By Carol Stender
Wally Grunewald has a heart for his community and he has enjoyed living and working outdoors for most of his life.
Wally has called Erhard home for most of his 86 years, and served as it’s mayor from 1986-1994 and again from 1998-2006.
“They were still after me to run again after that,” he said.
He even filled in as a groundskeeper of sorts cutting grass for the city’s softball fields from 1986-2020.
Wally didn’t think twice about the work. It was something that needed to be done, so he did it.
He is, by his own admission, a workaholic. He’s always had two to three jobs at a time, he said.
That work ethic started on the family’s farm located about six miles southeast of Erhard. He was around 12 or 13 when he started milking cows by hand. Once electricity was connected to the farm, his father began using milking machines.
“We were really operating then,” he said.
He helped his father pick rocks, stack hay, and whatever else was needed for the farming operation.
But he took a year off to attend high school in Rothsay. He stayed with his grandparents, who lived in Rothsay during the week, and came home to the farm on weekends. But, when his father rented another 140 acres of farmland, Wally left school to help on the farm.
“I tell my wife that because of that, I don’t know anything,” he joked.
Actually, his life experiences and common knowledge have taken him quite far in life. He’s embraced learning new things and embracing adventures, especially when those adventures involved anything with the outdoors.
In his youth, Wally developed a passion for hunting and trapping. He’s not sure how it started. His father certainly didn’t have it. He recalls his father’s one (and only) hunting trips. He was using slugs. The younger Grunewald was about 13 or 14 at the time. His father took a shot and it went wide, missing whatever they were hunting at the time.
“That was the only year he hunted,” Wally said.
But he continued. As an adult, Wally often traveled with friends to hunt elk and antelope in South Dakota and Wyoming. He recalls how he missed having a trophy set of antlers on an antelope he shot. The antlers measured 15.25 inches. They needed to be 15.50 inches. He’s also hunted pheasants and ducks.
In his teens, he started trapping, earning a dime for each animal he trapped. In his first year, he earned $5.20, he said.
Wally turned to two area avid trappers, Art and Swen Swenson, for advice.
“Swen didn’t tell me nothing,” he said. “But Art was a natural. He answered my questions.”
In the beginning of his trapping adventures, Wally walked the trapline. He was about 15 when he started and, a year later, he got his first mink.
His trapline was long and, at 17, he purchased a 1941 Chevy. It cost $85, which his father helped him purchase.
“I made sure I paid him back that $85,” he said.
The trapping season was usually two weeks longer in November, ending around freeze-up, he said. He learned where to set the traps and, with his “new” car, was able to drive his route.
He got around 30 mink each year, and once caught a red fox which earned him $90.
“I should’ve had that one mounted,” he said.
Wally joined the workforce at the Pelican Rapids turkey processing plant when it opened in 1950, but he didn’t like working indoors, he said.
He hauled milk for four years, starting in 1962. It wasn’t a bulk truck used today. He was moving milk cans weighing over 100 pounds a piece, he said.
Once more, he worked with his father raising hogs the elder Grunewald had purchased at $10 apiece. With the money he earned, the younger Wally upgraded his vehicle to a 1958 Chevy.
He was a substitute bus driver in Pelican Rapids and operated the pool hall in Erhard, he said.
Then he moved to the Twin Cities to work for a tire dealer working first with the tires and then being promoted to service manager.
“But I always came back every year to trap,” he said. “I really loved to hunt.”
He really loved anything dealing with the outdoors. He belonged to the town’s sportsman’s club, and raced snowmobiles for a couple of years starting in 1974. Joined by a team of friends from Erhard, he raced throughout North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota, he said. They also enjoyed family outings with other Erhard-area snowmobile enthusiasts. Often the group would number around 30 snowmobiles traversing the countryside on wintry evenings.
Besides his ventures with snowmobiles, he also raced stock cars in Wee Town, which was located east of Fergus Falls. He recalls his son’s interest in racing and, when Terry was just 16, Grunewald signed a waiver so he could race. His son won the point championship. It was the last time the track was operational, as the next year it flooded and closed.
When he learned that Allen Haarstick was selling his cattle hauling operation back home, Wally purchased the business. He rented a house in Erhard and married his wife, Pat, in 1962. The couple had two children, Terry and Melissa.
Wally became a single parent after Pat’s death in 1976 while maintaining a busy workload.
He remarried in 1981 to his second wife, JoNelle, who also had two children, Stacy and Jim.
They had only been married for two months when Wally had a life-altering accident. He was driving a Ford pick-up hauling a 24-foot livestock trailer with cattle when two tires blew on the trailer. Wally got out of the truck and saw a vehicle headed towards him. He tried to run, but was struck and thrown several feet. One leg was nearly severed.
He was in the hospital for 30 days and, when he got a staph infection, was hospitalized for another two weeks. He had five surgeries on his leg, he said.
His son took the reins of the cattle hauling business until he suffered a ruptured appendix. Then JoNelle took over in the driver’s seat.
JoNelle had no experience driving trucks hauling large trailers, but she handled the job well.
“I had a good instructor,” she said of Grunewald.
He was laid up with his leg injury for over three years, but kept the business operating until 2005 with 39 years.
“I didn’t trap after the accident,” he said. “I had to give it up. I figure I have about 150 traps with many from when I started at about age 16. While I couldn’t trap, my son did, and he took over my trapline.”
He was able to continue hunting with some modifications, he said.
Wally walks with a limp and remains active, enjoying time outdoors to watch the wildlife and changing seasons in the community that’s always been home.