Spring Valley veteran 'makes things work' through community service
Wednesday, January 06, 2010 2:39 AM
A person who serves in the military is generally one who has a deep sense of service in many other areas of life. Dale Wondrasch spent two years in the United States Army after being drafted in 1953, yet for as many years as anyone who knows him can remember, his entire life has embraced personal, community and national service.
Dale Wondrasch is shown in a photo taken at the Servicemen's Club in Spring Valley, with an American flag and bald eagle in the background.
Born the first day of October in 1932 at the Temple Nursing Home, which was located just across from the old elementary school in Spring Valley, Dale's demeanor can best be described as "charming." Son of Louis and Mahla Wondrasch, he spent his childhood living in southeastern Minnesota growing up with his sister, Elaine Sanford, who was seven years older and a sister, Shirley, who died of rheumatic fever and St. Vitus Dance when she was 8.
Together, as children, Elaine and Dale would play cards, checkers and other games and attended several area schools.
"We had a lot in common," recalls Elaine, who now lives in Washington State. "He was a cute little brother, a good little fella and never caused me any problems."
Dale spent his first two years of formal education at Wykoff Elementary, then third through sixth he attended Forestville Center. For his junior high years, he diligently studied at St. John's Lutheran School in Wykoff.
"My brother always liked to joke and have a good time," said Elaine. "However, he had a good heart, like our father, and everyone seemed to know him because he had such a nice personality. He still is a wonderful man!"
During his senior year, the head of the Wondrasch family, Dale's father, died from injuries received while cutting down a tree. Although it was a traumatic time for the family, Dale focused on his goal of finishing his fourth year at Wykoff Public High School and received his diploma in 1950.
The next couple of years were spent working for area farmers and also part-time at the Chick Hatchery in Spring Valley until he entered the U.S. Army in 1953.
Dale chuckled as he remembered, "I got a letter that said, 'your friends and neighbors would like you to report in 21 days' and I am still looking for those friends and neighbors. I still don't know who they are."
Still, Dale has positive memories about his time in the Army. "Being in the military was a great experience," said Dale. "I made it half way around the world and wasn't even in the Navy. I was in Crypto (which was top secret) and they sent me south. I was a radio and carrier teletype operator serving during the Korean War."
The day that Dale was discharged, Jan. 29, 1955, he had a three-hour K-P duty. After those two years of active service, Dale was required to remain in a six-year reserve status. "I could have been called back for the Bay of Pigs," said Dale. "But I wasn't."
Once back home, Dale returned to work at the Hatchery, the Telephone Company out of Grand Meadow, the Creamery in Wykoff, Spring Valley Coop Creamery, and eventually for Land O' Lakes where he retired from full-time work on Jan. 30, 1987. In his part-time status with Land O' Lakes in the lab and office, Dale also kept busy working part-time at the feed lot and continued keeping books for the VFW which he had begun five years earlier.
In 2000, Dale retired and he explained, "I haven't done much of anything since then. You know, I tried to work in the same building for 30 years for the creamery and Land O' Lakes." He grinned and added, "I didn't quite make it. I only worked there 29 and 1/2 years."
Dale's desire to serve began when he was a child, getting together with neighbors to harvest various fields. "We would thrash, husk corn and saw wood," commented Dale. "And I was a great chicken plucker."
"Oh, if I could have a penny for every egg I handled, I'd have 39 cents!" mused Dale. "Since my middle name is Raymond and the work I would do with chickens, folks started calling me Dr. Dale."
Over the years in the servicemen's organization called the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Dale has held almost every office, presently serving in the capacity of senior vice, a position which is second to the commander.
Commander Steve O'Connor is grateful for Dale's "reliable service to the VFW. He's always ready to help out, has a keen mind, and is just a great guy to be around."
In his years of membership, Dale has served the VFW as a trustee, senior vice, quarter master, adjutant, service officer, and commander. "There was only one year in the last 45 that I didn't have an appointed position," stated Dale.
Duane Knutson of Spring Valley, who is in the Army National Guard B-Troop 1-94 CAV, recognizes Dale's influence stating, "As an active member of the military and a member of the VFW, I notice how Dale is always concerned about servicemen's benefits and our overall welfare."
Dale is a "life" member of both the VFW and the American Legion, yet has been more actively involved with the VFW. Although the VFW is known for its ability to help bring veterans together where they can share their common ground of service to the United States as military personnel, this group of men and women are involved in many programs.
