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A Tribute

New just reached me that a charming gentleman of my acquaintance from my years in Northfield died earlier this month. His obituary in the Star-Tribune is online, and coverage of his memorial service is in the online version of the Northfield News.

Bob Jacobsen was a hardcore, old school small town champion. I met him through his family store. To my everlasting shame, I met the man because I’d bounced a check at his store and was coming to the store to make it right. It was a stupid mistake on my part, nothing but a nineteen-year-old’s sloppy bookkeeping, and I was deeply embarrassed over the incident. This was small town Minnesota and Jacobsen’s was an institution. I did not want Mr. Jacobsen to think that I was irresponsible (even though I was), that I was trying to rip him off (because I surely wasn’t!) and I did not want to be one of “those people” who had their bad checks photocopied and hung over the register with a warning to cashiers “Do NOT Accept!” as I’d seen in other parts of town. I made my apologies, paid my debt, and that seemed to be that. Not only did I never get a sideways glance from the Jacobsens but they treated me like a valued customer and I did my best to live up to that gracious treatment. As he got to know me, Bob loved to kid me that my dad was “making trouble” in his role as Superintendent the wastewater department for the city, though I never was clear what kind of “trouble” precisely he saw.

The gift registry for my first wedding was at Jacobsen’s. Over the years, I bought countless, towels, umbrellas, mukluks, floor pillows, Minnesota Twins Championship sweatshirts… Even after I moved away, I would come back and shop Jacobsen’s my first opportunity. When Kate was a baby she became attached to the queen-sized blanket on my bed and would repeatedly try to drag it off my bed and around our tiny apartment with her. I couldn’t find that style of blanket anywhere but I knew Jacobsen’s would get it for me if there were still blankets to be gotten. I bought the smallest size I could get (Twin) which was still too big, and they offered to cut it down to “crib-size” for us. Going above and beyond the call of duty, the baby blankets arrived; not the one I was expecting, but two and not just cut down to size but edged in satin! It’s kind of a cheat that I’m telling this story in relation to Bob because by that time it was largely Bob’s son Rollie and his wife Shar (who, as the fabric and sundries mistress, I suspect was the one to stitch that satin edging) that I dealt with on my visits. They were gently encouraging Bob to ease out of working the store but he was dragging his heels and resisting retirement, even semi-retirement. Bob and the store were so entwined and his example that the whole family followed.

There are plenty of people who also felt moved to remember Bob and his small town, get-to-know-you, activism. Bob was a community builder. He was an example of our best impulses. He was a rare fellow and a fine person and I’m sad to know we’ve lost him.

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