Steve Hoogenakker "Audaces Fortuna Juvat"


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First, I have to say, I literally laugh EVERY single time I see Lloyd Bridges in this shot from Airplane. I try to imagine if he was upside down when they took the pic, or if it was hair gel “gone wild” If you missed the movie, the line was “I picked a BAD day to stop sniffing glue!” The other great line was from Beavers mother, translating jive on the plane. If this is the case, you probably don’t hold up Animal House, Caddyshack and Slap Shot as the greatest artistic movies of all time – your loss! This is further proof that my IQ never reached 85

The human race is somewhat like a pride of lions. Over many years I have watched the sexes perform in every conceivable job. Male lions with their intimidating manes and swinging genitalia don’t do a lot of work, but they look good, and serve a purpose only they can perform. Lionesses perform most of the work day in and day out.

Men have an uncanny ability to focus a tremendous amount of energy for short bursts. This is likely the reason I like lifting very heavy weights. I get bored on the treadmill, and there seems to be no purpose to lifting “light” weights,
When a trainer asked why I liked lifting weights, I responded immediately, that I loved the response my body showed to lifting impossibly heavy weights. I enjoyed being a man!

Women on the other hand, have this endurance thing going. This has hit me over the head like a sledgehammer over the last seven weeks. Over most of my life, I usually enjoyed working with women just a little bit more.
I watched, over many hours, weeks and years as Teri, Kirsten, April, Jen, Becky, Michele, Sandy, Erin, Robin and many others worked for a solid 40 hours, then went home and took care of their family. (Valley Girl voice – OMG! I forgot Yvonne in the original post.And while I’m at it thanks to any women who were awesome who’s (whose) name begins with the letter A-Z) I’m at the club walking down to the lockers and it hits me, YVONNE!! SORRY GIRL!)
Me and the guys would gather around, laughing and joking, fluffing our manes, swinging our genitalia in bravado and boasting only and working intensely for 20 hours per week. Day in and day out, the steady contributions by the women in the office were crucial to companies’ and families’ succeeding. They didn’t join in the reverie, and I noticed and loved them for it.

So, now that I’m a single parent, It’s apparent that Teri was the glue holding the family together. Some days, it seems like everything is in a centrifuge ready to fly apart into a million pieces.
I think of the movie “Three Men and a Baby” a movie with Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Gutenberg. I got home tonight, the house was a mess, dishes not done, the dinner I started at 8 this morning not finished, and think the title should be “Three Men & They Are All Babies”. Now, it’s not fair to judge the kids at this point. They are going through something they shouldn’t have to go through until after they are married, have kids, an impossibly high mortgage, gout, shingles and at least one midlife crisis, where they get fitted for hairpieces, try to start a rockband at 40 yrs old or get a Harley Davidson, so most of this is on me.

So, lets wrap this up. I’m putting dishes in the dishwasher, grumbling while cleaning and all I can think of is Plywood. Yes, Plywood. Men are like hardwood. Strong and brittle, like the I-35 Bridge made of iron, but having stress cracks all over that we as men aren’t going to admit to, or do anything about until the whole thing comes crashing down, killing innocent bystanders! Women, like Teri and others are the GLUE in the plywood. It’s like real life. Only “wood” is in the name plywood, nobody would buy Glue Wood, right? Weaker than wood, good women are just pliable and adaptive enough to hold the plywood together. Nothing flashy, hidden underneath the wood, even turning invisible once the finished product is formed under tremendous pressure, holding EVERYTHING together. Holding everything together 24/7. Men are great, but right this minute, personally, I PREFER GLUE!

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How does someone get to be that beautiful?

