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'A good, good man': Bemidji man remembered for talents, way with people

BEMIDJI - As Merilee Grage drove toward Acme Tools last Thursday, she saw a helicopter leaving Sanford Bemidji Medical Center and took it as good news.

"I thought he was alive," she said. "I just thanked God that he was at least alive."

But she soon learned that the helicopter was meant for someone else and that her husband, 49-year-old Delwin Grage Jr. of Bemidji, had been fatally injured in an accident outside of Acme Tools, where he had worked for the past five years. Delwin Grage was electrocuted as the boom lift he was driving came in contact with an active power line. He was pronounced dead at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

"He was just a good, good man," Merilee Grage said Tuesday.

Visitation for Delwin Grage will be 5-7 p.m. today at Trinity Lutheran Church in Bemidji. Visitation will continue 9-10 a.m. Thursday with the funeral at 10 a.m.

"He understood how to be appropriate, comfortable with people," Merilee Grage said. "He just had a way."

Delwin Grage and Merilee Schubbe met in 1978 when they were both acting in an improvisation play at Bemidji High School.

"I loved his long, curly hair and his full beard," Merilee recalled.

They dated on and off for a few years as Merilee moved away and then returned to Bemidji.

As Delwin joined the U.S. Navy in 1980, they married and had two sons, Andrew and Taylor.

"He loved them very, very much," Grage said, noting he was a good father.

Delwin's Navy career led them to places such as Virginia Beach, Fla., and Maine. He was promoted to lead petty officer and served on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower as an electronics technician. He received specialized training in five U.S. naval schools.

Their marriage, though, didn't last. Delwin and Merilee divorced, remaining separate for 14 years.

Delwin left the Navy in 1989 and returned to Bemidji in around 1998. Merilee returned two years later.

One night in 2002, she ran out of gas around midnight outside of Delwin's home and he helped her out.

"I asked him the next day if I could come over," she recalled. "I said, 'Did you like being married to me?' and he's like, 'Yeah,' and I said, 'Do you want to do it again?'

"We didn't date again. We just eloped."

They remarried on Nov. 26, 2002. They got their marriage license and were supposed to wait a week, but Delwin told the judge, "We've done this before," so the judge waived the requirement and married them.

Two days later, their families learned they had eloped when they saw the announcement in the Thanksgiving Day edition of the Pioneer.

"He (was) just really smart, had a great memory," Merilee said of Delwin. "He just (seemed) to know all kinds of things. I called him Knowest Allest ... he just seemed to know everything."

He also loved cooking, especially for large groups of people. For 10 years he cooked roast beef for the annual First Presbyterian roast beef meal.

"He was quite the chef," she said.

On May 4, he did the pig roast outside of Acme Tools for customer appreciation day, she said. He marked his fifth year with his employer five days later.

"He did what he said he was going to do," she said of Delwin's character. "I don't think he missed work one day. Maybe just once, when he was sick, but he was always early. He was always there early to open the door."

Delwin started with Acme Tools in the parts department. He then moved to rentals and, most recently, was doing tool repairs, she said. Tools were sent from other stores, she said, marked for "Del's Repair."

"He could fix just about anything or diagnose it and pronounce it dead," she said.

Joe Roeder, the general manager of Acme Tools, declined comment Tuesday.

Merilee received a call shortly after 11 a.m. Thursday saying there had been a bad accident at the store. She left immediately for Acme Tools, but Delwin already had been taken to the hospital.

It was at the hospital that she learned he had died.

The investigation into the incident is basically closed, said Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin. It was ruled a workplace accident. An autopsy was done but the results are not yet available.

The staff at the hospital was very accommodating as Merilee asked to see Delwin once more before his body was taken for cremation.

Lori Thompson, the coroner's assistant, saw to it that his body was cleaned up as best as possible. He was badly burned, Merilee said, so she thought maybe his body would have just been put in a corridor, but he was cleaned up and put in the prayer room, allowing for privacy as Merilee, their sons and other family members were able to see him one last time.

"(Thompson) has been wonderful," Merilee said. "She just went way above and beyond."

She also said she appreciated the quick response of the Sanford medical team as they realized that Delwin was an organ donor. Noting the designation on his driver's license, he was able to donate his eyes.

"I wish I could know who they are," Merilee said of the recipients.