Cloquet man’s storied past includes... baking!If Cloquet’s Ray Langenbrunner were ever to write an autobiography, he said he would probably have to call it fiction. “No one would ever believe me!” he admitted. Well, consider this....
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
If Cloquet’s Ray Langenbrunner were ever to write an autobiography, he said he would probably have to call it fiction.
“No one would ever believe me!” he admitted.
Well, consider this....
“When I was born, my parents were too poor to have kids,” he related with a grin, “so the neighbor lady had me! In fact, we were so poor that when a storm would come through, it would do $500 worth of
Once you catch on to Langenbrunner’s wry form of wit, however, you realize that he has quite a story to tell.
His father and mother, who married in 1922, moved to northern Minnesota after hearing a member of the Weyerhauser family sing the praises of the small river town, saying it was a community on its way up because of the growing lumber business there.
Ray, his five brothers and one sister, grew up in this area, where their father scaled logs at the Wood Conversion plant and farmed. His family homestead was located on 10 acres of land west of town, located where Carmen’s Dry Dock West now stands.
“Everybody was poor in those days,” said Langenbrunner. “We had to pump water and carry it in a bucket, and we had a wood stove to cook on and no electricity. I thought we were poor, but there was a family on Dunphey’s Corner near where we lived who was even worse off. My oldest brother had a single shot .22, and one time in the middle of winter he wanted to go rabbit hunting. It was pretty cold outside, so my brother Bill and I decided we’d better go with him. When we came back through a neighbor’s field, the woman who lived there was throwing out a bucket of water, and when she saw us, she said, ‘You kids look cold. Why don’t you come in and warm up?’ I was just a little tyke, and I said, ‘Oh, that sounds good!’ We walked in there and I couldn’t believe it – they had a dirt floor in the kitchen, and they had chickens in there and even a calf! They were getting their heat from the animals....
“They had nine kids,” he went on. “Her husband Tony worked at the paper mill and he walked from the corner near Carmen’s to the paper mill every day. One day it was real cold and he came walking along with a paper bag over his head with two holes cut in it so he could see in order to keep his head warm. He didn’t even own a hat.”
There were challenges for the Langenbrunner family as well, however. The ill-advised purchase of a farm in Barnum before they moved to Cloquet left Ray’s mother scraping out a living there while his dad lived and worked in Cloquet.
“My mom sent me up to Cloquet to cook for my dad when I was just 10 years old,” he said. “My mother kind of helped me get started, and mostly I made stuff from the garden like green beans. We always had chicken so I’d fry chicken, too. I used to make chocolate cake all the time. I just love chocolate cake. So I started baking cakes and the kids at school called me ‘Cake Man!’”
Langenbrunner’s father eventually built a tavern on their property and called it the Archway Inn, which later became known as The Museum and eventually Carmen’s. Ray and his brothers picked all the stone for the establishment’s trademark fireplace from the field behind the
“When we were hauling rocks, the guy who built the fireplace used a pulley with a bucket to lift the rocks up,” Langenbrunner recalled, “and one rolled off and hit my brother right in the head!”
Eventually, his dad lost the restaurant and went to work for a construction company in Panama and sent money home until 1944.
“My mother got a last big check from him and that was the last she ever heard of him,” said Langenbrunner. “There were five of us kids still at home at the time, and my mom raised chickens, butchered them and sold them to restaurants and other places, and that’s how she made her living.”
Ray was a sophomore in high school when he decided one Friday night to go to a dry night dance at the civic center.
“Coke was a nickel a bottle at the time,” he said. “I came home from school that day, did my chores and then asked my mom if I could have a nickel. She said, ‘What do you want a nickel for?’ and I said I wanted to go to the dry night dance and have a Coke. She said to me, ‘Ray, I don’t have a nickel.’ I said, ‘WHAT?” and she said, ‘I don’t have a nickel.’ And she didn’t...”
The following Monday, Ray went to school and instead of going to study period at 11 a.m., he ran down to the paper mill and asked if they were hiring.
“The war was on and they were hiring,” he explained. “They asked me how old I was and I told them I was 16. They asked if I was going to school, and I told them I was but that I was going to quit because my mother didn’t have a nickel and there were five of us kids. The man said, ‘Could you start work at 2:30?’ I ran three miles home and told my mother I needed a lunch because I was going to work, and she cried like a baby. I ended up quitting school over a nickel!”
That was February 1943, and Langenbrunner said he never regretted his decision.
When he turned 18 in August 1944, however, he was drafted into the Navy almost immediately. By December he was headed to boot camp in Great Lakes, Ill. He then shipped out to California, where he and his fellow shipmates sailed to Hawaii and then to Okinawa, which had just been invaded. He was assigned to an air-sea rescue unit aboard a ship called the USS Curtis, and in June they were hit by a suicide plane and lost 66 of their men.
“I was lucky there,” he recalled. “The Japanese flew the plane right into the side of the ship. Five minutes before – right where that plane came in – I had been down there looking for the master at arms. I was told he had gone up on the boat deck, so I went up there to find him and avoided being hit.”
