June 20, 2023 at 2:32 p.m.
Butkowskis humbled by Riverfest grand marshal honor
Chances are, when you see Ron Butkowski, you will see Terry, his wife of 52 years. Well, maybe with the exception of when he is on a lawn mower.
It might be preparing food with other volunteers the day before a Friday fish fry at the Melrose American Legion or joking around with Sauk Centre/Melrose Golden Eagles Special Olympics athletes bowling at Melrose Bowl.
Both have been active Melrose American Legion members for more than 50 years, holding offices; Ron with Post 101 and Terry with the Auxiliary. They are also members of Schanhaar-Otte VFW Post 7050 and Auxiliary in Melrose.
Ron served on the Melrose City Council four years and on the Planning and Zoning Commission longer than that.
For their community involvement, the Butkowskis were named Melrose Riverfest grand marshals, and they will ride in the 6 p.m. parade Saturday, June 24, possibly on the American Legion/VFW float.
“Humbling,” Ron said, with Terry adding, “It’s not necessary,” about the honor June 15 sitting around a table at the American Legion before joining other volunteers getting ready for the June 16 fish fry.
Ron joined the American Legion and Melrose VFW after serving as a military occupation specialist in the U.S. Army in Berlin, Germany, from 1970-71. Growing up on farms near Freeport and Melrose, the son of Jerome and MaryAnn Butkowski, he was drafted into the military during the Vietnam War.
“There was firing going on all the time, because people were trying to get out of east Germany to get into west Germany,” he said,
Overseas, they called it “hazardous duty,” because they never knew when they would get bombed.
Willie Middendorf is Ron’s answer when asked why he joined the American Legion Post when he was discharged from the military.
“As soon as I got out, Uncle Willie gave me a slip of paper and said, ‘Sign up,’” Ron said.
So, he did.
A few months after he returned home, he married Terry Thieschafer Sept. 25, 1971. Terry was raised on a farm north of Melrose, the daughter of Joe and Marie Thieschafer.
Terry laughs when asked how they met.
“Through his sister, Shirley,” she said.
They raised four children, Sheila, Scott, Tina and Stacy, and later in life they raised four of their seven grandchildren, Rebecca “Becca,” Brandon, Brent and Tiffany, who they fondly call their “second batch.”
“It was totally different with the first batch (their children) because we were on the farm, and with the second batch we were in town, and we had to get day care,” Terry said.
They recall when each of those four grandchildren graduated from high school, three in one year, proud moments for the whole family.
Ron has been the American Legion gambling manager since 1985, doing paperwork, counting games and visiting in-town and out-of-town gambling sites, with help from Terry. His gambling duties include overseeing meat raffles and horse racing games.
He has been the Melrose Veterans Honor Guard coordinator for close to 30 years.
“I remember when the VFW and Legion had their own honor guard and now we’re blended, because we couldn’t get enough honor guard members,” he said.
Honor guard members were aging or passing away, and younger members were in short supply.
When Ron is notified an honor guard is needed after a veteran passes away, he calls Legion and VFW members.
“We go to every funeral with 15 members, a full squad,” he said.
Ron and Terry started volunteering with Special Olympics 15 years ago.
“We got involved because of Becca. She’s our athlete,” Terry said. “And Brandon, Brent and Tiffany started as unified partners, and now they are coaches and volunteers.”
Currently, Ron and Terry coordinate SO bowling, leaving the other sports to younger volunteers.
They have a soft spot for the SO athletes.
“I like the hugs and the smiles,” Terry said. “When they are bowling, if they don’t get any pins down they don’t care. They are just happy to be with other people and having a good time.”
Ron, who retired from the Melrose Post Office after 35 years, keeps busy with his lawn mowing and snow plowing business, something Terry helped with in the early years, until she started doing the bookkeeping. Now Ron has four employees who help him mow up to 37 residential and commercial lawns a week, “when there’s rain,” he said, and they clear 50 driveways of snow in the winter. Ron and his crew have also mowed and cleared snow for families of active serving military people for no charge.
“It’s the least we can do for their service and for their families while they are gone,” Ron said.
Terry used to help Donna Frank cook for events at the Melrose American Legion, and she also worked at Stearns Vet (now Leedstone) and Melrose Public Schools.
“Ya, we really have done a lot of things, when we sat down and talked about it,” she said, looking at Ron, adding, “But you still get an afternoon nap in.”
“If I don’t have to run somewhere,” Ron added.
They love life in Melrose, thankful they can visit Ron’s 96-year-old mother, who walks daily at CentraCare-Melrose Care Center, figuring that is where Ron gets his get-up-and go attitude.
“We’ve been here forever,” Terry said.
Together all those years.