Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In loving memory of Buck Burkhartzmeyer January 8, 2022

Donald “Buck” Burkhartzmeyer. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home)

HE WAS AMONG the most caring individuals I’ve ever met. He being Donald Burkhartzmeyer, “Buck” to those of us who considered him a friend.

Buck died unexpectedly on Thursday, January 6, at the Faribault hospital. He was 97.

A life-long Faribault resident, he made a major impact on this community. Not in a splashy, attention-calling way, but rather in the simplicity of a kind and generous soul who lived his Christian faith. He was soft-spoken, gentle, giving. Always smiling. I expect many stories will emerge in the coming days about Buck’s acts of love. I have my own to share. But first a little background.

Early in the pandemic, inspirational Scripture was posted in the windows of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)

A MAN OF FAITH & FAMILY

Buck was first and foremost a man of great faith. He faithfully attended my church, Trinity Lutheran, where he welcomed me to Faribault nearly 40 years ago. Buck was an unofficial community ambassador, showing newcomers around town. He made me feel comfortable as a new bride living in a new place. His example of devotion to God and service to others proved inspirational. He was involved in church and in many community organizations.

He was, too, a family man—husband of Delilah (she preceded him in death), father of four, a grandfather. Friend to many.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes anchors a corner in downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

BURKHARTZMEYER SHOES

After WW II, he joined his brothers, Alvin (Al) and Walter (Putts) in operating Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. He is the last surviving brother. Their parents, Ferdie and Martha, started the business with a shoe repair and harness shop opened in the late 1930s. The Burkhartzmeyers grew the family shoe business, now with third-generation owners, Brian (Buck’s son) and Bruce (Al’s son). And, yes, the store still includes a repair shop.

Buck specialized in fitting and modifying shoes as a certified pedorthist. Now Brian continues that tradition of offering corrective footwear to meet the needs of customers. Their services are well-known, and not just locally. Inside the shoe repair shop hangs a framed thank you letter from Twins baseball great and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. Buck, who enjoyed Minnesota sports and played basketball while in the Navy, assisted many an athlete with their shoe needs. Helping the everyday person, though, meant just as much to Buck.

Through the decades, our family purchased footwear from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. Work boots. Snow boots. Tennis shoes. Dress and casual shoes. Kids shoes. This is the type of shoe store where owners and/or employees measure your feet, slip your feet into shoes/boots, watch you walk, push on toe ends to check fit, adjust sizes as needed. Every effort is made to get a good and comfortable fit. Buck remembered people’s shoe sizes. Burkhartzmeyer Shoes excels in customer service.

I purchased these snow boots at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)

GENEROSITY, FROM CANDY TO SHOES

Buck excelled in goodness and kindness, too. In 2004, the year my eldest daughter graduated from high school, he told her to come down to the store before she left for college. He wanted to give Amber a complimentary pair of tennis shoes. Why? Amber had applied for a scholarship from the Faribault High School Class of 1942, but was not awarded the monies. Buck, who served on the scholarship committee, felt so bad that he decided to give her a new pair of shoes. I’ll always remember the moment we walked into Burkhartzmeyer Shoes to find Buck waiting. He fit Amber with a new pair of shoes and wished her well at Winona State University. That was Buck. Generous. I expect many others in this community can share stories of shoes given to them.

He gave away more than shoes. Buck also handed out red licorice sticks to children after Sunday morning church services. He pulled the candy from his suit coat pocket and slipped it into little hands.

HIS MINISTRY

But perhaps the selfless and loving spirit of Buck is best shown in his many visits with those living in nursing homes. Daily he visited his mother, Martha, at St. Lucas Care Center. She died in 2005 at the age of 107. What a loving son. And husband. Later, when his wife, Delilah, moved into St. Lucas, he visited her daily also. And many others. Endless elders whom he remembered and uplifted with his visits. Employees at Faribault’s east side Kwik Trip, where Buck often stopped after those visits, knew him well.

MORE MEMORIES

A number of years back, Randy and I, as part of our bible study’s Christmas outreach ministry, stopped at Buck’s house to deliver a basket of fresh fruit. I remember sitting in his sprawling living room engaged in conversation. I don’t recall what we discussed. But to be in Buck’s presence was to feel uplifted. And joyful.

