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ELDER RECOGNITION: Robert Jack

By Joe Moreno

Write for the LCO News


Robert Jack, a name that may first have been aired in Stone Lake in 1957, where and when this soft-spoken elder was born. Having had a rough start in life, he stayed on the LCO Reservation until the tender age of 9 when his mother unfortunately passed away. After the death of his mother, he found himself being shuffled through different foster homes until the fourth or fifth one when he found himself in a Boys Home in Eau Claire. In the Eau Claire Boys Home, he found himself working for the DNR at a rate of $1.60 an hour, which he did in the summertime for two years through a school program.

Of the variety of jobs that were involved in the school program, Robert Jack describes a few of the following: “One job they would have us do was sand down this big ole boat to get it ready for painting. Another job they had us do was making fish beds, do you know what fish beds are? They took 2 x4’s, and they would pound logs into the creek beds, then they would put the 2 x 4’s over that and they’d nail that to the logs under water and we’d score fish, fish beds they called them. Other duties included putting up wire fences, barbed wire, that’s a tricky job.”

After having been in Eau Claire for a couple of years, he was then transferred to Minong where he remained for five years until he turned 19. After turning 19, he acquired a job at Lake Brothers which was a large chain back then.

As Robert explained: “Wolf and Frances Lake owned it and he gave me a job up there at the store because he hired me first to cut his grass on a riding lawn mower that broke down like three times, he had a big yard. So he got tired of it and asked me if I wanted a job at the store so I said ‘Sure’.” Robert Jack remained with them throughout his high school years, after which he moved to Minneapolis.

“I moved down to Minneapolis, stayed and started a family down there. Lived there a couple of years then my Wife, Kids, and I moved up to Stacey, Minnesota. Yeah, we stayed there four or five years, then we moved back down to Minneapolis,” Robert said.

What made you go to Minnesota? “That’s where the rest of the family was. I found out after I graduated that everybody was there.”

Then as if change weren’t enough, he once again moved, but this time back to the LCO Reservation: “In 1993, I moved back up here and got a job at the casino when they opened the new lodge, I got a job over there. I started off in the laundry room, that’s when it was all brand new. I worked in the laundry for about six months, then they promoted me to Head Supervisor of Housekeeping, then I worked that spot for almost twenty-four years. Yeah, I liked it.”

He goes on to further explain his experiences at the casino, “Then after Covid 19, they laid me off but they called me back to work. I was in Maintenance at the time, and they switched me to Security, cut my wages and I couldn’t live off of $12 an hour. So, a friend of mine told me that Jack Link’s was hiring, so I got a job over there and worked there for two years. I retired last year. This month will be a year for me in retirement.”

How’s that going for you? “ Ahhh….”

Got more time than you know what to do with? “Yeah, yep, for sure!”

As a means to pass the time, Robert states he enjoys baking.

“Thanksgiving and Christmas, I make pies for the family. Apple, blueberry, cherry, yeah, I do that for the family. I love baking, I made two banana breads just before I got here, they’re still cooling off. When I was living in the Cities I went to cooking school and I think that's where I started all my baking because the Chef there had you do all kinds of cooking and baking. I made a seven-layer wedding cake for my brother when he got married. I did good there, then the Chef there got me a job at a place called Rainbow Cafe on Hennepin Ave. Yeah, I worked there for maybe about a year.”

Another one of his pass times and acquired skills is that of carpentry. “I got tired of cooking so I went to carpentry school for a while, I finished that course, that was through a Native Program in Minneapolis I went through, and after I graduated there, I got a job working on my own. I was working for this one guy who owned all these apartment buildings. I’d go in there, paint, whatever needed to be done; brace doors, I did a couple of floors for him, carpet, but I had to give it up ‘cause of carpal tunnel; couldn’t hold tools anymore. Back in ‘93 I moved back to the rez and have been here ever since.”

One will notice after having spoken to Robert Jack about his hobbies, skills and pass times, that no conversation with him would be complete without mention of his grand and great grandbabies as he states with a certain noticeable pride….

