The Karen Carpenter Connection

In the mid 1970’s my close High school friends and I listened to a lot of Karen Carpenter at our slumber parties. Slumber parties were a big part of our social life. We drank soda and ate frozen pizza, the kind that tastes pretty close to what the box would taste like, if you baked that. It was terrible in hindsight, but we did not know it, because it was before the age of pizza delivery. We sat on the floor and sang to Karen’s songs, especially our favorite, “We’ve Only Just Begun.” We sleepover7had high hopes for our futures, even though we had no idea what that would entail. We dreamed of romance, but, surprising for our age, we were pretty set on going to college and finding our own way in the world. We loved the farm life, but by 16 we were tired of the rock picking and chores. Maybe we just needed new sights; of course I miss the farm now. We did not appreciate how awesome farm life was at the time.

My vivacious, smart, and fun cousin and good friend in High School, Laurie Millner Menke, and Mary Joe Wimmer, Marilyn Gerwing, Linda Faust and Dorothy Weber were all a big part of our Karen Carpenter loving circle. Laurie was actually a professional quality singer and could really belt it out at our slumber parties. She was amazing and usually had the lead in any musicals and skits. She graduated from St. Ben’s and sang for many weddings and has been in plays over the years.

Laurie Millner

Laurie Millner

She came back to Buckman for my wedding and sang. I had a big Catholic wedding with three priests officiating. My uncle the priest, my cousin the priest, and the parish priest, who was good friends with my Dad. When you get married by three priests the marriage sticks real well. We will be celebrating 30 years of marriage next year. Everyone at the wedding had goose bumps when Laurie sang the Ave Maria. Some of my law school friends still talk about that singer and that song, after all of these years. She did a great job and the song was really moving. She has since built a career and raised a family and it is fun to keep up with her shenanigans on Facebook. She still is a fun loving and talented gal.


Mary Wimmer

Mary Jo had big dreams of joining the Peace Corps and she did and spend time in Africa. She met her husband there. They then raised their family and built their careers here in Minnesota. She has a beautiful and loving soul and that has never changed. I love seeing how her family has grown over the years and to see how successful she is in her business.

Marilyn Gerwing

Marilyn Gerwing

I saw Marilyn working at the Minnesota Zoo many years ago and unfortunately a few years after that I found out that she passed away from a severe diabetic complication. It is incidents like this that make you renew your ideal to live life to the fullest, as you never know how much time you have.

Linda Faust

Linda Faust

Linda was extremely bright and was wise beyond her years. She was also artistic and the kind of person that never once forgot to do her homework. She was the voice of reason and the go-to-gal when you needed a well thought out decision. Obviously she is still the wisest. She was the one person who was smart enough to move out of the Minnesota weather and now lives in warm and sunny New Mexico.

I lost track of my good friend Dorothy for a while, but she too graduated from college, had a family and a career, and lives in the city. Dorothy and I went to all kinds of parties in high school and luckily never got into anyreal trouble. Well there was that one beer party in the woods that we had to run from when the cops showed up, but we never got caught! There also was that little fender-bender on graduation day, and luckily the police did not see the empty Boones Farm wine bottle that we drank at the Skunk River dam in the afternoon to celebrate graduation. Oh, and there was that car owned by my brother’s friend Frank Shermers that we called Victor. He had used an Axe to chop a hole in the top of the car sleepover6to make a Sun Roof and someone had put a goat in it all night so it smelled bad. We took that car to the drive in movie one time and when Frank pulled the back seat out and put it on top of the hood to sit on during the movie. We almost got kicked out. The Movie Theatre manager asked us if someone had died in that car. When we agreed to put the seat back into the car, he let us stay. At this point you probably think I am making this stuff up but I am not. It is all true. We did have some fun back then. I wish we would have had cell phone cameras. We would have a picture of Victor the car. I would frame that.

We once staged a sit in to protest the cafeteria food. The School administration could not see why we did not like the cut up hot dogs in tomato soup poured over mashed potatoes. I wish I was exaggerating, but that was a meal we had every week at school. Back then we were not thinner because we had healthier food at school, we were thinner because the food was so bad you only ate enough to survive. The protest did no good at all. Our parents just all told us to knock it off because there are starving children in Africa and we should be grateful for what we have. That was the end of it. The food stayed the same.