There’s one more thing Buck did—and I expect he did this for others, too. Whenever an article about me published in the Faribault Daily News, he laminated a copy and stuck it in my church mailbox. That tells you something. He recognized my accomplishments as a writer and wanted me to understand how much he valued me and my God-given gifts.

Today I mourn the loss of this incredibly kind and generous man who showed such love to me and my family. I expect many in this community can say the same. We are all the better for having known Buck. He touched many lives with his gentleness of spirit and will be forever cherished.

TELL ME: If you have a memory or story about Buck, please feel free to share. Click here to read comments about Buck posted on the Burkhartzmeyer Shoes Facebook page.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home website

 

Honoring the legacy of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes through film October 20, 2017

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes opened in 1949, starting first as a shoe and harness repair shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

ON A STREET CORNER in downtown Faribault, local icon Burkhartzmeyer Shoes still stands strong after nearly 70 years in business. That’s remarkable really considering the many chain and other shoe sources in today’s marketplace.

But the family members running this business through three generations also rate as remarkable, assuring its success. I know first-hand as I’ve shopped for foot wear at Burkhartzmeyer since moving to this community 35 years ago. I brought my kids here, too, leaving with shoes or boots tucked inside boxes tied with cotton string and an added bonus sucker.

 

Boots purchased at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes last year and ready for another Minnesota winter.

 

Burkhartzmeyer owners and employees understand the importance of great customer service—measuring feet, fitting shoes properly and always always treating each consumer with welcoming respect and kindness. Like a friend.

I know these shoe people—second-generation owner Buck; third-generation owners Bruce and Brian; and current and former employees Lanny, Dee, Sharon, Larry and Kaylyn. They greet me by name, ask about my family, form relationships that connect me to them and this place.

 

High school students and filmmakers Logan Ledman, left, and Samuel Temple. Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

Buck and cousins Bruce and Brian emphasize their warm relationships with customers and more in a recently-released film about the Burkhartzmeyer family legacy produced by area teens Samuel Temple and Logan Ledman. This also remarkable pair craft “1855: A Faribault History Series on FCTV.” Via research and interviews, they present insights into local businesses, people and places that broaden my appreciation for Faribault.

Samuel and Logan nailed it in their Burkhartzmeyer film, taking the viewer through the progression of the family business starting with original owners Ferdie and Martha Burkhartzmeyer to second-generation owners, brothers Al, Putz and Buck, to current owners, Bruce and Brian. While the longevity impresses, the stories impress even more.

 

I pulled this shoe box from my closet with the Burkhartzmeyer Shoes label attached.

 

A common thread of hard work, adaptability and outstanding customer service—the business also offers shoe repair and pedorthics services—weaves through the storyline. But so does the kindness. Brian, son of the only remaining third-generation owner, honors his father, Buck, with these words: “He has the gift of caregiving…and kindness.” Specifically, Brian references his dad’s visits to care center residents, including family matriarch Martha, who died weeks short of 108 years. Buck still makes these daily visits, now to friends.

My family, too, experienced Burkhartzmeyer kindness, in 2004. At the time, Buck’s Faribault High School class awarded a scholarship to a graduating high school senior. When my eldest daughter didn’t receive the scholarship, Buck felt so bad he asked her to stop by the store for a new pair of athletic shoes. He wanted her to have good shoes when she left for college. Buck was there waiting, fitting my daughter’s feet. I’ll always remember that kind and caring gift to my family.

 

Al Burkhartzmeyer, known locally as “Mr. Downtown” for his welcoming spirit in the community (especially downtown), was instrumental in getting this historic 1915 clock restored on the Security State Bank Building. Following Al’s 2012 death, significant memorial monies were directed toward the restoration in a project undertaken by the local Rotary.  A devoted Rotarian, Al was once honored for 50 years of never missing a Rotary meeting. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect many others can share similar stories about the Burkhartzmeyers. They are a generous family, rooted in faith and hard work and a strong sense of community. They have swept floors, stocked shelves, put shoes away, measured feet. Through their care and compassion, they have made Faribault a better place and us, their customers, better people.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a similar long-standing business in your community that offers quality products and outstanding customer service?

FYI: Click here to watch the 1855 film on Burkhartzmeyer Shoes.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling