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Soaring into the wild blue yonder

Otto “Woody” Anderberg will long remember Aug. 31. It’s not every day you’re treated to a lights-flashing-and-horns-blasting escort by the Hutchinson police and fire departments. The 100-year-old World War II veteran who rode in a DAV-supplied van was on his way to Butler Field for the flight of a lifetime.

Anderberg, who lives at Harmony River, a Presbyterian Homes and Services senior living community in Hutchinson, was a participant in Operation September Freedom.

Sponsored by Dream Flights, the nonprofit organization launched Operation September Freedom Dec. 7, 2020, with a mission to locate and honor as many World War II veterans as possible with free Dream Flights. The coast-to-coast national tour began Aug. 1 and runs through September. Volunteer pilots are flying six restored Boeing Stearman biplanes and stopping in towns wherever WWII veterans live to fly them 1,000 feet into the air for a 15-20 minute ride. Since 2011, Dream Flights has honored more than 4,200 seniors and veterans with biplane rides. Operation September Freedom is Dream Flights’ first tour with a mission of honoring veterans who served in a particular war.

After several speeches, the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and thunderous applause by friends and family, Anderberg was assisted into the cockpit of The Spirit of Wisconsin, a restored bright yellow 1943 Boeing Stearman biplane, which used the same engine found in Gen. George S. Patton’s tanks.

“It was pretty smooth,” he said of the experience “They hoisted me in.”

When he was asked if he talked with the pilot via the headset he wore, Anderberg answered with a quick, “No.”

“I was too busy looking around,” he said. “I was surprised by how much water there is in McLeod County, how many lakes and streams.”

Darryl Fisher, founder and president of Dream Flights, was Anderberg’s pilot during Tuesday’s flight.

“Operation September Freedom is our last chance to honor our nation’s WWII heroes for their service and sacrifice,” he said in a press release. “Wherever WWII veterans are located, we’ll find our way to their nearest airport and create a moment of magic they can relive until their last days.”

According to Marilyn Chaffee, vice president of operations and pilot for Dream Flights, the group felt a sense of urgency. WWII effectively ended on Victory over Japan Day, or V-J Day, Sept. 2, 1945. Now 66 years later, of the 16 million Americans who answered the call to serve, only about 100,000 are alive today. As a result, they chose to focus on providing flights exclusively for World War II vets through Sept. 30.

“We’re shooting for 1,000 vets in 49 states during August and September,” Chaffee said. “We’re all over the U.S. and will touch down in more than 300 cities.”

Looking back on the flight, Anderberg’s daughter, Debra Field, of Litchfield thought it was “fabulous.”

“Our whole family was thrilled for him,” she said. “I think it’s a wonderful program.”

REMEMBERING THE ARMY AIR CORPS

The Grove City farm boy enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942 during World War II. He wanted to be a pilot, but was eliminated from the program.

“I wasn’t flying by the seat of my pants,” he said. “I was told, ‘You don’t have a feel for it.’”

Anderberg didn’t go far for his next assignment as an aerial gunner instructor in Loretto, Texas; Phoenix, Arizona; and Rapid City, South Dakota. He taught soldiers how to assemble, use and repair the five .30 caliber (7.62 mm) machine guns used on the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress four-engined heavy bomber.

“They had to know how to assemble it blindfolded,” he recalled.

In an interesting twist, Anderberg recently learned that one of his students back then was the father of a fellow Harmony River resident.

During the 1940s, he said Phoenix was known as the “Hollywood of the Army Air Corps.” The moniker was earned because the movie “Thunderbirds” used the air field as a backdrop. The film was directed by William A. Wellman and starred Gene Tierney, Preston Foster and John Sutton.

“I had 100 hours piloting in the Stearman,” he said. “The last time I flew in a biplane was 1945. Piloting is more fun. We were practicing maneuvers all the time in the Air Corps. We just flew on Tuesday, no maneuvers.”

