By Tom Murphy
Special to the Caledonia Argus
It was a 40 year love story for Linda and Jerry Hajek’s marriage and then in July, Linda died after a two-year battle with cancer.
On Saturday, Aug. 11 a benefit will be held at St. Mary’s Auditorium, Caledonia, to help offset medical expenses from the illness.
Jerry tells the story of their courtship and marriage starting in 1971. Out of the Army after being drafted and sent to Korea, Jerry followed his family here and began work for Schiltz Farms. He met Linda at Frankie’s.
“We had only been dating seriously for two to three weeks when I proposed to her,” Jerry recalled in an interview. “She paused a bit and answered, ‘Yes, let’s go and get married.’ I told her, ‘I didn’t mean right now.’ She responded, ‘I’m serious. I want to run off and elope.”
Jerry knew there was a waiting period in Minnesota, but not in his native South Dakota. He remembered there had been many Minnesota couples who had gone to Brookings, South Dakota to get married during the Vietnam War. Draft deferments were given to married men.
“‘I’ll make you a deal,’ she told me. ‘I’ll buy the gas and you buy the marriage license. It cost her $5 more than it did me and she often gave me a rough time about who got the better end of the deal,” Jerry said.
They told their families of their plans and were married on Dec. 30. “I had some worried thinking; I sure hope we are not making a mistake,” he recalled. “But the good Lord gave us over 40 years.”
“If there was one thing I learned from Linda, it was that she didn’t put things off,” Jerry said.
The Hajeks were very involved in the Caledonia community. Jerry had been Legion commander and Linda had been president of the Legion Auxiliary. They were also active in Founder’s Days. Linda was active in the United Methodist Women. She operated a daycare in her home, and Jerry was a mechanic at Ellingson Motors.
The Hajeks enjoyed many weekends of camping with their children, Dennis and Angie. The highlights were Linda’s cooking. “She put on a smorgasbord along with her famous potato salad,” Jerry remembers.
“In our family, she was called the potato salad queen,” Angie said. “She cooked from scratch, and she cooked without recipes. It was all by memory and taste.
The Hajeks moved to Jerry’s hometown of Tyndall, South Dakota, nine years ago. His father had been diagnosed with cancer and Jerry felt it important to support his parents. As it turned out, it was his father who took Linda to her treatments.
“There was a lady in Tyndall who made potato salad that was similar to Linda’s,” Jerry said. “Linda asked her to make potato salad for her funeral.” It was also at her funeral and the memorial service in Caledonia that Linda asked that birthday cake be served. “She wanted to celebrate her 60th birthday in the worst way. It would have been Aug. 26.”
Jerry collected two 1957 Chevys. He organized a car show during Founder’s Days on the Ellingson lots when he lived here. “Linda got into that, too,” Jerry said. “We went to car shows and she had two poodle skirts that she wore. One was red and the other was black, the colors of my ’57 Chevys.”
Jerry came across them the other day. He is boxing up Linda’s possessions and waiting for Dennis and Angie to come out to Tyndall and help him decide what he should keep. “I can tell you I won’t part with those two skirts.”
Linda’s struggle with cancer reached a point where she needed to be hospitalized. “She talked the doctor into letting her come home for a weekend. When the time came to return, she said she was not leaving home. I told her I did not know how I could care for her,” Jerry said.
Hospice was contacted and provided a hospital bed that was set up in the living room by the window looking out over a bean field. Jerry added a flower bed and feeders.
Dennis and Angie gave her a Yorkie Poo for Mother’s Day over four years ago. The dog did not leave the foot of her bed the entire time after she came home from the hospital. Jerry praised the care and concern of the hospice program.
Angie and Dennis were there for the last week and a half. “I don’t know what I would have done without them,” Jerry said.
“How can you thank everyone who was there for us?” he wonders. “We worked in shifts 24/7. She didn’t eat or drink anything for the last eight to nine days,” he said. “All we could do was give her morphine.”
On the last day, Jerry started his shift at 2 a.m. He visited with Linda around 5 a.m. Later, he told her he had to put up the flags on Tyndall’s Main Street. Angie’s husband, Scott, and their son, Jacob, went with him to help. “On that day, she made sure I did my patriotic thing. When I came home, I remembered to put out the flag at our home. Angie came out and told me she thought Linda had passed away. I went back inside and saw one last movement. Then she was gone.”
It was the Fourth of July.
Angie said Linda took time to write “letters to everyone” before she died. “She planned her whole funeral. She knew exactly what she wanted.”
On her last day, letters were given to her immediate family. In her letter to Angie, her final words concluded, “In your warm and loving ways, I wouldn’t trade one moment of all our memories. You are my friend and daughter through all eternity. A daughter is just a little girl who grows up to be a friend. I love you. Mom.”
“I told Linda I would organize the best benefit I could for her,” Margie Ferring said of her promise. “I got to know her through Founder’s Days and then our mutual work in daycare. She was my best friend. I talked to her every day as she grew more sick. I wanted to comfort her, but she ended up comforting me. Linda never asked, ‘why me?’ Instead, she said why not me?”
Margie said that Linda told her, “I am going to be in heaven. They say there is no pain up there.’ I miss Linda so much.”
The fundraiser begins on Saturday at St. Mary’s School. An $8 per ticket chicken-que starts at 3 p.m. All of the food is donated, so every ticket means a profit.
There is a bake sale and kids games and kids food. A live auction starts at 5 p.m. Raffle tickets are $5 each with a half hog processed for the top two prizes and five $100 prizes.
If you want to donate anything, contact Margie Ferring at 507-724-2500 or Joe Heaney at 507-459-1853. Cash donations to the Hajek Benefit may be left at Bank of the West. Matching funds are by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.