Harold Wilke a longtime ‘fixture in Kasson’
Harold Wilke has lived in Kasson since 1954 but was born in 1926 near Wasioja where he lived on a small farm with a sister, Ruth; a twin brother, Harry and another brother, Leonard. He started first grade at the school in Wasioja but when his parents moved to manage the old county poor farm between Kasson and Dodge Center, for one year he attended a different school south of Wasioja until they moved again and he finished the eighth grade at his former school.
At 14 years of age he started working for area farmers getting his board and room while doing all kinds of manual labor. He recalled one place had 48 cows that he milked by hand and machine.
Harold entered the army in 1944 at Ft. Snelling and then went to Camp Wolters near Mineral Wells, Texas for training. At one time during WWII it was the largest infantry replacement training center in the country and also served as a German P.O.W. camp.
He was sent to Germany for about 1-1/2 years and was stationed in the Hamburg area. He recalls going over on a troop ship and experiencing the rough seas from the storms while crossing the ocean. He was assigned to the engineering unit but worked in the mail room so he would deliver letters to the troops.
He mentioned he didn’t get a lot of letters from home and all the mail would be screened by the military to make sure some sensitive information would not be passed on to family members at home. He said he really didn’t have any complaints about the food his unit served.
He was discharged in 1946 with the rank of sergeant and said he never attended any reunions of his military units or kept in touch with people that he served with through the years.
He married Marilyn Stevenson in 1947, who was from the Mantorville area. They have two children, Arnie who lives in Kasson and their daughter, Janet, who lives in Owatonna. The Wilkie’s have seven grandchildren and 28 great grandchildren.
Fred Hagerman had started a blacksmith shop in Kasson in 1945 and Wilke started working with him and took it over in 1949. Wilke closed the shop in 1985.
During the first winter he got a welder and the main thing they would work on was building self-unloading chopper boxes. He also sharpened a lot of plow shares and many chopper knives, he said.
He bought a portable welder and acetylene torch and using a truck would travel to farms throughout Dodge, Olmsted and Goodhue counties to repair machinery.
After he closed his shop he worked for at McNeilus Steel doing repair work, and then was at the Durst Farm for many years doing some field work and repairing equipment until last fall.
The Wilkes lived on Mantorville Avenue for over 30 years, then at the trailer court in Kasson for 20 years before moving to Sunwood Apartment for two years and last fall to Prairie Meadows.
Harold said he never had any special hobbies but has been a member of the Mantorville VFW and the Kasson American Legion for over 60 years. He has been the commander of those organizations and cooked at many of the steak fries held at both places.
He was a 24-year member of the volunteer Kasson Fire Department and was elected in 1988 to fill a vacancy on the Dodge County Board of Commissioners and served until 2000.
He said he has sort of turned into the bionic man as he has had both knees and hips replaced and a triple bypass surgery and still keeps going!
When asked how he got the nickname “Bozo” he said “I really can’t remember why but I have been called that since I was a teenager and I don’t mind it when people call me that.”
Harold Wilke has been a friend and a “fixture” in the community for many years.