In St. Paul, a legend of ‘old Rice Street’ dies

Mike Hartzell, known around Rice Street in St. Paul as “Bones,” has died.

The way people loved Bones, a homeless man, was a constant reminder of what we’re capable of.

The people and businesses around Rice Street took care of Bones.

Rice Street was the neighborhood where he grew up. Where he returned after serving during the Vietnam War, ferociously guarding his independence and refusing handouts or offers of shelter. He insisted on working for the meals he received from restaurant owners and declined to come inside on even the most frigid of nights unless there was a task to be completed.

“We kind of accepted the fact that this was his choice and he wasn’t going to have it any other way,” his sister said Sunday night. “He became a steward for the neighborhood he grew up in. Even when he was in the hospital, he couldn’t wait to get out so he could get back to his job.”

The Star Tribune’s James Walsh says Bones — nobody knows how he got the nickname — was Rice Street’s “heart and soul, its de facto caretaker who, with push broom and shears, shovels and rakes, maintained sidewalks and thresholds up and down the street for more than 40 years.”

When he turned 70 last February, the Minnesota Senate passed a resolution honoring him.

“After discharge, Bones became highly independent, caring for the North End neighborhood to the best of his ability. … He is a steward of the community, cleaning up streets and sidewalks along Rice Street and caring for the health of abandoned pets.”

“He believes the world without walls is his home and has worked hard to keep the community safe. … Bones became an iconic figure on Rice Street, and all stores in the area welcome him with respect.”

Lonetti’s Lounge, in particular, looked after Bones; and he looked after them.

He was fiercely independent. On his 70th birthday, Ron Lonetti told Walsh in a profile last year, they gave him an expensive trailer for his bike that opened into a tent. He refused to take it.

Mike had cancer, a bad heart and pneumonia.

He died on Sunday.

Plans for a memorial service have not been finalized. It’ll be somewhere on Rice Street.