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The People's Voice: Cletus Terveer’s labor of life

The next time the name Cletus Terveer appears in the paper, it’s likely going to be one of those good-news-bad-news-type deals.

See, like so many of you, he tends to look at page A4 first. After we chatted for about an hour Wednesday afternoon, the longtime Rock Falls resident asked where inside the newspaper this column would appear.

“Most likely A3,” I told him.

“Isn’t that where you put the dead people?” he asked.

When I told him he was thinking of A4, he said: “Oh yeah. I always read that first, to make sure my name isn’t in there. The day it is, I’m not going into work.”

If he was being truthful, he’d tell you that he loves to work. The way you and I might love putting our feet up and watching a sitcom or, say, listening to a podcast.

Click here to listen to a podcast of the interview with Cletus Terveer

He’d have to love it to keep doing what he’s doing. At age 90, he still fires up the snowblower every time we get a couple of inches of the fluffy stuff and clears it for about 10 clients. Once it melts and doesn’t return for the year, he’ll do yard work for those same folks.

I can see him going through that seasonal transition at least 10 more times, putting him in the century club. Whenever the “wolf comes to the door,” as Cletus puts it, what a life it will have been. Forrest Gump would say Cletus has been a lot of places. Done a lot of things.

But after growing up in southern Minnesota, one of 14 children, and serving in the Navy in World War II, he’s dropped anchor in Rock Falls for some time – since 1957, to be exact. It’s there that he was a janitor for 32 years at St. Andrew Catholic Grade School and was known as Mr. Terveer to kids … and then those kids’ kids.

He’s got a ton of stories, naturally. And he shared many of them in our conversation, which you can hear in the latest People’s Voice podcast. I think you’ll find the one about the saw blade that nearly tore his arm off particularly fascinating. The resulting stiff wrist – which he’s still dealing with 77 years later – also afforded him a pass on serving his country, which he promptly turned down.

WARNING: It might be one of the lengthier podcasts I’ll produce, but it’s worth a listen from open to close. Ninety years, folks. Not easy to contain to less than half an hour.

We talked a lot about how generations have changed, and how accountability seems to be in meager supply. Albeit briefly, we yapped about the industrial plight of small-town America. We were equally brief in discussing the two wives he has outlived and his new partner in crime, Maxine, and their adventures at the casino.

We even talked a little sports. Of course we did. Among the athletes in the family tree are his great-grandnephews Nate and Lucas Terveer, whom I’ve had the privilege of covering during my time in the sports department.

But a few things we discussed resonated louder than others. First off: the love he shares with his family. He’s got seven kids, almost 20 grandkids, plenty of great-grandkids, and even a great-great-grandkid. Like any good blue-collar, hard-working man, he is quick to express his love for his family, but has a hard time coming up with what his legacy will be.

His grandson – and my neighbor – Andy was quick to jump in on that one.

“We all got our love of the family from him,” he said. “I mean, there’s more than 50 of us, and we all get together for Christmas every year right over here at St. Andrew.”

Another thing that rattled between my ribs was Cletus’ love for his country, and the way it has trickled down through the trunk of the Terveer family tree. What makes a tree like that one so special is the way the branches revere the patriarch. You should have seen the look Andy and Mark – during Andy’s birthday get-together Saturday night – shared before suggesting I speak with Cletus for this column.

“It is nice to know that we can publicly express our pride and love for that man,” Andy texted me later Wednesday evening.

While I alluded to Cletus’ sense of humor, you’ll need to listen to the podcast to grasp how it’s still quick as a whip and unmistakably, delightfully Midwestern.

But ultimately, I was taken by – as his son Mark echoed – how I would give anything to be that healthy, happy and productive in 56 years.

In the meantime, I look forward to firing up the grill this spring and hearing some more stories.

No need to bring the lawnmower, Cletus. I’ll take care of it before you arrive.

Even if you’d likely do a better job.

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