Say what you will about Facebook, but all of us are overly busy nowadays. The time since I graduated from High School has flown by. If not for Facebook, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with these fun people. They were a big part of my life in Pierz, Minnesota, up until we all graduated in 1976.

After we left High school everyone went their directions and I would have lost track of everyone. These people had a profound impact on who I am. We shared some great times and some great dreams. I think we pushed each other subconsciously to be better and to dream big. We had only just begun to live, as the song goes. There were bright lights and promises. We scattered to the wind to follow our dreams. Each person touches us and our life. It is nice that we can reflect back and sometimes reach back, when our busy lives allow it, and rekindle some of those friends from long ago.

Moonshine and the Law

I come from a long line of rule breakers, so of course I became a lawyer. Yes, my grandfather and his brothers and sisters, in Pierz, Minnesota, in the 1920’s were known for making some of the finest moonshine in the country. More than once we heard stories about them having to hide from the Feds during prohibition. Well, they were German so it was excusable. What good German could get along without some beer or moonshine on a regular basis?

They were a fun bunch even into their nineties and they actually did not hide the fact that they made moonshine during prohibition. They told their stories in an almost bragging fashion. There is only one sister left now, and she will be ninety nine soon. If you would use my great uncles and aunts as a study on longevity, you would have to conclude that rule breaking and drinking moonshine equals a long and FUN life.

Moonshine still from 1920s

Moonshine still from 1920s

They told one particular story where it is said that my grandpa and great uncles, who were all in their late teens and early twenties at the time, blew out all of the windows in the house while running the still in the basement. As the story goes, my great grandma was quite angry, because they had to go to different towns and just buy one window at a time so as not to raise suspicion at any one particular mercantile store. The story in hindsight is hard to believe because everyone in Pierz, it seemed, was of German heritage and many of them were related and probably bought the moonshine from my grandpa and his brothers, so exactly who would turn them in is not known.

They lived a couple of miles outside of town on the family farm running a dairy operation. The farm is still in the family and the original house is still there, but has been worked on and kept up nicely over the years. My grandpa also claimed that at one point during prohibition, two of his brothers had warrants out for their arrest and had to hide in the back woods of the family farm, until they received word from town that the Feds had left, not being able to find them.

They were a big happy family with a strong devotion to the Catholic faith. They would never miss church on a Sunday or eat before communion, but they made brew in the bathtub and risked Federal prison. It is a funny contrast when you think about it. It seems in hindsight that they chose which rules had to be followed. It could not be that they simply disagreed with prohibition. I am sure there were many rules in the church and elsewhere that they did not agree with, but yet followed them.

It had to be something specific about Prohibition. They clearly did not recognize the Federal Government’s ability to regulate liquor. They had to have a sense that the Federal Government had no right to make Alcohol illegal. This is an interesting concept in rural America in the 1920’s. They were farmers who raised their chickens and pigs and milked the cows, and planted and harvested their crops, and they made homemade bread and sausage and they raged against the man. I love it in hindsight. They were the original Rule breakers in the family and they passed down a sense of self confidence and the ability to question authority and question the main stream. Just because it was the law did not make it right.

Through their stories they passed down the ability to think for ourselves, and to enjoy life and the pursuit of happiness. It is these qualities that are embedded not only in our fond memories of them and their stories, but in our very genes that has helped us as their grandchildren and great grandchildren to be very successful in many ways. The descendants are doctors, accountants, successful business owners, nurses, a judge, teachers and one of my most fun cousins Don Millner, became a dentist, but now owns a successful winery in Kimball Minnesota. It is interestingly named after the moonshine making family and known as the Millner Heritage Winery. It is a really fun place to visit. We went with one of our BFC’s (Best Friend Couples) a couple of years ago and had an awesome Sunday afternoon drinking wine and exchanging stories with Donny. The wine is some of the best around and he has won many awards.

Family reunions on this side of the family are a full contact sport. You really have to train for it like a marathon and possibly wear ear plugs. They are loud, and in your face fun! You cannot go to this reunion without having a great time. This is a group that still drinks moonshine, just to be nostalgic and is proud of our rule breaking, outlaw heritage. The family is now spread all over the country, but we usually come back to our roots in Pierz, every few years to continue to hand down the stories that are a part of our very nature and heritage and raise glasses in honor of our grandparents and great uncles and aunts. They all taught us the simple, but important lesson of work hard and play hard and, of course the importance of family.