BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN Volunteering was serious business for Clarence “Deacon” Bruhn, 88, of Delano, who passed away Tuesday.
He even had a business card to prove it, featuring his home and cell phone numbers and his mantra, “Deacon’ll do it.”
Those who knew Bruhn, who was recognized as the 2008 Delano Citizen of the Year and 2010 Wright County Outstanding Senior, say it was more than just a motto.
“He was the person who, if you needed something done, you could call Deacon, and he would do it,” longtime Delano librarian Carol Plocher said of Bruhn, who served many years with the Friends of the Delano Library. “He was willing to do any of the nitty gritty jobs. He’d look at something and say, ‘I can fix that.’”
Friends of the Delano Library secretary Mary Ann Bernat recalled a time when Bruhn shrugged off the notion of needing to take it easy.
“I remember one moment not many years ago when we were both running up and down the stairs carting boxes of books from a sale,” Bernat said. “He was a bit red in the face, and I said, ‘Deacon, perhaps you better slow down and take a rest.’ Deacon replied, ‘Well, I’ve got two stents in my heart. When they wear out, they wear out.’ He smiled and kept on working.’”
Bruhn was treasurer for the group for five years, and he helped raise more funds by applying for a Thrivent Financial for Lutheran matching grant that doubled the profits of the used book sales.
He was involved in many other organizations, including Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, a cemetery board, Delano Loretto Area United Way, Delano Relay For Life, Delano Community Emergency Response Team, Ridgeview Foundation, and Ridgeview Hospital; as well as the city of Delano as a city councilman from 1962 to 1964, and a planning commission member.
“Deacon was involved in many community projects, committees, and initiatives,” said Ted May, who served with Bruhn on the Delano Loretto Area United Way. “He was a valuable member of several boards of directors because he knew so many people and was able to recruit volunteers and support for various events and fundraisers.
“On the United Way board, Deacon played a vital role,” May continued. “He was a good listener. After long discussions, Deacon would offer critical, insightful questions that shed light on the topic. He was a good watchdog on common sense, and he always presented his views diplomatically. He also added a lively sense of humor to our meetings.”
General Federated Women’s Club of Delano member Jeanie Pilarski reflected back on when the organization named Bruhn Citizen of the Year.
“When he was Citizen of the Year, his accolades were a lot,” Pilarski said. “There were a lot of things he was involved in . . . He wasn’t just on a committee. He was involved in everything that happened. He was a hands-on kind of volunteer. If there was something to be done, he was right in the middle of it.”
She specifically remembers his commitment to the Relay For Life.
“His wife passed from cancer, and he battled cancer I don’t know how many times,” Pilarski said. “He was a real advocate to do research and find a way to stop this deadly disease. We used to always have a theme for our campsite (at the Relay). One year, we did ‘Wizard of Oz.’ He went and rented the lion outfit. It was a hot day. He wore that the whole time. That’s the way he was. He gave 100 percent for everything he did.”
Bruhn frequented and volunteered at the Delano Senior Center, where he got to know longtime director Gail Sinkel and assistant senior center coordinator Linda Van Lith.
“At the Senior Center, or any event Deacon participated in, he had the ability to make everyone feel welcome,” Sinkel said. “He had a welcoming smile and a handshake or a hug and usually had a funny story for everyone he met . . . He was funny, upbeat, and a delightful storyteller. He was not afraid to share his opinion on things at the Senior Center or the community, good or bad.”
Van Lith remembers Bruhn as “an extremely gentle, giving man who used his many talents to make his community better.”
She shared a story that showed Bruhn’s giving nature.
“When Deacon returned from visiting family in Arizona, he walked into the Senior Center carrying a small potted cactus for the Senior Center,” Van Lith said. “A few days, maybe a week later, he admitted that he had really gotten the cactus at the drug store after he got back to Minnesota and felt like he should have brought something back to the Senior Center.”
While many knew Bruhn as a volunteer, John Tackaberry knew him as a 20-year employee at Star West, where they shortened his nickname to “Deke.”
“Deacon was absolutely a prince of a man,” Tackaberry said. “He was obviously one of our most valuable employees . . . He had a huge following because he was a quiet, nice man and took care of people . . . He was a hometown guy with values, dignity, and respect, and was quiet and kind. He sold a lot of vehicles because of that. He was just a nice person and people loved him.”
For 71 years, Bruhn lived in Delano, where he received his nickname.
“When I moved to Delano, there were already two Clarences in the senior class,” he told the Delano Herald Journal in 2008. “There was Clarence Roth and Clarence Matter, so nicknames would be appropriate. Matter’s was Buzz. Clarence was Clarence, but they still needed one for me.
“In town, we went to Mt. Olive Church, and our minister at that time was Reverend Bruns,” Bruhn continued. “Bruhn and Bruns were close enough that they started calling me Reverend, but then they found out that I didn’t exactly measure up to Bruns, so I got demoted to Deacon, and it stuck forever.”
In that interview, he laughed as he said that some people in the community didn’t know his real name.
He shared why he enjoyed helping others.
“I don’t pretend to be an expert on life, but some people just know exactly what they want to do,” Bruhn said. “I wanted to help people.”
He also shared advice and a goal for himself.
“Look for the sunshine if you can,” Bruhn said. “I’m the last one of my family, and I’ve kind of set my goal. Everyone in my family pretty much died at 84, so if I can make it to 85, I’ll be set.”
He surpassed that goal, and those who knew him say he left his mark on the community.
“He had a great life,” Pilarski said. “He’s leaving a wonderful legacy for his family.”