Obit: an ‘uncanny ability to simply make people love him’

Arvid Dalby of Debs, Minn., north of Bemidji, is the sort of guy you wish you’d known, and we know that because his family and/or friends have written pretty near the perfect obituary, featured here in our continuing series on the subject.

Funeral services are being held Friday. His obituary appears in the Bemidji Pioneer.

Appropriately, he had a good, long life.


Arvid Mathias Dalby, lutefisk connoisseur, lefsa purist, obsessive lawn mower, and loving grandfather, died Sunday, February 17, 2019, surrounded by family and supported by the extraordinary care team at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

Funeral services will be 2:00 p.m., Friday, February 22, 2019 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Debs with Pastor Mike Naylor officiating. Visitation will be one hour prior to the service at the church. Interment will be in the spring in Trinity Lutheran Cemetery, Debs. Arrangements were entrusted to the Olson-Schwartz Funeral Home & Cremation Service, Bemidji.

For a while there, Arvid (and his family) thought he had “a good shot” at breaking the record for oldest-ever member of his beloved Debs community. But we imagine he’s now tipping his flannel hunter’s cap in heaven to his good friend and reigning longevity queen, Lillian Helgeson.

Arvid was a man who knew who he was, where he came from, and that there was no point whatsoever in putting on airs. He chopped his own firewood until he was well into his 80’s, was everybody’s favorite host during deer hunting season, a blatant walleye snob, an enthusiastic four-wheeler, an immovable object when faced with doing something he didn’t want to do, and was unashamed of loving the color pink.

But his real talent was his uncanny ability to simply make people love him. Arvid spent his life surrounded by people of all generations who appreciated his deadpan wit and droll one-liners, tolerated his weak coffee, and–there’s no other way to say this–always ended up wanting to do nice things with him and for him.

Arvid was born in a log house on the family farm in Debs, Minnesota on October 7, 1920, the eldest of five siblings. His family taught him that even depression-era difficulties could be overcome with a sense of humor, a solid work ethic, and a community that thrived on music, barn dances, and the comfort of Trinity Lutheran Church. By 1942, after a bout of wanderlust, Arvid and his two best friends, Al and Carl, found themselves in California, where they enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Arvid served in the Pacific, on the USS Nassau and USS Wasp (CV-18) until the end of WWII.

In his quiet way, Arvid always marched to his own drumbeat. He adored B.B. King, Pete Fountain, and Bruce Springsteen, but always kept a soft spot in his heart for the musical stylings of Lawrence Welk. He hated being the center of attention but was thrilled when his daughters or grandchildren were. He did the laundry with unparalleled passion and precision, frequently inviting people to “come over and bring your dirty clothes.” And unlike most of us, Arvid adored hospitals.

He spent his 34-year career as an X-ray technician at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fargo, ND, where he cultivated many decades-long friendships. That’s also where he met Clarella Bennett, whom he married in 1954. Together, they raised three daughters, planted many gardens, enjoyed countless camping and fishing trips, traveled through England and Scotland, and built their dream home on the same land where he was born. It is not lost on his family that he died on the eve of his planned discharge from the hospital, an act which can only be perceived as a final protest.

You probably can’t get to 98 without being supremely goal-oriented, loved by many, and deeply appreciative of the people around you. Arvid was all of those things. A multi-layered man with an endless supply of funny stories and a few surprises stashed along the way, he taught us to always face forward, no matter what.

Arvid was preceded in death by his parents, Alfred and Anna Dalby, sisters Marie Tucker and Arlene Randklev, brothers Melvin Dalby and Raymond Dalby, and son Bruce Stenlund. He is survived by his daughters Nancy (Gary) Frankel, Beth Dalby, and Cheryl Dalby, grandchildren Anna (Jeff) Mitchel, Clare Frankel, Olivia Dalby, Ella Dalby, and Matthias Dalby, loyal friend and true family man Marc Martinez, cherished friend and helper Heidi Syverson, and many, many friends and relatives.

A next chapter without Arvid in it feels almost impossible to read, let alone write. But, in moments like this, maybe “all we can do” is what he would do: pour another cup of coffee, take a deep breath, and “just don’t give up.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials go to the Senior Meals program (26823 Debs Rd NW, Pinewood, MN, 56676), or Trinity Lutheran Church (26685 Debs Rd NW, Pinewood MN 56676), or another charitable cause.

(h/t: @heidi_naps)