Don’t even care if anyone will ever see this, but I have to write this somewhere. I REALLY miss my girl as Christmas gets closer. I keep all of my posts professional, but can’t right now. There’s nobody to put up all the Christmas decorations, nobody to spend 10 hours putting up stuff that nobody ever seemed to care about, but would give the world to see this year. I went through the boxes Saturday and Sunday, but everything is packed so perfectly, I know I would never get things back in boxes again.It was an emotional drain just putting up the Christmas stockings. Teri’s from 1960, A real Christmas stocking, that is drooping out of shape because it’s so old and authentic. It needs a piece of wonderful cardboard inside it just to keep an approximate shape. What do we do about Duke’s stocking with paw prints on it?
I’d write a country song about losing my wife, losing my 12 yr old dog in 90 days but to qualify as true country, I’d have to also lose a job, or have the astroturf out of the back of my pickup truck stolen.
Ok- Nobody to light the candles. Nobody to make me go to the wonderful Christmas service, a 2 hour extravanganza at church that I never wanted to go to, but always felt great once we got back. Then there’s my favorite hour of the year which was the hour every Christmas Eve where Teri waited for Gerrit to go to bed, pulled out bags of “stuff” from the closet to put out for the kids for Christmas morning on the fireplace of her dream house. Nobody to wake up early Christmas morning to be there when Santa’s presents were miracously discovered.I always slept through that, but oh god, what a miracle it all would be this year. Can we try to re-create it? Some people might, but it was the wonder of Teri that made it all special. Any re-creation would be like a cheap plastic imitation. I love my family so much. I see Teri in each of them. Paul with Teri’s bottomless compassion, Kirsten with Teri’s strength and common sense and Gerrit, blessed with Teri’s faith in something greater than ourselves and God.Ok, seems that alcohol in equals snot and tears out. Sounds like a perfect engineering equation, but lets get off the serious stuff.

I couldn’t remember if Teri got Jon a stocking for Christmas, so I went to Target this weekend. I couldn’t find any stockings with the name Jon on them, or even any with the letter “J” on them, so what to do, what to do?
Well, since I couldn’t get a real stocking for our newest family member, I decided to go cheesy. If you knew about the Aluni/Hoogenakker gag gift Christmas presents, you would know why cheesy was the obvious choice.
The cheesiest stocking I could find was a Toy Story stocking with a picture of “WOODY” on it. I threw it in the cart, then as I got close to the checkout, I started thinking… “What could possibly be more creepy than someones’ new father in law to get them a stocking (the week after his bachelor party) with the word “WOODY” prominently across the top???? Creepy, yes, so I ran to the back of the store. There is a new Buzz Lightyear stocking ready for Jon.

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Us. Paul, Teri and Steve Hoogenakker in the orange velour chair

We Did It Ourselves…
By Steve Hoogenakker

Bear with me, this will all tie out in the end.

Scene 1: It was November 4th 2011. My daughter was getting married the next day. In preparation for the father of the bride toast, I spent hours searching for the profound piece of advice I could give them for the rest of their life.
As I lay in bed with my laptop, I looked over at my sick wife. What had gotten us through 33 years of marriage? The answer wasn’t to be found with a fancy platitude. Looking at her, I settled on the thought of “When You’re Right, Shut Up!” Little did I know that in 96 hours, she would be gone forever, but the idea felt right. That was my toast. The lesson? Better to be quiet.

Scene 2: My brother Mike always loved the saying “You Don’t Know what You Don’t Know”, reminding me that I can’t see the blind spots I have. It’s not what I know that’s the problem, it’s what I don’t know. The Lesson? Others see your blind spots, learn from others.

Scene 3: I love music. In a similar vein to blind spots, I think music has the most impact between the notes, when there is silence between eighth notes that build anticipation. It takes discipline for a musician not to fill in those quiet instances that drive the human ear to fill in. The lesson? Listen to what’s not said.
Which brings me to the reason for this discussion today. You see, in leadership, it’s not always what is said, what is known or what is heard that brings about fundamental change. Many times it’s what’s not said. It’s not the note that’s played, it’s the note that’s not played. When you value the understated nature of bringing people together, it gives you the experience of the miracle of the human spirit.

When you want to make changes, shouting orders will bring about quick, resentful change. The employee, like a rubber band, will bounce back with equal force at its earliest opportunity, the change undone with long lasting resentment.

Certainly leading by example is a great way to show people what is important. But if you’re the leader of a large organization, it’s hard to show someone leadership by planting trees, running the meetings or answering every customer call, so what’s the answer?
It lies in principle. I firmly believe “When the Principle is understood, every decision is already made!” Get your principles right. Make sure they align with your people and your customers.