“I’ve a couple of grandkids that been to New York, and I’ve never been to New York.”

So you have grandkids that have been to more places than you have?

“Heck yeah!”

How many grandchildren do you have?

“Between the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, we count at 19, yep, all together, and the youngest one now is a year old. They've been to Vegas, Hawaii, I’ve never been there. I wanna go to Hawaii and visit the Arizona Memorial, yeah, that’s one place I’d like to go.”

Robert shared about his service that he went to sign up when they had the draft.

“I went to go sign up that day and the guy said ‘you don’t have to, draft is over’, so I said ok. I was nineteen then. I always regretted not going in though. I had a sister, Chris, she worked at Honeywell, I wanna say thirty-four years, and she told us she lied about her age when she got in there. She told them she was eighteen, but she was only sixteen. So she got away with it for two years, no one found out. By that time, she was already an adult, she retired from there.”

Robert said nowadays he’s just sitting home and deals with some woodwork. He said he recently refurbished a dresser for one of his granddaughters.

So do you regret retiring?

“Yeah, I mean, the check you get from retirement isn’t enough to pay the bills. Each month after I pay all the bills off, I’ve got a little over a hundred left.”

Then you can’t even go to the Casino, ey?

“No, I gave up on Casino, I can’t win out there. Haven’t been out there in like seven months. I go to Bingo a lot though, it’s cheaper than the Casino. I actually win at Bingo once in a while.”

Robert said he lived by the lake in Reserve till he was nine, at the time where the sixteen plex is, there used to be a sawmill.

“We used to go climb that building and jump off into the saw dust pile. Then that place where they go swimming, there used to be a store up there,” Robert shared.

Robert said he didn’t have a lot of fond memories of the Rez until after moving back in 1993.

“After I moved back up here, I moved in with my brother and his wife for about six months or so before I got my own place, then after that, my kids all started moving up here. Now they all live up here. The house I have now, I wasn’t supposed to get, some other guy was supposed to get it, but he didn’t want it. The house I was assigned was the one he wanted, so I was asked to switch and I said ‘yeah’. The one I moved into was brand new, never lived in. The only thing is, it didn’t have a stove or refrigerator and it took them two weeks for them to get me one. I’ve been there going on twenty-five years now, over on Ishkwandem.”

 

Who were your friends back in the day?

“Back in the Rez when I was a kid? We hung around with Richard Red Eagle, we used to call him “Red Dog”, Brucie Miller, Donna Miller, Janet Miller. These were some of my friends before I moved off the rez at age 9. Hung around some of the Coon boys. There’s a few other ones, but after I left, we just lost contact.”

 

What did you love most about growing up on the Rez?

“Hmmm, well, at the time being with the family, and my mom was alive. Then we had our house down by the lake. The house I remember originally, the first house, you know that road coming down from New Post? N or NN is it? There used to be a big yellow house down there. That used to be our house until it burnt down.”

Robert said he recalls going to St. Francis as a kid and there were lots of other kids to play with. He also recalled Sister Felissa and her yardstick. He attended St. Francis till he was in third grade, then switched to Hayward till seventh grade. He spent a year in Eau Claire in foster homes, then in Minong where he was till twelfth grade.

After school when he moved to the Cities, he began working at a machine shop making lawnmower parts.

“I operated one of those big lathes, I made the driveshafts for some of the riders they do. Then when I lived in Stacey I worked at the bird seed company, it’s called Barzon’s, yeah, I worked there maybe three years. All we did was stand and fill bags with bird seed all night long. I was on second shift and they used to start from three to eleven, then they made it six to six, that was a long shift. Then one day we just got back from lunch, working on the line, this is in the middle of winter it’s like below zero outside and we all started sweating when the supervisor came running in and started saying ‘THE BUILDING”S ON FIRE!!!’ Right above us was a big seed bin that picked up the seed and dumped it up there. A bearing got stuck and the belt kept spinning, overheated and caught fire. That place was smoldering for like four days. They had those big rolls of plastic, yeah, there was all kinds of plastic in there.”

