by Dennis Dalman
On a viciously cold and windy below-zero day, Feb. 8, Norb Walz was plowing snow by his rural St. Joseph house when he looked up and saw black smoke rising from his barn.
The sight just about broke Walz’s heart. Just as he figured, the barn would be a total loss.
“I just knew when I saw that smoke the barn would be gone,” Walz recalled. “But we want to re-build that barn.”
Family, friends and well-wishers feel the same way. That is why there will be a fundraiser from noon-6 p.m. Sunday, April 14, at Milk & Honey Ciders. From every cider sale and from all tips, $2 will be donated to the Walz family. The cidery is just down the road from the Walz farm at 11738 CR 51.
“All we know is that the fire started in the hay loft,”said Walz. “But the cause is not known.”
Walz is grateful that he managed to get one cow out of the barn after the fire started. The other animals, 20 of them (including one bull and nine calves), who were outside at the time, also escaped harm. However, after the barn was burned down, Walz had to sell them the next day.
So many of Walz’s memories, good and bad, went up in smoke that afternoon. He recalled years of chores in every season – for instance, trudging through waist-high snow in blizzards to tend the animals in the barn and putting up bales of hay in the hay mow every summer – a heavy and sweaty job. But there are also good memories, he quickly added.
“It was always good to see the cattle snuggled up safe and warm in that barn,” he said. “And there were calves all year ‘round safe and sound in that barn.”
The oldest of four siblings, Walz was born in 1957. Walz was raised on his parents’ farm, which is 1.5 miles south of St. Joseph between Kraemer Lake and the I-94 freeway exit.
The Walz farmstead is the very definition of family personified. Norb grew up in the house on that property, a house that still exists. In 1961, his grandfather built another house. Both houses still exist, and Norb’s mother, Joan, still lives in the first house, the one in which Norb was raised.
The farming life has been a rewarding one, said Walz, but it was at times not very financially stable. He had to take on two other jobs just to make ends meet. His wife, Mariette, has been a registered nurse at Country Manor in Sartell. His daughter, Kimberley, too, is a registered nurse who works at St. Cloud Hospital. She is determined to rebuild the family barn and keep the farmstead in the family. Norb and Joan Walz also have a son – Jared, who is a teacher in the Twin Cities.
As Walz pondered the devastating loss of the family barn, he also emphasized very positive sentiments.
“I want to thank everyone who helped,” he said. “All the fire departments who came to help. All of them and so many other people just came together to help out. Friends and family but even strangers too. And Gary’s Pizza brought free pizzas for the firefighters.”
Firefighters, said Walz, not only battled the blaze courageously in bitterly cold weather until 11 p.m. that night, but they kept returning to douse flare-ups well into the next day.
“I cannot thank all those people enough,” he said.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.