Willard Arthur Brunelle, 89, of Crookston, MN, passed away Friday morning, March 13, 2020, at the Villa St. Vincent, comforted by his loving family who were at his side.
JoAnn Brunelle and her family have made a decision to postpone the Funeral Mass and Visitation for Willard Brunelle to a later date due to concerns for the COVID 19 pandemic and sincerely hope that everyone remains safe.
Willard was born on his parent’s farm near Crookston on December 19, 1930, the son of Joseph and Melvina (Brule) Brunelle. He was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith and began his education at the Louisville Township country school also attended by his father before him, and his son, Mike, after him. Willard would later graduate from the Northwest School of Agriculture in Crookston with the Class of 1949. He then began farming with his father, making it a 3rd generation farm. Willard was united in marriage to the love of his life, JoAnn St. Marie, on April 14, 1952 at Red Lake Falls, MN. He enlisted in the US Air Force on November 18, 1952 and received his basic training at Parks AFB in Alameda County, CA before being transferred to Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, TX. JoAnn was able to join him there and later at George AFB in Victorville, CA. In November of 1953 Willard was sent to Korea in support of the 13th Fighter Squadron during the Korean War. He returned 18 months later to the Sioux City Air Base in Iowa with JoAnn once again able to join him. For his service to his country a grateful nation awarded him the National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, and Good Conduct Medal. Willard was honorably discharged from the Air Force on March 17, 1957, and he and JoAnn returned to the farm with their newborn son, Mike. Willard resumed farming until his retirement.
Willard was very active in leadership positions with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Crookston, and previously at St. Dorothy’s Catholic Church in Dorothy. He had served on the boards of several organizations throughout the years including St. John’s Hospital in Red Lake Falls, Crookston Cenex, Polk County Corrections Center, Red River Basin Planning, Huot Dam Fact Finding and Bridge Committees; helping veterans and their families of the Iraq War through the Family Readiness Group and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Organization; and the list goes on. He and JoAnn were honored with the Farmer and Homemaker Award from the Red River Valley Development Association. Willard received the “Top Aggie” NWSA Alumni Award presented by the University of Minnesota-Crookston, and was a past recipient of the Veteran’s Recognition Award as part of Crookston’s Ox Cart Days celebration. Several years ago when the agricultural community suffered great losses due to the economy of that time, Willard became instrumental in providing his fellow lovers of the land with assistance, guidance, and emotional support in dealing with the hardships and difficult decisions they had to make. He founded, chaired, and otherwise provided boundless energy to a myriad of associations and programs created to advocate for solutions to the serious problems faced by the farmers of northwest Minnesota and throughout the entire country. He was featured in the book “Breaking Hard Ground”, a Time Magazine article, and was on ABC’s Night Line with Ted Koppel regarding his work with fellow farm families. He continued with this mission almost to his last breath as his strength and health were leaving him.
The lighter side of Willard was characterized by his enjoyment of the unofficial title of ‘The Mayor of Huot’; going out on his land trapping gophers; mowing the lawn; and assisting JoAnn with their famous Christmas light show. He was ‘Chairman and Chief Inspector’ of all buildings and landscaping on the farm, and covered many, many miles on his golf cart making sure everything was in its place.
Willard was devoted to JoAnn, and their family, including several foster children they parented. He was extremely proud of all their many accomplishments and loved being at the center of what could best be described as controlled pandemonium.
Willard is very lovingly survived by JoAnn, his beloved wife and soul-mate of nearly 68 years; their 6 children: Michael and Kelly Brunelle of Rogers, MN, Mary and Will Simmons of Princeton, MN, Pam and Bill Sullivan of Crookston, MN, Diana Hermreck of Grand Forks, ND, Danny Brunelle of Crookston, and foster daughter, Carol and Rick Altepeter of Brainerd, MN; 23 grandchildren; 34 great-grandchildren; sister, Leona Gary of Bemidji, MN; JoAnn’s siblings; and many nieces, nephews, other relatives, and a host of friends. He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Melvina Brunelle; sister and brother-in-law, Elaine and Lyle Desrosier; brother-in-law, Roland Gary; and parents-in-law, Joseph and Dulice St. Marie, and Clarence Davis. Blessed be the memory of Willard Arthur Brunelle.