Willard Allen Arends passed peacefully through death into the care of his eternal Savior at his home on Saturday, June 2, 2018 surrounded by his loving family. Willard was born on May 18, 1929 to Alvin and Anne Arends on the family farm in Marvin, South Dakota. Willard’s family moved to Atwater, MN where he graduated from high school in 1948. He married Joanne Bergquist, his high school sweetheart, in 1950, and then moved to Minneapolis where Will was briefly employed as a Fuller Brush Man. They moved back to Atwater where he and Joanne operated the Rustic Cafe, a favorite spot for high schoolers to gather after games.
In 1957, Will relocated his family to Walker, MN to operate Oak Grove Dairy as part of their expansion to northern Minnesota. He WAS the milkman who delivered house-to-house, as well as to businesses in town and resorts around the Leech Lake area. His delivery service expanded to include frozen foods, beer, and feed products. Willard’s son and three of his sons-in-law were employed as delivery men. In fact, it was thought that in order to “marry his daughters, they would have to work for Willard first.” There are also stories of Willard hosting some milk truck parties, where he would stop to visit at particular houses, drop off his kids to babysit and the parents would jump in the truck for some late night rides with Will and Jo.
In 1977, Jack Bieloh offered Willard an opportunity to work at Bieloh’s Family Foods as the Dairy Manager, aka “The Greeter.” There were hundreds of employees at Bieloh’s throughout the years who have fond memories of working with Will, and all who did, appreciated his focus and commitment to customer service. All of his own children were often reminded that no matter what, “the customer is always right.” He is also known for carrying a white Styrofoam coffee cup with “Will” scrawled on the side that would show up on shelves throughout the store knowing that he misplaced it once again. Will retired in 1999 to spend some overdue family time with his wife. He spent the final years of their 56 year marriage serving as her caretaker through her battle with Alzheimer’s until she passed away in 2006.
Willard was Walker’s Lifetime ambassador. From the moment he arrived, he loved Walker and his family, in that order. His commitment to community service was evident throughout the 61 years he resided there. He was a founding member of the Walker Jaycee’s, and he and Joanne were active members of both the Jaycee’s and Mrs. Jaycee’s, even serving at the state level. He was a long-time Rotarian and Lions member until his death.
As a Leech Lake Chamber Ambassador, he served on the Ethnic Fest Committee for many years where they actually had their meetings at his assisted living facility to ensure his participation. Most of the community knows that Willard is the Champion Button Seller for the Walker Lions and Leech Lake Chamber. He single-handedly sold thousands of buttons over the years due to his commitment to supporting the Walker Fireworks for the 4th of July every year. In fact, Willard’s first time viewing the fireworks from a boat on the lake did not happen until he was 85, as he would be “down in the park” determined to get each and every button sold. He was honored to be selected as a Grand Marshal for both the 4th of July and Ethnic Fest parades.
Willard’s love for sports was especially noteworthy, as athletics was not his strong suit. However, he was an excellent curler, a founding member of the Walker Curlers where he curled at the annual Legion Bonspiel in Bemidji, and also for many years at the Walker Area Community Center. Most importantly, he held a special place in his heart for all the WHA sports teams and was honored as Walker’s Biggest Fan in 2017. He will be missed in his spot in the bleachers behind the home team.
Willard will also be forever known as a member of the Moondance Family. He always had a front row seat where he would “supervise” security. He looked forward to each and every festival, and sincerely enjoyed meeting people, promoting Walker, and celebrating the event. Willard will be remembered for his unique gift of being able to make each and every one he knew feel special.
He was committed to civic service and served as a Walker City Councilman for over thirty years. His longtime joy came from the beauty of the City Park and the uniqueness of the City Dock. He would often say, “Let’s drive down to the park to see what’s going on.” He loved the beauty of the lake, the green space, as well as the Rock Garden next to the Chamber.
Willard was a member of Hope Lutheran Church, the Leech Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, Walker Rotary, Walker Lions, Walker Curling Club, Walker Jaycees, a Community Champion, and a founding member of the Coots Club.
Willard is survived by his son Jim (Lynn) of La Crescent, MN; daughters Jeanne (Kelly) Nelson, Jackie (Scott) Bruns, Kathy Bieloh, and Kristin (Jeff) Holly, all of Walker; brother Bob (Pauline) of Greenville, IL and sister JoAnn (Louis) deCathelineau of Sun City, AZ, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
He was most proud of his 15 grandchildren and their families: Adam, David, Rachel, Andy, Dominic, Neil, David, Ryan, Nikki, Shane, Jonathan, Briony, Katelin, Mack, and Josie.
Willard was preceded in death by his wife, Joanne, sister Shirley Thomas, and son-in-law Bill Bieloh.
Funeral services for Willard will be held at 2:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 6, 2018 at Hope Lutheran Church in Walker. Visitation will be held from 5 to 8:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 5 and one hour prior to the service on Wednesday also at Hope Lutheran Church. Interment will be held at Evergreen cemetery following the service. A reception will be held at Moondance following the interment.
Memorials preferred to the Willard Arends Foundation being developed to make the greater Leech Lake Area even better, as Willard would want.
In lieu of flowers, contact Barb’s Creative Greenhouse at 218-675-5004 to contribute to trees & shrubs for the Walker City Park.
Mr. Willard’s care has been entrusted to Northern Peace Funeral Home of Walker, MN. Online condolences for the family may be given at www.northernpeace.com