The patriarch of International Falls

Every now and again I come upon an obituary of someone I didn’t know, and wish I had.

John Bartkowski of International Falls died this week at age 93. He was a well-known guy in that neck of the woods; he started the Coca Cola bottling plant there, distributed Budweiser, and apparently touched hundreds of lives there.

Insight into the man was provided today by Faye Whitbeck in the International Falls Daily Journal.

My favorite anecdote was one of a man who encountered Bartkowski while he was having a teenage keg party on Bartkowski’s property:


We were having a great time at this perfect spot, with a little road to a beach,” said Davis. “Then a dump truck comes along and an old guy (seemed like it then) gets out.”

“You know, this is private property,” said Bartkowski. After a few moments, Bartkowski continued: “Well, you guys have a good time and don’t be tearing the bark off the trees.” Then Bartkowski went on his way, but offered one last quip: “That keg better be Budweiser.” (The beer he sold at the time.)

… or maybe this one is my favorite:


Ladd Kocinski said Bartkowski knew how to work hard as well as have fun. Kocinski, who is a building craftsman and instructor, remembers roofing a garage for him at his Dove Island residence. “Amelia was out of town and John told me to be there early,” said Kocinski. “Now apparently his early was different than my early.” Bartkowski gave the carpenter a lecture but softened it by concluding that “Getting chewed out is an educational experience.” It’s a quote Kocinski has never forgotten. “He was a fair man, and he always treated me well.”

Here’s his obituary, which appeared separately in the paper today.

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