JOHN CECIL KROONTJE was born on February 22, 1941 to Susie (Tilstra) and Wilbur Kroontje on the farm near Rock Rapids, Iowa. He attended country school near Rock Rapids, Iowa, and then moved with his family to Magnolia, Minnesota where he attended school through the eighth grade. He began farming on his own before being drafted into the military service in 1964. He was honorably discharged in 1965 after being hospitalized with malaria. He married Rachel Baker on December 22, 1964, in the Edgerton, Minnesota, Christian Reformed Church. He left for basic training the next day. When he returned, he and Rachel farmed a short time near Magnolia and then moved in 1969 with their two small daughters, Lisa and Lori, to their own farming operation near Kenneth, Minnesota where they lived out their 54 years of marriage. Their family grew to include three more girls, Linda, Lana and Lavelle.
On Monday, August 3, 2020, John died at his home at the age of 79 years, 5 months, and 11 days. He closed his eyes Sunday night after a blessed weekend outdoors at the farm with all his daughters.
For spending most of his adult life with only an eighth-grade education, John compensated by reading voraciously - subscribing to several newspapers and magazines and closely following politics on the world and national stage. He continued his education with ag vocational courses and proudly (and effortlessly) acquired his GED in his retirement. John had an innate talent for mechanics, which lent well to his survival and adaptation on the farm. On a budget, he prided himself on machinery purchased at a steal that he would then repair and use. Most of his daughters’ first cars were acquired this way, and their own memories include helping dad replace engines, transmissions or other ailing mechanism in order for them to gain driving independence. His girls were also the first among their peers to experience video games, because their dad would shop the Radio Shack discount/discard aisle for the latest tinker challenge to master at home. His family learned to trust and appreciate John’s gifts for fixing things, but Rachel affectionately described her perpetual battle for open countertops that quickly became workbenches for many projects.
John was deeply religious and loved his church family. He and Rachel were members of the Bethel Reformed Church in Leota where they served 10 years as youth group leaders, and were in the church choir and on other boards and committees. John loved to talk, and he never met a stranger. His favorite topics were his family, farming and politics, and his Kenneth coffee group can attest to his “gift of gab.”
As he grew older, he spoke more frequently of his experiences in basic training and as an Army infantryman in Vietnam where he was a radio operator amid the chaotic jungle warfare. He was proud of his service, while at the same time acutely aware of the political turmoil surrounding the U.S. involvement in that conflict.
John was very musical with a near perfect pitch, which he put to use with several instruments. He taught himself to play the trumpet, accordion, harmonica and guitar, and instilled a love of music in his children and grandchildren. His daughters’ earliest memories of their dad include the sound of his booming voice harmonizing with hymns in church, the car radio and with vinyl records at home. His album collection included Johnny Cash, the Gaitlyn Brothers, Oakridge boys and other classics of the 1970s. In his later years, he accompanied family Christmas gatherings on his harmonica to the group singing of “Away in the Manger” and “Jesus Loves Me” to celebrate Christ’s birthday.
John is lovingly remembered by his five daughters, Lisa and Byron Pals of Pipestone, Minnesota, Lori and Matthew Sorenson of rural Garretson, South Dakota, Linda Rice of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Lana and Glen Grabill of Jackson, Minnesota, and Lavelle and Dave Bobrowsky of Cass Lake, Minnesota; 13 grandchildren, Cassandra Pals (Jordan Hulstein), Taylor and Brittany Pals, Sawyer Pals (Brooklyn Judstra), Jonathan Ehde, Carson Ehde, Alexx Sorenson, Timothy Cordell, Ashley Rice, Gary Grabill, Leslie (Grabill) and Sean Willaby, Katie (Grabill) Clark, Cody Grabill, and David Bobrowsky; 23 great-grandchildren; two siblings, Gerrit (Harriet) Kroontje of Leota, Minnesota and Dorothy Ricehill of Luverne, Minnesota; a sister-in-law, Esther Baker of Rock Valley, Iowa; many nieces and nephews; and many other relatives and dear friends. He was preceded in death by his parents; his loving wife, Rachel; siblings, Willie Kroontje, Katherine Vastenhout, and Marvin Kroontje; and son-in-law, Eric Rice.
He and Rachel will be laid to rest at a later date with a private burial of cremains.