By Sue Webber
Saturday mornings you’ll find a group of men gathered at a round table at the Robbinsdale Historical Society. All are there because they have a strong connection with the city, but chances are that many or most of them are also veterans.
Rollie Heywood has lived in New Hope since 1970, but he has vivid memories of growing up in Robbinsdale from the age of 8 and graduating from Robbinsdale High School in 1949. “We got a real education in the Robbinsdale Schools,” Heywood said.
“I had such a great time growing up in Robbinsdale,” he said. “I started working for a taxicab company when I was 15. I took flying and driving lessons at the same time, though I couldn’t get a pilot’s license because I suffered from chronic asthma. I played in the high school band and the Robbinsdale City Band. I’ve had fun all my life.
“Before I went in the service, I hung around a body shop and built a hot rod. I drove in the first race at New Brighton speedway on Memorial Day 1951.”
Heywood enlisted in the U.S. Army a week later, on June 6, 1951, and served as a high-speed radio operator in the 8th Army Radio Company in 1952-53, stationed in Korea. Heywood was the first person on either side of his family to serve in the military.
“I was part of a radio teletype team that was assigned to the Korean Army,” Heywood said. “I spent a winter in a tent in North Korea eating rations.”
“They were doing farming from the 18th century then,” he said. They used oxen and wooden plows. It was really primitive over there, almost stone age stuff.”
When he returned to the United States, Heywood worked as a radio operator for the Minnesota Highway Patrol, and went to electronics school to learn how to fix TV sets. “The old TV sets had lots of parts that needed to be changed or fixed,” said Heywood, who also worked at Cedar Engineers.
“I had a couple years of college in political science,” Heywood said. “It was more political than science. Now I go to University of Minnesota astrophysics lectures. I’m interested in the stars and sun and astronomy.”
Heywood and his wife, married in 1955, have three children, two grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Much of his time is spent working as webmaster at the Robbinsdale Historical Society, digitizing photographs. “When I walk in that door, I’m 20 years old again,” said Heywood, who labels himself the Society’s “resident curmudgeon.”
The Robbinsdale Historical Society is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Friday and Saturday at 4915 42nd Ave. N.
“We’ve got a great website,” he said. “We have 250 members and we’re getting stuff from all over the country.”
“Guys my age lived through the worst and the best times,” Heywood said.
Gerald Therrien is one of two other recent Historical Society attendees who reminisced about growing up in Robbinsdale. Therrien, who now lives in Brooklyn Park, served in the U.S. Army for two years and the Naval Reserve for five years, from 1961-67.
“I went in because of the Cuban Crisis, and I got out just as Vietnam got going,” Therrien said.
Following the service, he worked as an electrician until he retired.
He and his wife have three sons and four granddaughters.
Doug Blumb, who grew up on the north side of Minneapolis, lived in Crystal and now lives in Robbinsdale. He served in the Marine Corps, stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Blumb’s lifelong career was in the grocery business, as head of the produce department at the Twin Cities’ 52 Country Club Markets. He retired in 1991.
Widowed for nine years, Blumb has three children and seven grandchildren. His daughter, Lisa Jacobson is on the Brooklyn Park City Council. Her husband, John Jacobson, is the sports director at Cable Channel 12.
A lot of reminiscing and story-telling goes on at the Historical Society every Friday morning. As one attendee jokingly put it, “We solve all the world’s problems and create three more.”
Heywood is credited with bringing in the coffee pots that provide necessary fuel for the meetings.
“It’s been a real bear to get new members here,” Blumb said. Old-timers visit often, including former City Councilmember Wally Johnson. “Vern Gagne even came once in a while,” Heywood said.
According to Heywood, “The thing that held us together was the school system. The school district then went clear out to Hamel.”
Blumb agreed. “We moved here to get a good education for our kids,” he said. “My wife grew up on 42nd Avenue North, across the street from Jerry Therrian.”
Replied Heywood, “I grew up in the next block.”
Therrian recalls his mother shopping at Blumb’s stores. “She shopped Robbinsdale all the time,” he said. And he recalls the boys in the Dover family, all of whom eventually became pilots, babysitting with him when he was 2 or 3 years old.
Heywood remembers the Dover family well. “Irving worked as a gas boy and was a starter at the airport,” he said.