I don’t mean with a cheesy wall sign that says “The Customer is Always Right!” I’m talking about an internal compass that says “People are all that’s important. Take care of your people (customers, vendors and employees) and the business will take care of itself. I’m not saying that this principle will make you rich. It can, as I know, cost you a lot. When I talk about success, I talk about a lasting success. How do you measure it? In a p and l? A balance Sheet? YES! Of course, but consider that years after your last fiscal quarter ended, the money long spent, you’ll still be reaping the rewards of your actions towards others. Yes, finances are important, but they are quick to measure, quick to evaporate.

Scene4: August 1, 1993, my motto was to spend money on capital equipment. That investment was MINE and I owned it. Big employee paychecks were a waste of money because they could walk out the door forever on a whim. On that day, I had a change of heart like the Grinch at Christmas. I decided that my biggest asset wasn’t a bunch of shiny skid loaders, but were in fact walking out the door every Friday, and I needed them to come back every Monday, and that was OK. What was equipment without good people, What were sales without honorable salespeople?

The growth of my business exploded, and I was just along for the ride.
This principle is not for the faint of heart. This principle has caused me to suffer epic failures and enjoy successes over the years. I enjoyed having others in front. I got more enjoyment out of watching other people learn and succeed.

If I’ve conveyed my message, I hope you are hearing me say, “It’s not about me, It’s about others, and because it’s about others, my success is ensured!

Finally, here is my favorite saying of all time. It was written long ago by Lao Tzu, yet its meaning is timeless.” A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worse when they despise him. But of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves. “

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Most Beautiful Girl in the World

By Steve Hoogenakker
It was a Friday afternoon in this past November. We were sitting down having pizza in the company “War Room”.

A young man came in, a new employee on the rise. One of the managers introduced us. He introduced me as “The Big Boss”. People who know me, know I’m uncomfortable with titles, and I don’t think the statement is even important.

In business, titles can sometimes fool the new employees for a time and might scare some others. In both cases, demanding respect of my title will only hinder the efforts of the company and it’s employees
As we were eating the pizza, it got me to thinking. What does this young guy think of me, now that I’m the old guy (51 years old)? Also, what would make him respect me or even listen to what I might have to say? I mean, I was his age once.

Granted I was better looking, more intelligent and knew what real music sounded like, could disco and still believed the Vikings could win the SuperBowl in the 1990’s so surely, he would revere every word of advice, right?

When it comes down to experience versus youth, consider one of my favorite beliefs from 1970, Shunryu Suzuki said this:
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

It’s an amazing sentence that cuts both ways. Read it again slowly and read between the lines. In it’s simplicity, it is at once advocating youth with it’s many possibilities and also the experts ability to cut through the extra fat of too many possibilities. And it implies warnings for each position as well!

Yes, my youthful counterpart has many ideas. Many ideas I might discount out of hand, using my experience to say why his idea wouldn’t work. Yes, the young man might see things that I have long forgotten. This brings me to my second point. I have forgotten more things about landscaping than this guy has learned. While true, what better opportunity for me to learn what I’ve forgotten than to listen to him?

Being a great leader is very important to your organization, no matter your position. Whether you are the CEO, the Office Manager or a guy with a shovel, leadership starts with you the moment you wake up each morning!
So, why should a new employee listen to someone like me? We’ve determined the title isn’t important. We’ve determined that they might have a different outlook than me, and in some things, even though they don’t disco dance, they may be correct. I think it boils down to this:
“You should respect my ideas, not because of my title and not because of my successes, but because of my failures.” The irony of this statement is that while the older readers are nodding their heads, the younger ones are saying “What a Loser!”
Ask anyone who has worked for me. They will tell you I have made nearly every mistake a leader can make! Not only that, but when it comes to decision making, I’m certain I have repeated more mistakes than my young friend has even had the chance to make. It’s those repeated mistakes that leave their lasting imprint. The scars and the wrinkles were hard earned with each learning experience. These are the events that teach me the choices are few.
At the same time, I have to respect my young associates ideas. Not only do I want to encourage him, I have to work even harder than he at keeping an open mind. After all, his mind is a floodgate of ideas, while mine is a focused “narrow” stream with the emphasis on narrow.
Suzuki also said this: “Our tendency is to be interested in something that is growing in the garden, not in the bare soil itself. But if you want to have a good harvest, the most important thing is to make the soil rich and cultivate it well.”
As green industry professionals, we know this to be true. It’s now 2012. To grow your business, feel free to make the soil rich with the wisdom of some and cultivate the ideas and enthusiasm of youth as the basis for your success!

