A very special Merry Christmas to Uncle Burnell
He was the son of a German immigrant and an American woman with Norwegian heritage. His father had come to the U.S. as a young man and worked on the early bonanza farms in eastern North Dakota before settling into the coal business and farming in the Turtle Lake area. He was born Dec. 27, 1929, in Underwood, and last week on Dec. 20, 2013, he was laid to rest at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery at Mandan. This was my uncle Burnell Repnow, the son of Walter and Bertha (Anderson) Repnow.
Burnell and his four brothers, Walter Jr., TeRoy, Milton and Delano, shared a close connection that was lifelong. The early years on the open prairie fashioned this, as they were dependent upon one another. When Burnell was a month old, their farmhouse was completely destroyed by fire on a cold evening in January. I recall my dad telling how grandpa immediately rounded the family and the hired girl, Thelma Bergert, and rushed them out of the burning building. They stood in the bitter coldness on the exposed prairie as they watch the flames lick away their home. Then they heard the tromp of hoofs from spirited horses upon the snow. They turned and saw coming from the north their neighbor, Rudolph Homes, with his team, sleigh and plenty of blankets, for he knew there was a baby in that house. As my father shared, “I will never forget the warm clasp of their hands as they helped us into their sleigh.”
This was an experience they never forgot, and one from which the family learned a great lesson. Although Uncle Burnell was too young to remember this dreadful night, he heard the retelling and gleaned from this that the strength of a friend is a great comfort in dispelling fear, and that from the runners of a neighbor’s sleigh can glide forth hope.
Many of our childhood experiences shape who we become as adults, and this was certainly true of Uncle Burnell. He was always willing to lend to a hand to a neighbor, friend or stranger in need. Burnell had a close connection to his mother, and she had a gift for gardening. Like her, he raised bountiful gardens and wonderful flowers – always holding in high regard the lovely hollyhock, lilac and gladiolas.
Uncle Burnell was drafted into the U. S. Army on April 11, 1951, and honorably served his country during the Korean War until March 26, 1953. He was proud to be a veteran, and his years of service – like those of many – were not often talked about. Just the other evening, I took down the scrapbook containing my parents’ wedding cards from 61 years ago. Pasted inside was an address label written by Uncle Burnell that was used to send a satin embroidered bedspread from Korea that he gave my parents for their wedding. His handwriting resembles his father’s.
Upon returning to Turtle Lake after his service duty, he enjoyed time with his family and special cousin, Irene Anderson, who has a good friend named Doris Heinle. So when Burnell gave Irene a ride to school, she suggested they swing by and offer a ride to the very attractive, brown-eyed Doris. Before long, Burnell was visiting Doris often at the cafe when she waitressed, and his sparkling blue eyes, reddish-blond hair, and wide, easy smile captured her heart. Without a doubt
the best decision Uncle Burnell ever made was to ask for her hand in marriage. On Aug. 1, 1954, they were united in marriage at the Methodist Church in Turtle Lake which was lined with flowers that were grown in Grandma’s garden.
Over time they were blessed with three daughters: Cheryl, Cristyl and Charlene. As all their daughters’ names obviously started with “C,” Burnell and Doris often expressed to me that I really should have been in their family, because I look like Burnell and my name starts with a “C.” Now how can you not love a family like that!
Each time one of my uncles has passed away, I think of the impact they have had on my life. Thank you, Uncle Burnell, for being a loving husband, father, son, uncle and grandfather. Thank you for showing me that a day’s work is a strong and rewarding foundation, and that time in the garden is always well spent. Thank you for serving our country honorably. Thank you for being active at Faith United Methodist Church with Aunt Doris. My thoughts of you loving to tinker in your garage are forever. A treasured image is one of you and your brothers enjoying one another at family gatherings. Thanks for stirring in me an interest in antiques and laughing with me. Most cherished is the time that you spent taking an interest in Lydia, and she often told us, “I like going to Burnell and Doris’ place.” You were right – there is nothing like having a girl in the house.
It is Christmas Day and the green wreaths with red ribbons have all been placed upon the graves at the serene North Dakota Veterans Cemetery. Your body has been laid to rest, but you are celebrating Christmas in heaven and someday we can visit about that, too. Merry Christmas, Uncle Burnell.