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Obituary for Roy M. Hesselberg


Roy Melville Hesselberg, 94, of Bangor, died Tuesday, April 23, at Gundersen Health System in La Crosse. Roy was born Feb. 8, 1925, in Leon, Monroe County, and lived in nearby Fish Creek, but there was a mixture of fondness and pride in the description. He grew up there and in nearby Rockland with his six brothers and two sisters. His father, Harold Rudolph Hesselberg, worked for the town grading the roads with horses. His mother, Ragna (Kirkeeng) Hesselberg, organized her growing family to be familiar with hard work, good food and fair play. There were no idle hands in this group. These attributes Roy passed along to his three sons. When he was seven, the family moved to Rockland, at first to a house by the rock and then to a sprawling tin-roofed house a couple of blocks away. He went to school in Rockland and graduated Sparta High School in 1943. In his grade school years, he would work every morning and every night milking cows for Jud Gaylord for 60 cents a week, but he would sleep overnight at Caroline Larson’s house, for which he was paid $1 a week. “I got paid more for sleeping than for working,” he said. After high school he joined a harvest crew of pea viners before joining the military. By that time he had shown skills at baseball and boxing and, like his father and grandfather, playing the fiddle. But his brothers were off to fight in the war, and he joined them “When I got my physical, I said I want to join the Army so they said okay, you’re in the Navy.” He went to San Diego in 1943 after graduating from Sparta High School. In the Navy, starting June 19, he was made a welder, and received his honorable discharge in May 16, 1946. After knocking around looking for jobs - including a short term as a bacon taster in the research department of Oscar Mayer in Madison, a job in a machine shop in Chicago, filling bins for Sears & Roebuck in Minneapolis, washing dishes in the Madison Club - he went to telegraphers’ school in Minneapolis. One night in 1947 he met a girl from Minnesota at the Avalon ballroom in La Crosse. He married Alice Ruth Neumann on Dec. 31, 1948. The Navy called him back in 1951, during the Korean War, to Norfolk, VA., where he was sent off on a Mediterranean cruise aboard the USS Rushmore. This assignment lasted only a year, May 2, 1951 to May 9, 1952, long enough to acquire an accordion in Italy, and he soon returned to the coulee region, settling a young family in Bangor and working as a telegraph and depot operator for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, “tower man” and “switch man.” He worked at Portage and Westby and every job from La Crosse to Madison, but the railroad was closing depots, so in 1961 he went to work for the U.S. Postal Service, first as a clerk in Bangor and then as a carrier in La Crosse, retiring in May of 1985. Roy had a remarkable memory of a lifetime of swapping and buying cars. He didn’t always come home from work with the same car he had left with that morning. His first was a 1929 Model A coupe, which he bought “from a guy named Severson” for $250. He was a hunter and fisherman all of his life: “I started hunting when I started to talk,” he said, and his first rifle was a single shot .22 Remington that cost him $5.95. Like his brothers, playing baseball for him was the same as breathing. When he was young, he got hit in the head with a train’s mail sack that also knocked him off his bicycle and gave him two black eyes and a story that he embellished for 80 years. In retirement, Roy joined Alice in trips to Norway, Alaska and around the United States, meeting up with relatives or looking for a good fiddle fest. He remembered some of the Norwegian words that were spoken in his boyhood home. He had an eye for a quality antique and a nose for a deal, was generous with the down-and-out, showed up for the usual community affairs that required it and some that didn’t. Roy was a longtime member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in West Salem, and was confirmed in 1940 at Fish Creek Norwegian Lutheran Church. He instilled a work ethic, the importance of education, and a sense of purpose into his three sons. He had a sweet tooth and, before the internet ruined joke-telling, he was a master at spinning a story. He was rarely fooled a second time. Survivors include Alice; three sons, Jarlan (Ellen Hinrichs), George (Else Karlsen), and Todd (Lucy Van Dyke); seven grandchildren, Corey , Ryan (Aubrey Stetter), Espen Karlsen, Eivind Karlsen, Anna (Steven Wedgeworth), Robert and Laura; and five great-grandchildren, Julia Stetter, Hadley Hannah and Piper Lee Hesselberg, Roland James and Adelaide Claire Wedgeworth; four brothers, Vernell, Carmen, Dean and Gordon. He was preceded in death by two brothers, Harland Randell and Blaine Milford; and two sisters, Rosella Harleen Gikling and Ruth Helen Lambert. A brother died in infancy. The family would like to thank the staff at Bethany Heights Assisted Living, Holmen, and the nurses at the 6th floor Medical Oncology unit at Gundersen Hospital for their valued help and kindness. The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 359 Leonard St., in West Salem. Pastors Jean and Jon Schmidt will officiate. Visitation will be held from 9:30 until the time of service at the church. Burial will be in Burns Cemetery with military honors by the Anderson-Good American Legion Post 40 of Bangor and the United States Navy Funeral Honor Guard. Jandt-Fredrickson Funeral Home, Jostad Chapel, West Salem is assisting the family. Online condolences may be sent at www.jandtfredrickson.com.