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It was always about God and Family with Teri

She’s Going Home!

God called, they have a lot to do and they want Teri to help. If you have prayers, there’s no better time to ask, because Teri is on the job, she loves you and she likes to stay busy.

She passed away in the loving arms of an incredible extended family that loved her, caressed her for the remaining days in a beautiful setting this morning. She felt nothing but love, I promise you. Service info below

I only posted here because I knew Teri couldn’t and it was my job to get Teri’s thoughts out there.My posts were only for the honor of Teri and to honor you, her friends and family, so this will be my last post, although thousands have read your responses and commented over and over again about the inspiring things you have written in the guestbook.

Just three final thoughts

Teri was special because she had a rare combination of passion, compassion and strength that amazed everyone around her.

Teri was also special because of the people like you, in her life. She wouldn’t have been Teri without you, and she would assure you of that if she could


Teri and I enjoyed a song together that is sometimes played at funerals, but we listened to this version maybe 50 times to lift our spirits! To us, this song says that everything happens for a reason and that everything will be ok…

It was a recording made in 1989, and while you’ll recognize Johnny Cash’s voice, or Ricky Skaggs, or EmmyLou Harris, I like Roy Acuff and the Dobro guitar is pretty cool too! You’ll see other world class musicians came together to make a recording likely not to be created the same way ever again.

I always reminded Teri that you can’t play a sad song with a banjo! So with that in mind, I hope you find comfort and happiness in this song for years to come like Teri and I did the last couple of years.

Or go to youtube:

[ HiFi ] Will The Circle Be Unbroken Vol.2/Nitty Gritty Dirt Band


Services at:

Visitation will be Thursday at Iten Funeral Home 4:00 pm to 8:00 PM Thursday November 10th at:

Delano Funeral Home

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That's her Grandma Angies' Nose to the left

I wish I knew EVERYTHING about her at this time in her life.

I am standing on the sea shore

Teri is sleeping comfortably at the hospice house. It is beautiful, just like her, it’s where she belongs.

I am standing on the sea shore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength. I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says “There, she is gone!”

“Gone Where?”

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear the load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says: “There, she is gone!” There are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: “Here she Comes!”

— Henry Van Dyke

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Saturday, November 5, 2011 9:08 AM, CDT

written by Steve Hoogenakker

Going to Kirsten’s wedding today

“We’re going to the chapel and we’re…Going to get Married.” Well, not us, but if you are over 40 yrs old, I’ve stuck that song in your head for awhile!

Yes, Kirstens wedding is today. It was moved up to a mind blowing 3 weeks from the decision so Jons dad and Kirstens mom could experience maximum enjoyment

It’s going to be a small wedding.

I thought I wanted her to have a grand wedding with hundreds of people, fabulous flowers and Count Basies Orchestra playing. I think if I asked Kirsten what kind of wedding she wanted, she would simply say “A wedding that makes Jon my husband”

I’m sure my sister Michelle will take 31,287 pictures. Maybe someone under the age of 40 can show me how to upload them to the caringbridge site. There is no truth to the rumors that Teri plans on winning the Limbo dance contest today.

Sandy and Michelle did Teri’s nails yesterday and Becky is coming over today to complete the “Home Makeover, Mother of the Bride Edition”

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Today’s doctor visit

We had an important meeting with the doctor today.

There’s no good way to put this. He said Teri has about 2-3 months to live without any further treatment and 4-5 months with chemo or one of the new experimental treatments. The other option is to consider hospice. Teri’s pretty wiped out, so he’s a little concerned about the quality of life question with the treatments, especially the chemo, but I would guess she will choose to fight on, because who knows?

I don’t know what else to say at this point. I think we had clues that this might be coming, but were hoping for better. It doesn’t really change anything except to maybe urge us to find some positive things or people to fill Teri’s life with and to say all that needs to be said and do all the things that need to be done.

Teri just took the news from the doctor in her usual understated way and said “That’s kind of a bummer!” Classic Teri.

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Babbitt Knights?

The sign at the end of highway 21 up in Babbitt said “1976 Minnesota State Baseball Champions”. The last time I saw the sign, it was so faded that if you didn’t know what it said, you couldn’t read it.

