John Gary Letnes, 80, of Crookston, MN, passed away on Saturday, February 8, 2020, at Brookdale Assisted Living in Eagan, MN. He had moved to Eagen in June of 2019 to be near his son, David, and this past November became a resident of Brookdale.
Gary, as he was known to family and friends throughout his life, was born on September 22, 1939, in Halstad, MN, the son of the late John “Jack” and Vivian (Vigness) Letnes. He grew up on the family farm in Andover Township, rural Crookston, and graduated from Crookston Central High School. Gary took over the farming operation at the age of 18 after his father unexpectedly passed away. He enlisted in the North Dakota Air National Guard on April 12, 1964, and served with the 119th Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard based at Hector Field in Fargo, ND. Gary was honored as ‘Airman of the Year’ in 1969 and received his honorable discharge with the rank of SSGT on April 14, 1970. On June 4, 1966, he was united in marriage to Nancy Helen Boyer at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Beltrami, MN. The couple settled on Gary’s farm just south of Crookston where they raised their three children: Lisa, David, and Nicole in a very loving Christian home. Gary was a lifelong farmer and for many years served as a part time Polk County Sheriff’s Deputy and Chief of the Crookston Police Reserve.
Gary was a very active member of the community. He served on the Andover Township Board for over 50 years, was an officer for the Polk County Township Officers’ Association, and was a Board member of the Eldred Farmer’s Elevator, the Farmer’s Union Elevator, and the Farmer’s Union Oil Co. He also served on the Crookston School District building advisory committee, the Regional Development Commission, and the Climax Lutheran Church Council. He was an Honorary Chapter Farmer for the Future Farmers of America, a project leader for the local 4-H club, and active in the volunteer effort to restore an abandoned cemetery in Andover Township. For 50 years he had been a member of Crookston Masonic Lodge #141 and the Kem Temple Shrine. Gary was a past honoree as ‘Conservation Farmer of the Year’ and he and Nancy were presented the prestigious ‘West Polk County Farm Family of the Year’ award from the University of Minnesota.
Most of all Gary was a devoted family man. He enjoyed traveling to Branson, MO, and Hawaii with Nancy, and taking annual family vacations to Breezy Point Resort near Brainerd, MN, where he would spend endless hours pulling his children around the lake tubing and water skiing.
Gary is survived by his 3 children: Lisa Bender and husband, Tim, of Bemidji, MN, David Letnes and wife, Yolanda, of Eagan, MN, and Nicole Letnes of Seattle, WA; 3 grandchildren: Nick Bender and wife, Kayla, and Josh Bender of Bemidji, MN, and Aaron Letnes of Eagan, MN; and great-granddaughter, Harper Bender. He was preceded in death by Nancy, his beloved wife of 51 years; father, Jack Letnes; mother, Vivian Letnes Barton; stepfather, Ralph Barton; and great-grandson, Asher Bender.
The funeral service celebrating Gary’s life will be held at 11:00 am, Monday, February 17, 2020, at the Climax Lutheran Church, Climax MN with Pastor Joy Grainger, officiating. Military Honors will be provided by the North Dakota Air National Guard. Visitation will be at the Stenshoel-Houske Funeral Home in Crookston on Sunday, February 16th from 4 to 6:00 pm. A Masonic Service open to the public will be held at 5:30pm followed by a prayer service and sharing of memories at 6:00 pm. Visitation will continue at the Church for one hour prior to the funeral on Monday. Interment will be at Bergit Cemetery near Climax, MN in the Spring.