John W. Berquist (1946-2016)
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Posted by: Shannon K. Larson
John W. Berquist, folklorist, musician, and storyteller, passed away on May 12, 2016. His obituary, which was originally published in the Duluth News Tribune, is available below or at http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/obituaries/4033863-john-w-berquist.
John W. Berquist, 69, of Fayal Township, Eveleth, Minn. died May 12, 2016, at home surrounded by his family.
He was born and raised in Eveleth, graduating from Eveleth High School in 1964.
He trained in cultural geography at Macalester College and the University of Minnesota. As a young man, he was actively involved in the West Bank folk music scene of the 1960s and '70s; he later went on several tours of Europe, street singing, playing in bars and then in concerts with the String Band. He returned to the Iron Range where he formed the Moose Wallow Ramblers in the mid-1970s and wrote the local hit, "I Like It in Duluth."
John's passion was the cultural heritage of the Range, especially the oral history and music of the immigrant groups from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He delivered historical and musical programs in State Parks, libraries and community centers throughout Minnesota; was a field worker for the Smithsonian, helping to bring a group of Finnish Americans from Palo to the Washington D.C. Festival of American Folklife in 1980. Along with Alex Hietala and others, he played Finnish American music in Alexander's Old Time Band. He worked as a folklife specialist, helping to organize Ethnic Days at Ironworld (now Minnesota Discovery Center) in Chisholm and was the host of KAXE's Jackpine Jamboree, a traveling live radio program nominated for an award by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. His handcrafted maple syrup won blue ribbons at the St. Louis County Fair for several years.
In 1983, he married Carol Hepokoski. They lived for two years in St. Paul, where John served as the Folk Arts Coordinator for the Minnesota State Arts Board. Returning to the Iron Range, he and Carol co-parented two sons, Andy and Jonah. John often said that the most important thing he did during the years when his children were small was to hold them and rock them to sleep.
When Carol's work moved them to the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago, John worked as a story teller and musician in after-school programs and in senior centers throughout Chicago. During those years, he formed the band The South Side Swedes, sang with the Chicago Swedish Male Chorus, was active in the Chicago Local of the Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW "Wobblies") and created handcrafted wild green wreaths that he sold at the annual Christmas Mart of the Swedish Museum in the Andersonville neighborhood.
In more recent years, he lived in Rochester, Minn. where he worked for a time with the Diversity Council and volunteered with the annual World Fest, showcasing Rochester's many ethnic cultures. He also served as the Director of the Saint Paul Swedish Male Chorus, the oldest continuous performing Swedish Male Chorus in the United States, was active in the Sons of Norway, and played with The Nodding Wild Onions.
John was a scholar of Iron Range history, as well as Finnish American, Slovenian Button Accordion, lumberjack and union musical traditions. He was active in the storytelling communities in Chicago and Minnesota. He'll be remembered for his sense of humor, including his telling of Ole and Lena jokes.
A year ago, John was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He and Carol retired back to their cabin south of Eveleth on Long Lake. Memorial donations can be made to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Mesabi Unitarian Universalist Church, Faithful Fools Ministry in San Francisco or organization of donor's choice.
John was preceded in death by his parents, Olaf and Daisy (Andersen) Berquist.
He is survived by his wife, the Rev. Dr. Carol Hepokoski; his sons, Andy (Margaret) Rosequist, Boston, and Jonah Berquist, San Francisco; brother Robert (Sally) Berquist, Duluth, Minn.; brother-in-law Henry Hepokoski, Menahga, Minn.; nieces, nephews, and cousins in Minnesota, Michigan and Norway; as well as many beloved colleagues and friends.
Visitation: 1 p.m until the 2 pm Memorial Service on Thursday, May 19 at Range Funeral Home, Virginia. Luncheon following at Mesabi Unitarian Universalist Church, 230 South 7th St., Virginia. Arrangements are with Range Funeral Home in Virginia. To sign the online guest book or to send condolences, please visit http://www.rangefuneralhomes.com/fh/obituaries/obituary.cfm?o_id=3721307&fh_id=13766.
A celebration of John's life in music and story is being planned for early August.
"John Berquist," http://www.johnberquist.com/index.htm