By Jen Bakken
DELANO, MN Radishes, beets, sweet corn, and home-grown celery you name it, it’s probably in Gene Barfknecht’s garden.
With a garden that is 70 feet wide and about half a block long, he has plenty of produce for cooking, canning, making salsa, and his own special tomato juice.
“I make my own tomato juice, you know,” said Barfknecht. “It’s got green peppers, onions, jalapenos, my homegrown celery. I use a food processor and it’s just really, really good.”
In addition to gardening and cooking dinner nearly every night, there are other hobbies he enjoys, such as hunting and fishing. Though he used to look forward to bowling and polka dances, arthritis prevents him from continuing these favorite pastimes.
“I used to love all those things,” he said. “Used to travel all over to polka dances, but, you know, all good things come to an end. But, I’m not complaining because some have it worse.”
While visiting his home, one will be greeted by a grey cat, named Brat (because he used to literally be a brat, but has mellowed with age), a little shih tzu dog named Toby, and a very large German shepherd, Jake, who he claims has a bigger bark than bite.
“It’s like a little zoo around here. The little dog is my wife’s. Jake’s a big dog, but he’s my baby,” he smiled. “He’s always with me.”
Each Wednesday, Barfknecht and his baby, Jake, head to their cabin near Sedan, MN. His wife, Marge Barfknecht will join them after her work week with Cargill is done, and then they all head home on Sunday. Every year, the whole family gets together at the cabin for what they have nicknamed, “Bar-stock.”
As a boy growing up on a Delano area farm, Barfknecht attended the Welker School, formerly located on Wright County Road 17 and now sitting on the Wright County Fairgrounds as part of the Wright County Historical Society. After eighth grade, his father took him out of school to work on the family farm.
When their seventh child was only 2 years old, Barfknecht’s first wife, Aurelia, passed away from a brain tumor.
“When my wife, Marge, (Klaers) and her family came into the picture, they were great,” he remembered. “I warned her that my seven kids and I were a big operation, but they treated us all like family.”
And their family continued to grow when the couple added two more children to the mix. With a total of nine children, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, they have enjoyed 40 years of marriage.
Barfknecht worked for the Delano Granite Works. As a setter, he was responsible for setting up the monuments in many states. Marge also worked for the company for awhile.
Then, he spent about five years working in St. Louis Park as a rubber molder, molding many different parts, including some for John Deere.
In December 1967, he began working as a maintenance worker for the City of Delano, and retired 24 years later. He performed many duties such as snowplowing and street maintenance, and Barfknecht remembers, vividly, the flood of 1969.
“That was a lot of work,” he said.
The sewer plant also left him with some interesting memories he still laughs about today. There was a company that was contracted to jet clean the sewers, and their employees would collect marbles, jewelry, and coins.
“They’d dig them right out of there,” he said, shaking his head. “I couldn’t believe the amount of marbles they found, but I thought, oh man, there’s no way I’m digging through that.”
Another time he recalls was when a Delano resident called him and told him to keep a lookout.
“He had dropped his false teeth in the toilet,” he laughed, “and wanted me to look for them.”
Though he may be walking a bit slower these days, Barfknecht continues to take trips to his cabin, go hunting and fishing, tend to his garden, and finds time to be involved with St. Peter’s Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus.
“You know, I don’t really have much of a story to tell,” he said. “I don’t know much more, and don’t wanna tell you more than I know.”