Kay Johnson / Photo courtesy of Presbyterian Homes & Services 

Following his flight, Darryl Fisher, pilot, president and founder of Dream Flights, presents Otto "Woody" Anderberg with a commemorative cap. 

After his discharge in 1946, Anderberg was appointed postmaster of Grove City by President Harry Truman. Looking for a change in his career, he later became a rural carrier.

Reflecting on his long life, he’s proud of his two children — Brian, who lives in Bloomington, and Field, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

The centenarian moved to Harmony River in December.

“I never gave living to 100 much thought and I still don’t,” he said.


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Six local anglers will compete for national spot
  • Updated

When six Litchfield area high schoolers take to Gull Lake in Brainerd this weekend, they’ll not only be vying for top rankings in the Minnesota Junior Bass State Tournament — they’ll be competing for a large club that represents more than than the typical high school sports team.

“There is a ton of support,” said 10th-grader Nick Eckhoff. “Our club is good. They include everyone. It’s just fun being part of it.”

The three pairs are all members of Litchfield Students Anglers Club as well as a league of more than 46 students of all ages from around the county that have been learning, teaching and improving together.

“We consider that the whole team,” said coach Daniel Anderson.

Joining Eckhoff this weekend is 10th-grader Gabe Laplante, the partner he qualified with at a local division tournament. They’ll be joined by partners Reegan Brummond, a junior, and Evan Holtz, a sophomore, and freshman partners Carson Brummond and Micah Mattson.

This won’t be the club’s first high-level competition. As recently as June, Brummond, Holtz, Jesse Heid and Jackson Baker participated in the Bass Federation High School National Tournament on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina. That achievement, as well as others, has given the club confidence.

“We actually just competed at the (Student Angler Tournament Trail) on Leech Lake,” Anderson said. “They got fourth place at that tournament out of 28. The three (groups) at the tournament get a combined score. They give out trophies. ... There were a lot of big schools and we did well.”

Two years ago, against 200 boats, a pair of Litchfield Student Anglers Club members took fourth place on Gull Lake. The groups competing this weekend are looking to claim one of the top two spots to reach nationals. For Eckhoff and Laplante, the opportunity comes after a long journey. They’ve been fishing together for five years.

“We started just fishing by ourselves, just me and him. And we found out about the club and joined right away,” Eckhoff said. “I’m more excited than pretty much everything else. I’ve fished the lake a few times before and I feel I’ve gotten a lot better, just this year.”

He hasn’t been alone in developing his skills. The entire league has been rallying and developing a strong base upon which to build. As long as there is a volunteer captain when needed, anglers of all ages can fish in local league activities. To make that possible, Anderson has developed a crew of volunteers who have passed background checks and agreed to safety policies. Boats are provided for those who do not have one. Then, with the help of a phone application to help track the number of fish caught and their size, the league is able to give out prizes on league nights for catch, record and release competitions.

Activities start as early as January, with DNR biologists, conservation officers and pro anglers meeting with the league to teach skills, safety and knowledge.

“We have a core here we’re trying to build,” Anderson said. “The high schoolers are teaching the junior anglers.”


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Worthy of fame: Jerry Hokkala's commitment to archery earns Hall of Fame induction

Jerry Hokkala didn’t buy his first bow and arrows until he was 40 years old.

Despite the late start, he became a highly respected — and record-breaking — participant in the sport during the next three decades. And last month, Hokkala’s stellar archery career earned him induction in the Minnesota Archery Hall of Fame.

“It’s nice recognition,” Hokkala said. “I’m super proud of this.”

Hokkala was one of seven people inducted during a ceremony Aug. 14 when more than 180 friends and family crowded into the South Haven City Hall for the ceremony.

