PINE RIVER - The late Dennis Heemstra of Backus will never be forgotten.
Those in the days to come who learn of Heemstra will be grateful for a decision he made before he died March 3, 2007, at age 73.
Heemstra left a majority of his estate to the Pine River-Backus Dollars for Scholars program to start a Dennis Heemstra Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Harriet Travis, PR-B Dollars for Scholars president and former PR-B School Board member, said Heemstra left a substantial amount of money for the fund, which will help several students per year. Up to $15,000 in scholarships will be granted each year. She declined to disclose the amount of the donation.
Dennis Heemstra, who died in March 2007, paused for this photo several years ago at the Pine River American Legion, where he was a color guard.
Travis said scholarships will be awarded to PR-B graduating seniors pursuing an engineering degree or those who have maintained a minimum 2.75 grade-point average and are lacking financial support. Travis said the requirements were the wish of Heemstra.
The PR-B Dollars for Scholars committee will oversee the scholarship fund and determine scholarship recipients.
Mary Ann Kline of Pine River, who was Heemstra's special friend, said Heemstra wanted to start a scholarship fund to help low-income families in the area send their children to college.
Travis said when Heemstra talked to her about starting a scholarship fund he told her there were so many students who didn't even consider going to college because they didn't have the money. Travis said Heemstra had a good heart and wanted to help the students at PR-B.
"Dennis was the type of man of what Americans should be made of," said Travis. "He was the salt of the earth. He was a good person and he was sensitive to others. He never wanted to upset anyone."
Heemstra was married for 45 years until his wife, Gaylene, died in 2004. The couple had no children.
Brenda Hamilton (left), Mary Ann Kline and Harriet Travis shared stories recently on the late Dennis Heemstra at the Pine River-Backus district office. Heemstra left a majority of his estate to a PR-B Dollars for Scholars scholarship fund. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Heemstra graduated from Pine River High School in 1951 and Kline graduated in '54. They became friends a few years before Heemstra died.
"He loved to dance," said Kline. "We went to musicals and plays together and we liked to walk and watch the Twins. We had a lot in common.
"I didn't hear anybody ever say anything bad about Dennis."
Travis and Brenda Hamilton, fund secretary/treasurer and PR-B district office employee, knew Heemstra through the Pine River Body Shop, which Heemstra owned.
"My parents went to the body shop and that's where it started," said Hamilton. "I had things fixed and I'd see him at the Legion dancing. Everyone knew Dennis."
Travis admitted that she gave Heemstra a lot of business.
"In a three-year period I killed five deer and had Dennis fix my car," Travis said. "Let me just say that we really got to know each other in that time. He did good work and he always looked out for the little guy."
When Heemstra retired from the body shop, he worked at the Pine River Municipal Golf Course with Ron Jones.
"He was very meticulous with his work," said Jones. "He did things right. We went golfing years ago and he'd say he was a bad golfer, but he was an average golfer."
Ron Jones recently took a break at the Pine River Municipal Golf Course to talk about Dennis Heemstra, who died March 3, 2007. Brainerd Dispatch/Jennifer Stockinger» Purchase reprints of this photo.
Jones said he met Heemstra in 1981. Jones said Heemstra was an easygoing, good guy.
"The last time I saw him was about a month before he died when I was in Arizona," said Jones. "It was a total shock. He was healthy and active."
Jones said Heemstra was a prankster and one time a lady who lived next to the golf course asked Heemstra to plant a tree in her back yard.
"He took an old, dead tree and planted it in her yard," said Jones. "It was a joke. She always made us workers homemade cookies and after Dennis did that she gave us cookies and handed Dennis a bag of crumbled cookies. He just laughed."
Ralph Perry of Pine River remembers Heemstra's jokes well. Perry said Heemstra was his best friend and they enjoyed snowmobiling, motorcycling, fishing and hunting together, as well as tormenting each other. Perry said one time Heemstra placed a fish house on Walden Pond in Pine River with a sign that said "Bullheads for Sale," and had Perry's name and phone number on it.
"I got a lot of calls on that," said Perry. "He got me good. I was taking the fishhouse off the pond and a deputy came by and asked me if I needed help. I was scared because I didn't have my fishing license on me. A (guy) also came from Longville with a five-gallon bucket wanting to buy bullheads and I had to tell him it was a joke. He was very upset."
Perry said even though Heemstra was a prankster, he had a big heart and he was always the first person to help someone out.
"He's a beautiful person," said Perry. "I really miss him."
Perry said Heemstra got him involved in the Pine River American Legion Post No. 613 and its color guard. Heemstra served on the color guard for 40 years and Perry served about 30 years. Heemstra also was a member of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Backus, Pine River Fire Department and he served as a state fire warden for more than 35 years.
Delvin Heemstra of Cass Lake said his brother, Dennis, was a good person and a hard worker. Delvin said Dennis was the youngest in the family of three brothers and two sisters.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851.
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