He was in the Navy until June 1946, when he came back to Minnesota.
“It was pretty nice to get back,” he admitted. “I had met my future wife, Beverly, in late 1943, so we’d written back and forth the whole time I was away.”
After he got home, he went back to work at the paper mill and he and Beverly were married in 1948. He worked at the paper mill for 43 years and served 23 years in the Army National Guard.
“I think I’m lucky as heck because I will have been retired for 25 years this coming July,” said Langenbrunner. “There were two people I worked with who weren’t nearly so lucky. One of them was going to retire after he went on vacation, and he was hooking up his trailer and dropped dead of a heart attack. Another guy went to Florida after he retired, and one of his relatives was going to take him around to see the sights. His relative had a stroke while he was driving the car and rammed into a brick wall and my buddy got a blood clot and died, so he didn’t get far, either. I just think how lucky I am!”
Langenbrunner retired at the age of 60 in 1986, and he and his wife bought a house and 40 acres of land on the corner of Ditchbank and Mission roads near Big Lake.
“I’d worked with a guy who lived by Big Lake and he told me about a guy who had 40 acres out there for sale that were really nice,” Langenbrunner said. “I asked the owner how much he wanted for it, and he said he had four horses that he wanted to sell with it so he’d have to have $5,500 for it! My daughter was a horse lover, so she took the horses and I did a lot of farming and raised chickens and geese there.”
In 1991, Langenbrunner and his wife moved back into town and built a house on the family-owned land just south of
“We had many good years,” he reminisced. “We will have been married 63 years this July.”
They have three children – one son and two daughters – as well as six grandchildren. Their eighth great-grandchild is due later this spring.
Life began to change for the Langenbrunners three years ago, however, when Ray had to have hip surgery.
“I used to belong to the country club and then became a member at Big Lake and played in the Monday traveling league until about five years ago, when my buddies and I started playing at Floodwood,” he said. “I started to have a lot of pain in my hip, and after the surgery, I just never went back to it.”
There was something else amiss in their lives. Beverly had started showing signs of early dementia, so they sold their house in 2006 and moved into Evergreen Cottages in Cloquet. Sixteen months ago, Beverly had to move to a home for Alzheimer’s care at Plainview Estates in Scanlon.
Ray goes to visit her nearly every day.
“In 16 months, I don’t think I’ve missed 30 days total,” he said.
While life isn’t the same, Langenbrunner said it still has its saving graces.
“Baking is my big thing,” he said. “Sometimes when I come home at night, just to keep my mind off things, I’ll start baking something to take to the home the next day. I often take baked goods over to the Alzheimer’s Support Group meetings and also to the Caregiver’s Support Group meetings as well, and I bake for the church sales when they have them.
“I don’t know why, when I went in the Navy, I didn’t take up cooking, especially after I saw all the nice equipment they had aboard the ship, like steam kettles and things,” he reflected. “But when I got out and joined the Guard, one of the officers we had over for dinner one night said, ‘Bev, you made a nice meal!’ She said to him, ‘Don’t tell me – Ray made it!’ He said to me, ‘We need a cook in the Guards. What are you doing now?’ I told him I was in the motor pool, and he said, ‘You’re going to be in the mess section,’ and he saw that I got transferred there. I was mess steward for 17 years, after going to school for 10 weeks in
Today, at the age of 84, Langenbrunner said not more than two or three days go by that he doesn’t bake something. When Lil Lavoy from the local VFW approached him one night during the post’s popular Burger Night event, she said to him, “I hear you bake. How about baking a pan of bars for us for Burger Night?”
Langenbrunner took her a pan of cherry bars.
“She just about went crazy over them!” he said with a grin. “I’ve made three pans for them since then! I walked through the line one night to get my hamburger, and one woman said, ‘This is our baker!’”
One morning last week, Langenbrunner got up at 4:50 a.m. and made caramel rolls from scratch.
“I figured I had to get them made,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’m going to take two packages of them over to the home because they really like them over there. The secret is to put them in the microwave for 12 or 14 seconds and get them a little bit warm.....”
Over the Christmas holidays, Langenbrunner made more than 300 caramel rolls.
“I gave them to pretty much everyone I know around here,” he said. “It keeps me busy and my mind off what my wife is going through.”
He also likes to cook, and one of his favorites is making broccoli-cauliflower-cheese soup.
“I have a five-cubic-foot freezer in the garage, and it’s so full I can hardly get the lid closed!” he admitted. “Every time I cook something I have leftovers to put in the freezer. Last Sunday, I took one of my neighbors some of my broccoli-cauliflower-cheese soup that I had in the freezer along with some sour cream cheesecake I had made. I make a regular cheesecake, I take a cup of sour cream with a little sugar and vanilla in it, put it on top, bake it and it comes out really nice.”
Despite his life’s struggles and challenges, Langenbrunner has maintained a lively enthusiasm and a priceless sense of humor, and he manages to keep things in a healthy perspective.
“I’ve had an interesting life, I think,” he mused. “Maybe someday the good Lord in Heaven will say, ‘Well done.....’”