NISSWA-Hanspeter Borgwarth, who was an inspiration and mentor to many in the Brainerd lakes area, passed away peacefully Monday at his rural Nisswa home on Gull Lake.
Borgwarth was 84.
Borgwarth was born in Cuxhaven, Germany. He grew up in an upper middle class family and experienced World War II first hand when the British bombed Cuxhaven. He was forced into the Deutsches Jungvolk and Hitler Youth. Both were movements in Nazi Germany for boys ages 10-18 to prepare them for military service, The History Learning Site stated.
Borgwarth finished schooling in Europe before moving to the United States, and found it hard to be welcomed in post-war America. But the young immigrant embraced his new country. He and his wife, Gisela, who were married for 58 years, eventually ended up in Minnesota. The Borgwarths lived on Gull Lake, south of Nisswa, for the past 47 years. Borgwarth forged strong bonds in the Brainerd community. In 1993, he was named Brainerd Citizen of the Year.
"Hans was special," said Terry McCollough, former publisher of the Brainerd Dispatch. "If anyone needed proof of what immigrants can do (for this country) they only need to look at Hans and his family. They gave so much.
"He'll be greatly missed."
After the war, Borgwarth got into the farming business and accepted a job in Wisconsin. Borgwarth managed turkey farms in Minnesota from 1964 to 1989 in the Merrifield Division of Earl B. Olson farms, now called Jennie-O Turkey Store Inc.
In 2000, he was the recipient of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association Ranelius Award, an award that signifies leadership and dedication to the industry based on contributions made to enhance Minnesota's turkey industry.
Borgwarth was a longtime member of Brainerd Noon Rotary Club, Rotary International and a former governor of Rotary International District 5580, which includes 66 clubs in Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and parts of Ontario, Canada. As governor, Borgwarth visited developing areas of the world on service trips.
Borgwarth and his wife also were narrators in a book published in 2007 by the Minnesota Historical Society titled "Minnesota's Greatest Generation."
Borgwarth served on the Initiative Foundation Board of Trustees from 1990-1998 and served on its Business Finance Committee, where he advised members of economic development programs.
"With his strong agri-business background he helped us think about possibilities for strengthening small businesses across our region and encouraged us to take risks that helped us create quality jobs," said Initiative Foundation President Kathy Gaalswyk.
Gaalswyk said through the years she learned a great deal from Borgwarth-personally and professionally. She said the Nisswa man always had a positive attitude and he was creative when it came to solving problems.
"Hans was a very good friend to the Dispatch, and my dad," McCollough said. "We appreciated it. He was one of those people who was sincerely a cheerful person. He always had a smile or chuckle to share."
Nisswa Police Chief Craig Taylor knew Borgwarth for 20 years. "Hans was a very popular person and our community is saddened by his passing," Taylor said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to Gisela and her family."
Borgwarth is survived by his wife, Gisela, and their three daughters, Kathleen, Margret and Nina; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his son, Dennis.
Funeral services for Borgwarth will be 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa, with visitation an hour prior. The family is requesting in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to the Borgwarth Legacy, a memorial established by the family about three years ago when they lost their son. Memorials also can be sent in care of Gisela.
Borgwarth family mourns
Gisela Borgwarth Tuesday was surrounded by the support and love of her children as they remembered her late husband, Hanspeter Borgwarth. Gisela held her husband's hand the entire time, until he passed away peacefully, she said, of natural causes. Gisela said Hans, what many people called her husband for short, had a great week before his death. She said he had a walker with wheels that allowed him to walk more easily.
"He was outside a lot and was so thankful for the weather," she said. "He was thankful he was able to get everything ready for the winter. He always said thank you for everything, he thanked me for every meal I made."
Gisela was his sole caregiver when he had a stroke on Feb. 18, 2016.
Borgwarth's family said he always put other people first-never said a bad word about anyone-and always lived by the Rotary Club's motto to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and to advance goodwill and peace around the world.
Gisela said when they moved to America they only had $40 to their name and they each had 40 pounds of luggage. She said they had a wonderful life and Borgwarth didn't miss any of his children's sporting or music events.
Borgwarth also spent a lot of time visiting people in the community and "everyday he would read the Dispatch and have breakfast by that picture window," Gisela said.
Several Rotary Club members learned about the passing of Borgwarth at their regular Tuesday meeting in the Blue Room at Yesterday's Gone in Brainerd, while others had already heard the sad news of their friend. Gaalswyk, who was asked by the family to speak of Borgwarth's funeral, spoke briefly of the Nisswa man and said a prayer honoring their longtime Rotary member friend.
Jeff Torfin, the current president of the Rotary Club who has known Hans for the past eight years, said: "Hans was a great pillar and role model in our Rotary Club. He was an adviser for all of us. He will be missed."
"I've known Hans for almost 30 years," said Rick Bricker, one of the assistant district governors of the Rotary, in a phone interview before the meeting. "If it wasn't for him I would not be the Rotarian I am today. He constantly picked me up and brushed me off when I stumbled and now I am one of the assistant district governors. A lot of that came from Hanspeter. He told me how to do it. He was absolutely a wonderful person. ... He was serious about the Rotary Club. ... If he was able to help you he would."