"We are more than just a social group," mentioned Dale. "We provide color guard for various activities like parades, graduations, sporting events, as well as plan and participate in the Memorial and Veterans' Day programs. The VFW presents programs for area schools, serves dinners and breakfast meals and also has an impressive honor guard for funerals "
The VFW also has sponsored, with the help of English teacher Shirley Gangstad, an essay competition called Voice of Democracy and with the Exchange Club, a magnificent Healing Field. "I was on guard with Dale a few years ago at the Healing Field," remembered Marcia Stephen of the VFW Auxiliary. "Working with Dale is like taking orders from Headquarters. You don't disagree with him. You just do your job and it turns out great. I was so impressed with his dedication especially as we worked together guarding that beautiful Healing Field."
Dale's life of service has extended over the years to the First English Lutheran Church, and he served for 12 years as the vice president for Aide for Lutherans.
Friend and fellow member of First English Lutheran Church Lester Miland of Spring Valley mentions what a nice guy Dale is and that he is really friendly.
He was a member of the Spring Valley Historical Society, Friends of Forestville, and Sportsman's Club. He has helped with Meals on Wheels and spent many hours putting up flags on light poles in Spring Valley or decorating the graves of deceased comrades in over a dozen cemeteries in the area. Many may remember that for 20 years, Dale was a volunteer fireman for Spring Valley Fire and Rescue.
Debra Smith, a Spring Valley native, who worked with Dale for 15 years at Land O' Lakes, comments, "He would be unloading a cream truck and the fire whistle would blow and Dale would take off so fast that all you could see was his hard hat spinning on the floor. He was great to work with! If you ever needed anything, he would help you out. Dale has a heart of gold!"
Almost every week, Dale can be found playing bingo either at Johnny Ringo's on Tuesday nights or at the VFW Hall on Thursday nights.
Glenn Schumann a bingo caller from Grand Meadow is a VFW member who spent 22 years in the Navy and has known Dale for many years. Schumann remarks, "If you ever ask Dale how he's doing, he says 'Wonnnderful!' He also has something good to say about everyone. We could use more Dales in this world."
Owner of Johnny Ringo's, Ray Jacobson, said, "Dale is the best ambassador a place could ever have! He talks to everyone who comes in and if he doesn't know people when they come in, he does by the time they leave."
Bob Werner agreed saying, "Dale makes everyone feel welcome saying, 'Hey there young fella!'"
Matt Rowe added, "Yes, he'll say, 'How you doing fella, you're lookin' good!"
Willy Stephen of Spring Valley who was signed up as a VFW member by Dale remarked, "Dale's the man who keeps this place (VFW) going. He likes to have fun and he can have fun doing anything."
His charming ways are noticed by the women he encounters too. A longtime friend of Dale's, Marcy Musel of Spring Valley commented about the way Dale will greet the women he meets saying, "'Hello there young lady, Where have you been all my life?' Dale was a really good dancer and would dance with all of us!"
Dale never married, even though "I came close a couple times but she said no."
Dale laughed and continued, "I figure, why make one woman miserable when you can keep most of them happy."
When his mother needed care, Dale was right there to assist her while she was at home and visited her often after she moved into the care center. Once again, he showed his great desire to serve others.
One woman who has worked with Dale at the VFW is Denise Erickson of Spring Valley. She said, "His friendliness is phenomenal and he would bend over backwards to help anyone. I took Dale to treatments for his knee rehabs and he just knows everyone. We'd walk in the Mayo Clinic and no matter what floor he'd go to, there would be someone there that he knew."
Dale will be helping the VFW and VFW Men and Women Auxiliaries serve a breakfast on Sunday, Jan. 10, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the VFW Hall.
"I want to invite everyone to join us for biscuits and gravy, French toast, pancakes, scrambled eggs and sausages with proceeds going to the cancer telethon," Dale mentioned. Most of the items needed for this breakfast are donated by local businesses.
Dale added, "Mark Cummings has been taking a good share of the leadership for this breakfast and we will be donating all proceeds to the cancer telethon."
As a veteran, Dale would like to add, "Thank you to all those involved with VFW Post 4114 for all they've done for me over the years, for allowing me to serve this community, and for putting up with me."
"I've always thought of Dale as a VFW official greeter," said Kim Merkel, a VFW Auxiliary member. "He is like the greeters at WalMart. He thanks you for all you do no matter how small it is and he makes you feel that what you did was important to the club. But he's the one who deserves the thanks! I always remember him saying, 'No matter what, we'll make it work!' and he does just that."