Robert shared he was most inspired in life by his science teacher in high school, Mr. Harper, because he always made him think you could do anything you want.

“I remember him, he used to have a rubber hose. He’d stand by the door and sometimes when you walked in, he’d crack you with it. Although he taught Science, he always lectured about life and stuff like that.”

Robert shared one of his fondest memories while working at the casino was working at the lodge when Loretta Lynn had her concert.

“I was walking down the hall, checking around at the time when she came out of the room, I didn’t even recognize her. She asked me if I could get her some extra towels and I said sure. Then another woman came running up saying ‘Mrs. Lynn!!!’. I didn’t recognize her cause she was in a robe and her hair was all down. Pretty cool.”

Robert said he suffered some tough losses through the years, such as losing his mother when he was nine, at which time he ended up in foster homes. After starting his own family he lost his 3-year old daughter in a house fire while living in Stacey, MN. A couple years ago he lost his oldest sister and his brother, Dave. He said twelve years ago he lost his nephew.

Robert shared he has a younger brother, John, and a younger sister, Margarrette, He has three older sisters, Mary, Christine and Francis and an older brother, Fred.

“I also make crosses for the family graves,” Robert said. “When I do mine, I burn it into the wood, of course every summer I go back down there and put a new coat of stain on them.”

Robert shared his best hobby in high school was building model ships, along with cars and airplanes. He said he built the USS Constitution a couple of times.

In another fond memory, Robert shared he had a chance to go to Santa Fe New Mexico because he won a drawing contest, but never went though. He said he always regretted that.

“One fond memory when I lived in Stacey, kids were going to school then my oldest daughter was sitting at the table, drawing and I think I was working on a model, and I asked her what she was doing and she explained to me that she had to draw a picture of a tree for class. I said ‘well, that looks like a popsicle stick.’ So, I told her ahead and go to bed, I’ll draw you a tree, so I drew a tree with the whole farm background, and she took it to school. Couple of days later she came home with a box full of candy bars. That picture I drew for her won first place.”

 

Do you still participate in those hobbies, or do you have new ones?

“All I do now is carpentry and baking. I don’t think I have the eyesight for that fine work anymore.”

 

What’s the one thing you’ve learned over the years at LCO?

“I know that when you need help, the Elderly Center helps out a lot. There are places where I’ve asked for help and got turned down. I applied at the commods shop three times, and they turned me down each time. They always said I make too much, then one time I asked them what was too much and they said I went over by a dollar.”

What advice would you share with the young ones of today?

“Don’t trust everybody, yep, don’t trust everybody and stop putting family information on Facebook all the time, you see it all the time.”

Robert shared that he is in a current family crisis right now as of the writing of this article. He has a son in Duluth, St. Mary’s Hospital. He came down with an upper respiratory infection and the Doctors said it was set off by a virus, where your immune system is attacking your nervous system.

Robert explained, “When he started off, he said his fingers were numb and tingly. Then it got so bad he couldn’t even feel anything. Now he’s in intensive care while they keep him sedated. Then last week they told him he had pneumonia on top of that, along with sepsis. Medication cleared that one away, and now they’re just trying to work with him. He has a tube down his throat, and the Doctors are hoping they can pull it out sometime this week, cause he’s getting all kinds of viral build up, they have to clean it out twice a day. Doctor said he did squeeze his hand Sunday, so that’s a good sign.”

Robert said his son has been in the hospital for a month. The doctor said he’d probably be in a year of therapy unless a miracle happens.

So, it comes to be with great sadness due to Robert Jack’s family members' medical condition, that we find ourselves closing this interview. We wish nothing less than God Speed to his family member during his recovery and his well-being thereafter.

If there’s one thing Robert Jack has taught us, it’s that no matter how great a difficulty one might initially have in life, one can overcome all with education and dedication, something this soft-spoken elder, great grandfather of 19 has demonstrated to us with his life's experiences and wisdom.

We wholeheartedly thank Mr. Robert Jack for his outlook, insight and perspective into life, as this is one thing that can only be done best by an Elder. Thank you once again Robert!

 

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