Green Bay Packer fans the Hillbergs.

by Otto Ringle

I knew her great-grandparents very well! However, I have never met the gal on the left of the picture in the masthead.

Back in the early 1930s, Paul and Annette Rode had a cafe across the street from where Zona Rosa is now and the little restaurant featured the best ice-cream counter ever! Chocolate was my favorite flavor and it still is.

Paul and Annette were a great couple — not only because they always gave me three scoops of chocolate ice-cream when I only asked for two — but they were always very friendly to all their many customers, which made their little cafe very popular. They had two kids — John and Lorraine, who were also very popular in high school.

Lorraine Rode married Earl Hillberg, who everyone called “Perk.” Don’t ask me why! Anyway, Perk and Lorraine had a boy named Kevin, who is in the middle of the picture with his two beautiful, blue-eyed daughters, Mandy (on the left) and Heather.

As you can tell, all three are avid Packer fans, but let’s not hold that against them.

I remember Perk Hillberg very well for four reasons. One, because he was also a very popular dude in high school in the very early ‘40s and everybody knew him well. Two, because our family still has the home movies my dad made when he filmed all the home football games of that era, and No. 7 is shown over and over again scoring touchdowns for the Warriors. Three, when Perk was discharged from the service, he went to work for Lundrigans, and there was an old, barrel-stove in the back of the store where every Saturday afternoon, Perk would invite the Warrior football team to come over and listen to the Golden Gophers on the radio.

In addition to being an avid football fan, Perk knew the sizes of every kid in town and was always willing to sell them a shirt, a pair of pants, or especially a letter jacket, which was popular in those days.

The fourth reason we all knew Perk Hillberg was that he was the best drummer in northern Minnesota! He played in a little dance band, every weekend out at the Silver Dollar, with Gene Woodford on sax, Hank Olson on bass and Louise Bright on piano. Perk had a drum solo when the quartet played the “Hawaiian War Chant,” and everyone would stop dancing and listen to Perk, as he would drum for five to 10 minutes!

We all thought Perk’s drum solo was just as good, or perhaps even better than Buddy Rich, when Buddy played drums with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra during those wonderful days of the Big Band Era of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

Kevin Hillberg has the same congenial and compatible characteristics as his grandpa Paul and his dad Perk. Everytime you see Kevin heading for the post office, dressed in his usual Packer jacket and coming from his long-time job at the drug store, he will greet you with his customary huge smile and his friendly salutation — especially if Green Bay won their football game that week, and unfortunately for the Vikings they usually did!

Since I didn’t know the gal on the left of the picture, I had to ask Heather (Hillberg) Cruse to tell me a little about her sister, Mandy. Heather graciously informed me that her sister, Mandy (Hillberg) Muller is a single parent, raising her three children — Chase, Raigan and Adryn — and still finds time to be the assistant manager for Legacy Bar & Grille at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd.

I am very honored to meet you Mandy! Did you ever wonder — what makes a well-known performer — a star if you will? Why is it some of the entertainers you see and hear on television were able to get where they are and become so popular?

In my very humble opinion, Heather (Hillberg) Cruse is just as talented as you see and hear on television. I asked Heather if she ever thought of being a professional singer and her reply was, “I love to sing! Oftentimes, you lose your joy of singing when you sing for a living, and I would never want that to happen!”

Heather’s happiness and satisfaction is certainly not surprising as she is very busy raising her three children — Cash, Megan and Nathan, and running her four businesses — Mary Kay, a marriage officiant, a cleaning lady no less, and a delivery girl for her husband’s business, called Cruse Dog’s Honey.

Heather has starred in the Walker Bay Theater and is also very content with participating in a Christmas Show, which she initiated and has been held every year since at Hope Lutheran Church. This year, the show will be held Sunday and Heather will be singing a beautiful Christmas song written by our very own Murray Bright — the son of Louise Bright, who played piano with Perk Hillberg in the Silver Dollar. The song Heather will be singing is called, “The Son,” and by now it has probably been downloaded on iTunes all over the world.

Give yourself a Christmas treat and make certain you attend the show. Have a wonderful holiday season!

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