by Dennis Dalman
For Jeff Sartell, history is as much a part of him as his arms, his legs, the timbre of his voice, the color of his eyes.
The great-great-grandson of Joseph B. Sartell, the founder of Sartell, Jeff Sartell has a vivid memory. He remembers exactly how it felt and sounded when, as a boy, he would ride in a car with his father across the old wooden-slate bridge that connected east and west Sartell. The bridge, still there, is no longer used for vehicles. He recalls the many pleasant trips to his grandmother’s house, where the DeZURIK plant is now. He remembers the little-boy pride he felt when being allowed by his father to climb up onto a bar stool at Perry’s Bar near the long-gone Sartell Village Hall. He has fond memories of stopping at Rip Sartell’s store where the River Boat Depot is now.
Although Jeff was raised in Minneapolis, he was a frequent visitor to his father’s hometown of Sartell, a town he grew to love deeply.
“I remember so many times going to grandma’s and then going fishing across the street from her house,” he said. “I used to wander around Sartell all the time as a grade-school kid. There were only a few hundred people in the town then. It was the perfect place for a little kid, so different than Minneapolis where I lived at that time.”
Jeff Sartell now lives in Princeton, but the favorite place of his youth, Sartell, is still front and center in his heart. He is a member of the Sartell Historical Society and visits the city often. Some people tell him that through the years he has moved closer and closer to the town he loved so much as a boy. So, they ask, why doesn’t he just go all the way and move here? Jeff often replies with a sly wink:
“Well,” he says, “I will be back again someday, that’s for sure. I’ve already chosen my burial plot in the Sartell cemetery, next to my parents.”
Sartell, 73, is the only son of the late Tom and Dolores Sartell and the grandson of Charles F. Sartell, Tom’s father. This past summer, about 70 members of the extended Sartell “clan” gathered at Watab Park in Sartell, the second of reunions that began in 2016 and will continue every two years. There were relatives from local cities but also some from as far away as Oklahoma, California and Washington.
“Because of the reunions, I get to know the younger generation,” Sartell said. There are so many younger ones, actually two generations of them. At one time, I had 27 first cousins.”
Sartell was named for Joseph B. Sartell, one of the first settlers who hailed from Massachusetts in 1854 and who worked as a millwright at the local sawmill. He and two sons started the Sartell Brothers Lumber Co.
The village of Sartell was officially incorporated in 1907.
One of Joseph B. Sartell’s children was Charles S. Sartell, who is Jeff’s great-grandfather, and one of Charles’ children was named Charles F. Sartell, who had a son named Thomas F. Sartell, who was the father of Jeff.
Like Jeff, his only offspring, Thomas loved history and was known for stopping in every little town along his travels to check headstones in cemeteries.
In the mid-1930s, Thomas earned a journalism degree at the University of Minnesota and worked at the small-town newspaper in Granite Falls. Thomas was a U.S. Navy man and was called to duty during World War II, stationed in Hawaii at one point. He became a gunnery officer and was in Normandy, northern France, during the D-Day invasion.
Right after the war, Jeff was born in Eveleth in north Minnesota, the town not far from Chisholm where his mother, Dolores, was raised. She later became an elementary-school teacher.
After the war, Thomas bought a house in Minneapolis where he, Dolores and son Jeff moved. However, they often visited Sartell, the village where Thomas was raised.
During his teen years, Thomas became an enthusiastic diary writer, and every day he would jot down in pencil his observations, pondering thoughts and bits and pieces of Sartell history. To this day, those diaries are precious possessions of son Jeff. Another prized artifact in Jeff’s keeping is a Civil War diary kept by a Union soldier who knew Jeff’s great-grandfather.
Jeff and his wife, Karen, moved to Princeton from Minneapolis in 2004 to be closer to their daughter and three grandchildren who live in Milaca. Jeff, now retired, worked as a computer graphics designer, mainly for slide presentations and contracted at one time for the General Mills Corp. Karen, also retired, worked for a financial portfolio company in Minneapolis.
His “hobby” nowadays is to help preserve the history of Sartell, the home town of so many of his relatives – father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, not to mention dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins.
Like other members of the Sartell Historical Society, Jeff Sartell is keenly aware of how time is slipping away when it comes to preserving the memories and artifacts of the city’s history. That is why they are now pursuing the possibility of getting a museum in which to preserve artifacts, spoken-word memories on tape, videos, books, diaries and all the intricate bric-a-brac of history – from school yearbooks to festival buttons, from old ice skates to athletic jerseys.
“We need people to help us, especially people who knew and know the town,” Jeff said. “We are really excited about history, and the people in the Sartell Senior Connection are a big help in our efforts.”
The Sartell Historical Society meets at the senior center inside the Sartell Community Center at 5 p.m. the first and third Mondays of the month.