Eulogy of Richard Zaremba
August 20, 1941 - March 20, 1996

St. Louis Catholic Church, Floodwood, Minnesota
March 23, 1996

I’m sure Dick would want today to have more the feel of a polka dance than the feeling following a tough Raider’s loss. So I’ll do my best and hope that all of you will share with each other your recollections and stories as well.

I’ll only be able to share a small part of Dick with you. I know we all have stories to tell, from Bernice Zelazny, who assisted with his birth and who was with him the last days as well, to my daughter Claire, who is still working on finishing a case of freezies Dick gave to her the last time we visited. By the way Tess, in a letter Dick sent a month ago, he said he had more for Claire. I brought the letter for proof and to collect!

Dick’s been in church now for about 20 straight hours. That’s probably more time than he’s spent here the last five years. Dick made sure to attend the highlights - baptisms, first communions, funerals and weddings. I think Dick saw and celebrated God’s creation in the world around him.

Dick had a real reverence for the “woods” and the things that lived there. He’d get excited about a strange mushroom, plant or unusual bird he saw. Although he had no formal training, he had a good feel for the way things worked and he cared for the land. He may not have always followed the letter of the law, but he followed the spirit of the law.

Dick had a lot of good days. He wasn’t obsessed with working for hire, but he was always busy. A good day for Dick might follow something like this:

He’d wake up - without a headache - grab an unfiltered camel and put on the coffee pot. He’d go to get the paper, maybe take 20 minutes to drive the 5 or so miles around the “block,” taking careful notice of everything. He’d come back, have some more coffee, maybe some toast with sour cream, smothered with berries.  

He’d grab some minnows from the stock tank in the back yard, get Tess, fill a thermos with coffee, grab some ham sandwiches, candy bars, and Little Debbie snack cakes and head to the river to fish for “Sowbellies” - that’s Zaremba for “Big Fish.” He’d come home, put more coffee on, clean the fish in the garage with a polka tape on.

By now the grandkids would be around and he’d load them up in the 4-wheeler and take a ride back to the river. When he got back home, he’d be on the phone to someone to tell them about a curious thing he saw, drink some more coffee, run out to the yard to pick some blueberries, come back into the house, have some pig’s feet and Swiss cheese.

Then some friends would stop by to play cards and after dark they’d wait for the “Big Gahoonahs” - that’s deer in Zarembaese - to come to the back yard. Then they’d watch the 10 o’clock news. If you think a mother bear gets riled up when you get between her and her cub, it was just as bad to get between Dick and the TV when the weather forecast was on.

Dick was ahead of his time when it came to recycling. Nowadays, most everybody recycles, but Dick was at it 20 years ago. The “Hinsley Mall,” as Dick called the old #8 dump, was a trove of treasures --you wouldn’t believe what people in this town throw away!

Dick recycled many things, aluminum cans - not by the pound, but by the ton. Scrap metal. Why, he even recycled a house, brick by brick, just him and a sledgehammer. The farm road to the river is full of recycled materials.

He liked to have two or three of the same kind of car -- Mavericks, Thunderbirds, or Ford Trucks - whichever one gave out first would be used for parts for the one still running.

My mom still remembers that Grandma Vicky noticed Dick would get of the school bus and throw something in the ditch. One day she went to check and found bread crusts from his sandwiches. He caught heck for that as Grandma Vicky thought it was a sin to waste bread. We wondered why he didn’t throw it away at school?

When Dick was first learning to read, his mother sat with him, night after night, with the Dick and Jane book, trying to help him to read. She would lose her patience with him as they repeated the lessons over and over as he wasn’t paying attention to the words.

Decades later, he sat with his own daughters urging them to pay attention to their lessons. He was proud of his children’s educational achievements and let his girls know.

One time daughter Vicky remembers bringing home a book of occupations and remembers thinking her dad could do all of them. Here’s a short list: Recycler, landscaper, gardener, mechanic, janitor, landfill engineer, crane oiler, construction worker, bridge builder, plumber, farmer, county road worker, logger, butcher, naturalist, educator, nature film documentary film-maker, animal trainer, and fishing guide.

I remember Dick’s as always a place where I was welcome and I know other young men in the family likewise took advantage of Dick’s company - my brother Kraig, his sons-in-law Bucky and Dennis, and Jonathon and Justin, whether it was for fishing, hunting, fixing up a car, or just hanging around. He was interested in guiding people in subtle ways.

When I was about 8-10 years old, I remember riding on the John Deere A with him during haying season. He asked me if I ever tried a cigarette. I said no and he got a cigarette, lit it, gave it to me and told me to smoke it. I did, coughed and gagged, and Dick asked me if I liked it. I said no and he told me to remember that when I got older.

It was the simple things that impressed Dick. Linda still remembers when she first was introduced to the “Floodwood Family.” It was a whole group of people who were very interested in finding out what she was like. We went fishing with Dick on the river and when Linda baited her own hook with a minnow, she was instantly “OK” with Dick.

Dick had a way of making you feel special for knowing him. Dick talked about “The Basics” and lived his life accordingly. His New Year’s resolution this year was vintage Dick, “To spend more time with his grandkids and be a nicer guy.” In his own wry way, Dick explained that he could only do one of the parts of the resolution - spend more time with the grandkids, because he was already a nice guy and couldn’t get any nicer!

One thing we can take from Dick would be to take our jobs outside the home less seriously and our jobs at home with our families more seriously.

Last week while getting ready for the upcoming gardening season, I found a quote that seemed appropriate for this time “We come from the earth, return to the earth, and in between we garden.” Dick had a lot of good gardening - of plants and of souls.