Dick Blanding lived a full life
Detroit Lakes has lost a local legend with some of the deepest roots in town.
Richard “Dick” Blanding died Friday at Ecumen-Emmanuel Nursing Home. He was 93 years old.
The loss of Blanding is being felt throughout the community, as he was known among family and friends as a man who loved Becker County more than anybody they knew.
Born in Detroit Lakes on Jan. 21, 1920, Blanding and his older brother, Henry, were heirs to the Blanding business. The two of them owned and ran the family’s historical Blanding Department store for several years before it closed down in 1979.
Although he was known around the county as a businessman, Blanding took his locally famous name and made a name for himself as well.
“He served in just about every service organization imaginable,” said Blanding’s nephew, Don Blanding, who still lives in Detroit Lakes. “He was a gentleman, a dedicated family man, and an environmentalist before the term was popular.”
In a July 2012 interview with the Detroit Lakes Newspapers, Blanding said it wasn’t always easy being born into a well-known family.
“Some people thought I was born with a golden spoon in my mouth,” he said in that interview, “but I worked for 25 cents an hour, six days a week and one night.”
He says he worked hard to prove himself and to improve his community.
His mother, Ruth Eddy Blanding, was the high school principal and according to Dick, a “very smart lady.” His father, Henry Dix Blanding, Sr., was a well-known businessman who taught Dick the ropes.
His list of accomplishments is long. He was captain of the 1937 Detroit Lakes football team while playing in basketball and track.
He earned a BBA degree from the University of Minnesota where he was also president of the Theta Chi Fraternity.
When World War II hit, Blanding once again stood up to serve.
But poor eyesight kept Private Blanding stateside. “They said if I lost my glasses I wouldn’t be able to even find my gun, so I didn’t have any hardship,” he said, adding that he left with a captain’s insignia and a girl.
During his time in the service he decided to propose to a woman he had met in college — a med tech from Cedar Falls, Iowa, named Thielma Jean Bairnson.
“I proposed to her where the Long Bridge resort is … there were no buildings there at the time, and that’s where we’d go to spoon,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye.
The couple went on to build a family of three daughters — Georganne, Barbara and Carol.
“Dad worked six days a week at the family store, so Sunday was the day for play,” said Carol (Blanding) Pagels. “After church, no matter what the weather, he would take the whole family out to play.” For the family, winter meant cross-country skiing or sledding, spring was tree-planting, summer was sailing or swimming, and fall was partridge hunting.
“He shared a love of the outdoors that we all still embrace,” she added.
Blanding, who may have had the kind of work ethic that would help his business thrive, also had quite a love for play — and Becker County was his big playground.
“He truly loved the town and loved the land,” said Don Blanding, “He went camping, hiking, fishing, hunting … he would go winter camping where he’d stay out there by the lake all night in a tent and not think a thing of it.”
In fact, he made one of his best friends when he went into his dentist’s office in 1966 looking for somebody to go fishing with him.
He asked a couple of guys he knew in the office before one of them volunteered the dentist — Tom Fritz.
“He says, ‘Tom will go with ya’, and I looked at him (Blanding), and he looked at me, and I could tell it wasn’t the answer he was looking for,” laughed Fritz, who only knew who Blanding was from the store.
“And he was like — ‘uh, ya, alright’, I think he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, but he took me out and introduced me to night fishing on Island Lake,” said Fritz, laughing at the memory.
The two would share many more fish stories together over the next four decades. Stories, laughs and conversation for hours. Fritz says time always flew when he was talking to Blanding, who seemed to know everything and everybody in Becker County.
“The first time I went into his store, I bought a winter jacket for $80,” said Fritz, “and Dick says, ‘You know Fritz, I like you. You know why?’ And I said, “Because I just bought an $80 jacket from you?’ and he said, ‘No. Because I think you really love Becker County.’ And I did.”
Blanding showed that love through service in organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Country Club Board; He was president of the Library Board, Chairman of the Becker County Republican Party, president of the Detroit Lakes Industrial and Development Corporation, board member of the Itasca State Park Advisory Board, president of the Detroit Lakes Rotary, president of the Detroit Lakes Camping Club, Sunday School teacher, helped with Meals on Wheels and was board member of the Becker County Historical Society.
“He was one of my first calls when we were looking for information on photographs and people from the early 20th century,” said Becker County Historical Society Director Amy Degerstrom, “because if he didn’t know them directly he knew of them from his father or grandfather so we certainly lost a big link to that part of our history.”
The man known for his array of “cool hats” and generous nature left a little piece of history behind him as well — a log cabin on Rock Lake that he built with his own two hands when he was 60-years-old. It remained a source of pride and enjoyment for him throughout his golden years.
He says he loved roaming the trails out by his cabin where he loved planting trees, and in his last years he had photos of it proudly displayed in his room at Madison Assisted Living in Detroit Lakes.
He said looking back on his long life, he had no regrets and was proud of his career, his family and his time in Becker County.
“Life is like a river,” he said. “Some people get in and are able to drift down with the current and nothing bad ever really happens; then the next boat comes, and those people end up fighting the current and everything wrong happens to them —same river. I was lucky; I went down with the current. I’ve had a very good life.”
There will be a memorial for Dick Blanding in the spring when the weather is a little warmer and just right to plant another tree.
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