Francis Misgen was once featured in the Minneapolis Tribune for never, ever missing a day of country school. It’s a trait that has followed him since.
Francis Misgen (Star Eagle photo by Kathy Paulsen)
By KATHY PAULSEN
For eight years, Francis Misgen followed his brothers and sisters to school in heat and rain and snow.
Some years, the winter snow drifts covered the telephone lines.
Francis never missed a day, or came in tardy one time, when he attended school at the Berlin Country School north of Beaver Lake. So outstanding was his feat that he was featured in the Minneapolis Tribune.
It’s a trait that followed him for 84 years: Pride in what he was expected to do and doing his best.
Francis Misgen was born and raised on a farm northeast of Beaver Lake. The trek to school was a good two miles, a trip he took with his siblings and other area relatives.
Francis could tell you endless stories about the neighbors then who liked each other and weren't afraid to lend a helping hand to whoever needed it. At one time, they moved a house from the Issac Muri farm to their farm with men and horses.
In 1942, Francis was a medic in the U.S. Army and, because of his earlier trucking experience, was the only one in his outfit who could legally drive the heavy machinery and ambulance. One of his stopping places was Camp Grant, Illinois, but most memorable was Jackson, Mississippi because of all the rattlesnakes and copper heads in the area. Francis still finds it hard to believe the men swam in the river there with all those dangerous reptiles.
Francis returned home to Minnesota in 1945 and in 1947 married Audrey Thompson. Francis and Audrey raised five children: Mike, Sherry, Jim, Susan and Dawn. He gives a lot of credit to Audrey for her tell-it-like-it-is personality. He said she was a good "help mate" in the salvage business.
He recalls buying his first 40 acres for $80 an acre. That was still a lot then, but nothing compared to the $250 an acre he later paid when he bought another 40 acres on either side of the first acreage.
It was called "the big country clean-up" and the mission was to get rid of junk piles grown thick with weeds. Francis started the salvage yard as just that, a salvage yard, but it grew and his family became involved. Francis picked up cars and trucks and hauled them to his salvage yard for many years, but when he reached his 80s and some red flags started showing up in regards to his health, he gave up picking up cars and driving.
Francis' son, Jim, became a working crew member when he was a sophomore in high school along with his good friend, Waylon Busho, and now Jim is the man in charge now. Francis credits those "kids” for their hard work and ability. He also credits his wife, Audrey, who was delegated to clean out cars and trucks brought to the salvage yard.
Sometimes it was a profitable venture finding coins beneath the seats, but it was a dirty job. All fuel, oil and anti-freeze had to be drained. Audrey was an ambitious worker and Francis chuckled when he said, "One day Audrey was cleaning out a car when one of the boys shouted out, "Hey, that is a customer’s vehicle."
Francis added, "Over the years Audrey probably found $2,000 worth of loose change while cleaning out cars".
At one time, Francis and his brother, Johnny, were partners in a stock yard in Ellendale, building it from scratch and buying and selling any kind of animal for Hormel in Austin and cattle to South St. Paul.
Francis recalls how driving in the Farmington area was a like "bear cat." Those roads were more like pathways of rough gravel or dirt weed patches.
There was an up side to the trip to South St. Paul. Francis recalls one place he frequented that had the world’s best pancakes. Francis says he can still taste them today.
Back then, trucking was difficult as permits were necessary to transport livestock to specific areas. But, they trudged on, eventually calling it quits in 1962.
Francis is proud of the weapons carrier jeep he acquired. He came upon it one day at the farm of a neighbor. It was in bad shape.
Francis described it as a rusted-out relic which had been a weapons carrier in the war. The guy who owned it said it was junk, but to Francis it was a "veteran" that had served its country well. He gave the man $100 for the bits and pieces, though the man said just take it.
They hauled the jeep home and, with the help of some enterprising and good friends who also had patriotic feelings, they rescued that war veteran. When it all was put together and running, his grandson repainted the machine and it has been on the road ever since.
It is a reminder to Francis of all those who served our country. Most often Francis drove it, but through the years, good veteran friends and his grandsons have driven this symbol in many a parade and to veterans affairs. Francis is proud when the public takes off their hats and put their hands over their hearts and cheer when they see the Misgen military jeep.
Francis’ wife, Audrey, died in 1988 from a brain aneurism — a terrible shock to the family. Francis took a life-threatening tumble from a truckload of radiators. There were a few heart problems, but this is a man with a "good heart."
Few men can tell you they have spent as many hours as he has visiting nursing homes or homes of people from our area. That is what has kept his mind so sharp all these years. He can talk to you for hours and you'd never tire of listening to him. He has been honored many times for his kindness and dedication, especially to the veterans groups.
It has been a long walk of 92 years for Francis. It wasn't always easy either. In fact, it was hard work.
But, he has always found time to be a good neighbor, a great friend, an intelligent business person and a great dad — and not just to his own kids.
He takes life as it comes. You never hear him complain. His wisdom and common-sense reasoning have gone a long way over dusty roads, cow yards and snow piles and Francis has stayed the same.