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Donald Herman Handahl, age 99, passed away peacefully 12/19/2023 at Bethesda Grand. Don’s celebration of life is Saturday, 2/17/2024, starting with a private, family only interment. All are welcome to attend a fellowship hour from 10:30am until 11:30am at Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar, MN. Don’s celebration of life service begins at 11:30am followed by lunch in the fellowship hall. Don’s service will be live streamed on Vinje’s YouTube page, http://youtube.com/live/tHoS7op3lD0?feature=share.
Don’s life story began in Elmore, MN, the son of Herman and Gertrude Handahl. Raised in a one room farmhouse, having dirt floors with no running water or electricity, his humble beginnings are clear. As an only child, his chores included tending to his ponies, livestock and working in the fields.
Education was a priority for Don. After graduating Elmore High School in 1941, he then graduated Mankato Commercial College the following year. Don enlisted in the US Navy in November, 1942. His acquired business skills led to being handpicked for radioman training at University of Idaho. He served in the Navy Intelligence Unit at Pearl Harbor during World War II, intercepting and copying Japanese coded messages. He was honorably discharged in February 1946. Thereafter, he enrolled at St. Olaf College, majoring in economics, graduating in 1949. His St. Olaf experience was highlighted by meeting, Joann Estrem in 1948, his loving wife of almost 60 years.
Don and Joann were united in marriage in Murdock, on June 24, 1950. They resided in Willmar, raising a family, sons Mark, Ross, and twin daughters, Heidi and Holly. A summer cabin was later purchased on Lake Florida where wonderful family memories were made. Don and Joann ultimately retired at Rice Estates in Spicer and wintered at their home in Sun City Grand, AZ.
Immediately after college, Don started employment at Farmers Produce Company, now known as Jennie-O Turkey Store. Hired as an accountant, he held various roles leading to Executive Vice President in the early 1970s. Simultaneously, he was Director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, serving as President from 1980-1981. Don was the recipient of the “MTGA Ranelius Award” in 2001 signifying leadership and dedication in promoting the turkey industry. After 52 years of service in the turkey industry and at Jennie-O, Don retired in 2002. Those that worked alongside him, from the growers, to the plant, to leadership both local and national, will remember Don for his honesty, integrity, for being an excellent listener, and never forgetting a name.
In addition to raising a family and furthering his career, Don prioritized the city and community that he loved, Willmar, by holding assorted leadership positions including having served on, and later Chairman of Rice Memorial Hospital Board, Co-Founder and Director of Rice Health Foundation Board, Director for Willmar Chamber of Commerce, and was instrumental in the early development of Willmar Community College.
Don loved the Lord, lived by his example, and was the oldest living member of Vinje Lutheran Church at his passing. He served in many capacities including church council, Sunday School teacher, usher, cemetery oversight, fundraising committees, and call committee. He faithfully attended the men’s Bible study group and looked forward to the lutefisk dinner every Christmas season.
Don’s leadership abilities extended beyond the boardroom and onto the fairway, serving as a Director of Willmar Golf Club from 1978-84. He could be seen regularly at Willmar Golf Club, Little Crow Country Club, and into his 90’s at Valley Golf Course.
Don is survived by his daughters, Heidi Anderson of Nashville, TN and Holly (and Scott) Ricker of Stuart, FL, daughters-in-law, Sheila Handahl of Onalaska, WI and Marcia Handahl of St. Cloud. Also surviving are 9 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. His legacy, spirit, and loving ways will live on through his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Don was preceded in death by his parents, wife, Joann, sons, Mark and Ross Handahl, grandson, Carl Anderson, three brothers, and recently deceased special friend, Mona Welker.
Memorial gifts are sincerely appreciated and may be directed to the following causes dear to Don; his home church, a search for the cure for AHC in support of his great granddaughter Lainey, and the Wounded Warrior Project in honor of grandson Carl.
Vinje Lutheran Church- https://secure.myvanco.com/L-Z2DC/home
AHCF (Alternating Hemiplegia of Childhood Foundation)- www.ahckids.org
Wounded Warrior Project- www.woundedwarrior.org