Almost 3,000 years ago, in Judea, (which is now Israel) when they buried a man of honor, people would come in from their farms, and their fields, from near and far. And they would gather one last time to pay their final respects to this man. At the end of the ceremony, they always closed with one prayer.
He has fought the good fight.
He has kept the faith.
He has finished the race.
After 92 years, Jack Cronquist has fought the good fight. He has kept the faith. He has finished the race.
On behalf of Yvonne, Jan & Lee, Nancy & Kim, Kim & Marie, Kent & Carrie, Lisa and… all the grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I would like to thank everyone for coming here today to honor the memory of this good man.