Bob Nystrom, another Rotary member, said he has known Borgwarth for 34 years. He said Borgwarth was the Rotary president from 1970-71 and was the assistant governor in 1995-96.
"He was like our spiritual leader," Nystrom said. "Anything Rotary related, we would look to Hans. He was a very dedicated member of the club and he saw a lot of changes."
Nystrom said when Borgwarth first joined Rotary, only men could be involved in the club. But that changed in the late '80s, when women could join.
"He truly was the leader in the background that people would look to," Nystrom said. "You could almost call him Mr. Rotary. He was a strong leader and he was accepting of the changes.
"He was someone I looked up to and was a real mentor. He was really concerned about the people around him."
John Luce, who has known Borgwarth for 26 years, said his Rotary friend brought a real sensitivity to the Rotary Club about understanding different cultures. He said Borgwarth taught him people need to be educated not only on the culture itself, but the culture within the culture, to understand how things work.
"The warmth of human fellowship is something he stated over and over again that touched so many of us," Luce said.
Luce said he and Borgwarth and their spouses made several trips to the international conventions and doing service work. Borgwarth is remembered for raising thousands of dollars in the early '90s to build 22 homes to help families in Pignon, Haiti.
"Hans was my mentor," said Jack Ruttger, who has been a member of the Rotary Club since 1986. "... He guided me to become the district governor. Our friendship started with Rotary and has carried on ever since. We had a great friendship."
Ruttger said he and Borgwarth traveled often to the Rotary meetings together and traveled to the international conventions. Ruttger said it meant a lot to him when he was being initiated as the Rotary governor when Borgwarth and his wife traveled to New Brunswick, Canada, to see him.
"He was a very disciplined man and he always came to Rotary in a coat and tie," Ruttger said of his friend. "He loved Rotary. ... Hans always said when he joined Rotary here around 1965, he was brought in by Tom O'Brien, the former Brainerd mayor. He always said Rotary did so much for him and introduced him to the American life and how he made such good friends, business friends through Rotary."
Ruttger said he and Borgwarth went to Gen. John William Vessey's funeral, but never had the chance to go to the burial. He said about two weeks ago, they went to Camp Ripley to see Vessey's grave.
Gaalswyk said even though she had a connection with Borgwarth through the Rotary Club, their relationship grew from their contact with the Initiative Foundation.
"He believed in the Initiative Foundation's mission strongly and he chose to invest a considerable amount of time and talent," Gaalswyk said.
She said Borgwarth and his wife embraced her family and they attended many major family events together.
John Fitzpatrick said he was in Rotary with Borgwarth for 48 years, but knew him before they joined the club, as Fitzpatrick said his father was Borgwarth's attorney.
Fitzpatrick said he owes Borgwarth for his marriage to his wife Arlene. Fitzpatrick said he and Arlene had to go through marriage preparation class in St. Cloud and one of the weekly sessions was scheduled at the same time the international Rotary Club meeting was in Winnipeg, Canada. Fitzpatrick said he went to Canada by bus and Borgwarth went by car. Fitzpatrick told Borgwarth he wouldn't be back in time for the marriage class if he took the bus, so Borgwarth offered him a ride back to St. Cloud.
Fitzpatrick said Borgwarth will be greatly missed.
Theresa Goble said she got to know Borgwarth through working with the city of Brainerd for 34 years and through the Rotary Club.
"He was a good mentor," Goble said. "He always was a champion for community, family and the school district. I had a couple of brothers who worked for him many years ago when he had Earl B. Olson farms and he always remembered them and would comment to me on what good workers they were. He was a good friend of the family."
Kevin Thesing, who also is a Rotary member, said Borgwarth was his mentor in many ways. He said the Nisswa man's wisdom and his way of doing things will live on throughout the community for many years to come.
"It is such sad news about Hans," Thesing said. "We all loved him so. I think what I will miss most is his love of life and the energy that he approached life with."
Thesing who knew Borgwarth for 30 years, worked with him on several community projects, including through the Brainerd FFA and FFA Alumni.
"Hans and Gisela have always been so proud of their agricultural background," Thesing said. "They have always been very supportive of the Brainerd FFA programs and kids.
"Several years ago they gave a significant financial gift to the Brainerd FFA Alumni to fund a revolving loan fund for Brainerd FFA students. The money is loaned to FFA members, interest free, to help them start Supervised Ag Experience projects."
Marc Halverson said he worked with Borgwarth on the Rotary Turkey Barbeque for many years, where they injected a special spice recipe into about 50 huge turkeys for a fundraiser for the Rotary Club.
"Hans was the man," Halverson said. "He knew the turkey inside and out. This was one of the fundraising Rotary events that went for years and years at Paul Bunyan Center in Baxter. All Rotarians were there waiting for commands from Hans.
"Two years ago he and Giesla stopped at our floral shop (Brainerd Floral) and handed me the injecting equipment to use if the club ever did turkey barbeque as a fundraiser. He chose me to pass it on so I hope we do use it. It was a 20-year run."