No place like home

Last June, my wife and I had the distinct privilege of escorting Frontier Days parade marshals Dutch and Joyce Huseman down Central Avenue to begin the weekend’s ceremonial festivities.

I’d always known Dutch loved Fort Dodge. His eyes lit up every time we talked about the Dodgers, or the school, or just the town in general. In fact, I always felt better about this community after a conversation with him – one of Dutch’s true gifts.

What I didn’t fully appreciate until that Saturday morning was how much the city loved the Husemans back. The cheers and shouts of “Dutch!” “Joyce!” “Mr. Huseman!” and “Mrs. Huseman!” came from every direction. I felt like we were driving celebrities through a legion of adoring fans. Which, in a way, was entirely accurate.

I happened to turn at one point during the middle of it all and catch the look in Dutch’s eye. If a 92-year-old man could be nostalgic, proud, hopeful and full of sheer bliss all in the same moment, this was it. He was smiling and laughing effortlessly, while trying not to cry. Pointing and waving and saying to Joyce – ‘mom,’ as he called her – ”can you believe this?” and ”what a day!” over and over again.

This was a celebration without question, but also, a fitting farewell of sorts from the community Dutch and Joyce spent nearly six decades supporting unconditionally.

When I received a text from Bill Huseman that Dutch had died peacefully early Thursday morning, my mind immediately raced back to that moment. Much like the Fort Dodge Senior High Hall of Fame induction ceremony honoring Dutch in 2014, it was an important – even necessary – public tribute.

In the last five years alone, I’ve had the unique opportunity to retell the stories of Floyd Magnusson, Bob Brown, Jerry Patterson, Sherwyn Thorson and Huseman both before and after they passed away. All were iconic men who took different paths to relative levels of greatness in their personal and professional lives.

Their connection – both to me and to each other – came through sports, of course. More importantly, though, they shared a loyalty and commitment to Fort Dodge that withstood the test of time. I know there were bigger and better opportunities beckoning as the years passed. And I’m sure, at certain points, the grass appeared to be greener elsewhere.

Like most older communities, we are losing many pillars of yesteryear. And it’s not just the well-known, public figures like Floyd, Bob, Jerry, Sherwyn and Dutch. Countless World War IIers and baby boomers not only made Fort Dodge their home, but also, helped give it a very distinct heart and soul.

Dutch and I talked at great length last April about the changes and challenges our town is facing. The discussion started with athletics, but spilled over into everyday life. I was being cautiously optimistic about our future, though I let a few cynical comments slip every once in a while.

Dutch stopped me, smiled and reminded me that Fort Dodge is a very special place that will always attract very special people. I believe it to be true, but sometimes, we need a reminder. Our greatest advantage – as we were taught – will be always be our dedication to each other.

We must beckon that trademark sense of optimism to preserve the legacy of our parents and grandparents. We can do it. Remember, Dutch wouldn’t have it any other way.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net