Remembering Don Soderquist: hard worker and fun

by Eric Hagen
Staff Writer

Don Soderquist had many stories to tell. So many that for his 72nd birthday, his children contracted the services of a writer to sit down with Soderquist and capture these stories in a book.

Don Soderquist in his 50s. This is the main photo used in an autobiography that he helped write in 1995. Photo courtesy of Lorraine Soderquist

So even though he recently died at the age of 88, the memory of Don Soderquist will live on in the pages of his autobiography and the memories of those who knew him.

The book title, “What a Great Life!,” is fitting. Soderquist worked in, owned and passed along to his children a family business his father and uncle had owned since the 1920s. He served with the 414th Army Engineers in the Pacific during World War II. He was a member of the Ham Lake VFW.

Soderquist was a charter member of both the Ham Lake Fire Department and Ham Lake Lions Club. He was involved in the formation of the Soderville Athletic Association.

He served on the board of directors of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church for 12 years. When the church finished a new structure in 1964, he was a leader in making sure the old church built in 1874 remained. It is now on the preservation list for the National Historical Society.

Soderquist and his wife Lorraine visited almost every continent in the world. They had four children, five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and many other family members who were important parts of Soderquist’s life.

It was Soderquist’s nature to be involved in the community, his friends and family said.

“He was built that way. He wanted to help wherever he could,” said Paul Buccholz, who knew Soderquist for about 70 years.

In his autobiography, Soderquist said that in his retirement, he is happiest when he has something to do. When he and Lorraine were in Minnesota, he continued to work at the grocery store a couple of days a week helping out his children Mark Soderquist and Cheryl Wall, who bought the store in 1985.

Even when he and his wife were at their home in Bonita Springs, Fla., for seven months out of the year, Soderquist worked at a golf course and a Publix grocery store.

The family has done such a good job that the business was inducted into the Minnesota Grocers Association Hall of Fame in 2007. Soderquist served as president of the Minnesota Food Retailers Association in 1976 and 1977 and he was president of the Minnesota Supermarket Research Council in 1978.

When introducing his father as a Minnesota Grocers Hall of Fame inductee in 2007, Mark Soderquist said, “My sister, Cheryl Wall, reflects that one thing that stands out about Don is his great attitude and love of life. He always taught us that we have the power to decide what kind of day it will be when we get up in the morning — it’s all a matter of our own attitude.”

Soderquist was always happy and fun to be with, said lifelong friend Doc Wisen. Soderquist was a dedicated person and had principles, according to Wisen.

Wisen and Soderquist did many things together. They were both charter members of the Ham Lake Lions Club. Every morning about 10 to 20 people would meet at the cafe next to the grocery store “to solve all the world’s problems,” Wisen said.

Soderquist and Wisen went hunting, fishing and golfing. They were in a Model A car club that took trips to Amish country in Iowa and to Dearborn, Mich.

They played poker after the store closed every Friday night from the end of deer hunting season through Easter, except when Christmas fell on a Friday. They would only bet nickels and dimes. One evening, a deputy friend performed a fake raid, which was quite a surprise to everyone.

It was also in Soderquist’s nature to truly care about the people in his life. Don Wilson, former commander of the Don Hansen VFW in Ham Lake, described Soderquist as a “gregarious, fun-loving sort of person who was always willing to lend a helping hand to people.”

Wilson recalled childhood memories of seeing Soderquist bagging groceries and stocking shelves. Even though he owned the store, he treated employees like extended family members and helped out wherever he could. He also loved to visit with the members of the community.

“We never left without having a piece of candy. Don would see to that,” Wilson said.

During the Christmas holiday seasons, there were many years when the general store would haul boxes of apples to Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church to give out to the Sunday School children. Other times, the store would ground up meat for sandwiches and bring them to the nearby Soderville Field to feed the players.

Don and Lorraine Soderquist shared these stories during a May 2009 interview with the Anoka County Union.

There are many employees who worked decades for the Soderquist family at the grocery store. Darrel Roseland worked there for over 50 years. Cindy Erickson and Bob Grant both have over 30 years of experience with Soderquist’s Market.

Grant said Soderquist was an all-around great guy.

“We worked hard, but we had a lot of fun,” Grant said.

When asked what is was about Soderquist’s personality that led to him being so involved, Lorraine Soderquist replied, “He liked people.”

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church was overflowing with people for the Feb. 6 visitation and memorial service. Lorraine Soderquist said over 300 people signed the registration book and she said many people probably could not get to the book to sign in. Former employees and friends, some who Lorraine has not seen for over 30 years, came to pay their respects.

“Everything about him was the community and this store,” she said. He was two years old when the family moved to Ham Lake, so he was essentially a lifelong resident of the community.

The general store

Soderquist’s uncles Bill and Gunnard Soderquist started Central Garage at the corner of County Road 18 and old Central Avenue in 1924. The next year, Central Avenue was graded and graveled and Soderquist’s uncle Iver Soderquist started the Soderville General Store, which would eventually sell groceries, feed, appliances, clothes, Allis-Chalmers tractors and ice blocks.

In 1926, a tornado took the roof off the general store and ruined all the inventory, Soderquist wrote in his autobiography. Iver offered Sodeerquist’s father Albert a partnership in the general store ownership in exchange for Albert’s Model T car and $200 cash.

The business has never left the Soderquist family ownership.

Soderquist helped in the store while he was growing up. After World War II, he worked full-time in the store. Don and Lorraine Soderquist bought the store in the early 1960s.

In his autobiography, Soderquist talked about his memories of the store when he was a child. In the early years, they had to move items away from the outer walls to keep them from freezing during the winter. The lights were powered by 12 big batteries and a Delco generator because there was no electricity. He remembered going out to Lake Netta in the dead of winter to harvest ice chunks with a band saw, powered by an old gasoline engine. He wrote that it was an art to not chisel the ice too much so they had enough to stand on.

Some local farmers would come to the store during the summer to purchase an ice chunk and strap it to the bumper of their Model A or Model T car. They would stop by the Wiggle Inn for a beer, come outside to see their ice had melted and would have to go back to the store to buy another ice chunk before heading home. Customers wrote their grocery lists, but shopkeepers would pick out the items for them.

The general store would deliver groceries if they were already going to town to pick up supplies or if a farmer could not drive to the store. The farmers would call their orders in if they had a telephone or they would drop a card in the mail with an order list for a week’s worth of groceries, feed and hardware. Usually one person did all the deliveries unless there was a bad snowstorm. At those times, two would go so one person could shovel while the other carried the groceries up the long driveway. Sometimes the farmers would bring their horse and sleigh to the end of the driveway to pick up the supplies.

The old general store was demolished in the late 1950s when Highway 65 expanded. Albert and Iver Soderquist agreed that Iver would take over the appliances and hardware portion of the business while Albert would take over the grocery business. A new Soderquist Super Fair store opened in 1959. A few short years later, Don and Lorraine Soderquist bought the business.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]

  • Nancy Soderquist

    Thank you for publishing this article on Don Soderquist! It’s a very great tribute to very great man. I was lucky to be his daughter-in-law, learned from his example, and enjoyed his sense of humor.

  • Martha Robinson

    What a wonder article on Don Soderquist. It was an encourging, uplifting, inspiring article. I may be a little biais due to the fact I do work for Wal-Mart. 21 years to be exact. We truly had a GREAT LEADER. Thanks Don and GOD bless your family.