The gathered to celebrate a career that — so far — has included:

  • 5 Minnesota Bowhunters Inc. state championships;
  • 1 Archery Shooters Association championship;
  • 2 Minnesota State NAA state championships;
  • 5 Minnesota Archers Alliance championships;
  • 64 Minnesota State Archery Association tournament championships.

And as if the various state tournament championships were not enough, Hokkala also set 39 state records, some of which still stand.

It’s an impressive resume, especially for someone who wasn’t all that sure that he had time for archery back in the late 1980s.

According to Hokkala, it was only after a close friend “bugged me” incessantly to give bow hunting a try that he finally consented to going into the field to learn about the sport.

“All I ever did was gun hunt,” Hokkala said. “But, so I finally when with him, and I was hooked. I thought, ‘I gotta do this. This is just awesome.’ And that’s how it started.”

Not long after that first experience afield, Hokkala purchased his first bow. And he sought advice on how to improve his archery skills.

“I knew that my buddy wasn’t going to teach me how to shoot real good, because he didn’t know how to do it himself,” Hokkala said with a laugh.

He went to another old friend from school, who he knew was an experienced bow hunter.

“Jerry (Sandel) introduced me to target archery,” he said. “And from there on, I got into target archery.”

Before long, he was working with Roger and Jan Eckert from Kingston — inducted into the state hall of fame four years ago — to establish an archery club in the area. They found an empty building, a former hardware store, in Kingston that they believed could be converted into an eight-lane indoor archery range.

The range, which opened in 1995, helped generate strong interest in the Kingston Archery Club, of which Hokkala was the first president. The club started slowly, with about 10 members in the early years, but as word spread, it grew to around 40. Each of the members received a key to the range, allowing them to shoot 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Hokkala said.

The club eventually lost its lease on the Kingston range after several years, so Hokkala traveled to Hutchinson or St. Cloud to hone his archery skills in the winter.

“After the first year, I told my wife, Sharon, I says, that’s too much driving just to go down and shoot,” Hokkala said. “But I said, ‘I’ve got a pole barn. It’s 40 by 60 (feet). I said, all I need to 10 feet more, and she goes, ‘OK.’”

Before long, the Hokkalas had added a 10-by-40 lean-to on the north end of their pole barn, and “I’ve got an indoor range at my house now, so club members can come over and shoot if they want,” he said.

As much as Hokkala enjoys archery himself, however, he believes it’s important to share his knowledge with others – just as his friend did those many years ago. Hokkala’s willingness to train others was a part of his hall of fame nomination package.

“I have known Jerry for almost five years and he never ceases to amaze me,” the Rev. Christian Muellerleile, pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Litchfield and one of Hokkala’s archery students, wrote in a note to the hall of fame selection committee. “He is not only the best archer I know, he is a great human being. Jerry has been very generous to share his time, talent and love of archery with me and my son. I have Jerry to thank for our family’s love for archery.”

Those words mean a lot to Hokkala. He’s eager to do whatever he can do to broaden the interest in archery.

Among projects the Kingston Archery Club undertook in its heyday in the late 1990s was cleanup of what is now Woodland Park off Minnesota Highway 15 between Dassl and Kingston. The club asked the county for permission to set up 3D archery shoots in the area of an old gravel pit the county owned. That soon grew to the club cutting trails and cleaning up the land.

“It was kind of like a dump. People would drive back in there and dump their stuff,” Hokkala said. “We said, ‘We’ll clean this up. You just get the dumpsters out her for us.’ We cleaned everything up, and it all got turned into a park. And they still let us use it for two weekends a year for our 3D hunts.”

Hokkala also offered technical assistance when Litchfield set up its outdoor archery range on the south side of Lake Ripley.

It was all part of sharing the joy of the sport, he says.

“Bow hunting is still big, not as big as it used to be. Of course, a lot of the sports aren’t like they used to be now,” Hokkala said. “Target archery numbers have gone down quite a bit though.

“I just enjoy it … there’s nothing like it,” Hokkala said. “More people should give it a try.”


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