The sign was faded but the spirit that the town created isn’t faded at all.

It’s been kind of funny. Over the years, we’d be out at Ridgedale, or at a restaurant about 15 miles from my alma mater and 250 miles from Teri’s and we would see Babbitt people whenever we were out, but never saw people from Mound. It kind of defies the laws of physics. There is a bond there that I think is very special. I don’t think it had much to do with the gravel pits, the Legion or good old JFK, but who knows?

In the past week, Babbitt, a town “At the End of the World” as the residents often told me, took center stage this past week.

Teri had visits from Julie Fairchild (Kaslucher) last Friday, then had Jim and Mary Nelson on Wednesday. Joanne Johnson (Hanson) and Mary Emanuelson (Emanuelson – Ha ha) took her up to Pine city on Thursday for a couple of days. I guess they posted something on this site, but I’ve chosen not to read it because I’m afraid of what they posted. That 3 day road trip was SO special to Teri, I can’t tell you. On Saturday, with things absolutely crazy around here, Carol Skube, also a friend from Babbitt wanted to come out. “Come out today? I asked”. Teri said yes. So Carol came out and spent a lot of time with Teri Saturday night and brought over 2 bags of goodies from Trader Joe’s. Teri had a great time.

Carol said she wanted to come out again today, so she brought another old friend Deb Berg. They visited for a few hours today.

The old saying is

Make new friends, but keep the old;
Those are silver, these are gold.

There is something about high school friendships that even a lifetime spouse can’t provide. I can’t light up Teri’s eyes like a discussion about classmates, “a long time ago, in a land far, far away.” There will always be a spot for my lifelong bestfriend, Mike E, and there will always be a place for Teri’s lifelong friends, one in which I want to encourage. It’s based in non-judgmental love. It’s amazing.

I’m a recluse anyway, and I would rather the friends stay together and say whatever they’re comfortable talking about, so Gerrit and I stayed downstairs, doing laundry, homework and other things, but I heard a lot of laughter upstairs. I know they were looking through old pictures. Whatever happens in the future, I think the last 4 days were some of Teri’s best. Thanks to all, the last week was truly special!

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You can listen to Reba and watch her video here. It’s one of those things that can only be created in a very few occasions of a long life, moments when we think of others and we are not thinking of ourselves. Enjoy the video by clicking here
If I Had Only Known (Mark)Now if you’re a tough guy, and you get a little misty eyed, you can use the following excuses. Landscapers, you’re simply evapotranspirating, Mortgage people, if you get misty eyed, you can say you just had a midday price increase and you lost 50 bps., 
Erin doesn’t want a sad memorial to Mark. She wants to hear the laughter that surrounded Mark’s life…, but I have one sad thing to say, then we’ll move on. After all, talking about human emotion and Mark’s inspiriation, while emotional, isn’t necessarily sad, it’s just the passionate part of life, the most important part of life.
This song came to mind when I heard of the accident. If we are to find some meaning in the passing of Mark, then maybe if just one of your relationships heal because of this day, then Mark’s death will mean something and this will improve the quality of your life, so think about your present family and friends that are still alive, Mother, Father, Sons, Daughters, friends.
Reba McEntire was riding at the top of success. Personally, however, her world would come crashing down. A plane carrying seven of McEntire’s band members and her road manager crashed, killing all on board. McEntire was devastated. There was a minor controversy over her decision to perform on the Academy Awards a week after the crash. But she appeared on the show to dedicate a song to her fallen band members. During the performance, McEntire was visibly emotional, holding back tears. 
This hit, “If I Had Only Known” is a song written to her band. 

If I Had Only Known
Reba McIntyre

If I had only known
It was the last walk in the rain
I’d keep you out for hours in the storm
I would hold your hand
Like a lifeline to my heart
Underneath the thunder we’d be warm
If I had only known
It was our last walk in the rain

If I had only known
I’d never hear your voice again
I’d memorize each thing you ever said
And on those lonely nights
I could think of them once more
Keep your words alive inside my head
If I had only known
I’d never hear your voice again

You were the treasure in my hand
You were the one who always stood beside me
So unaware I foolishly believed
That you would always be there
But then there came a day
And I turned my head and you slipped away

If I had only known
It was my last night by your side
I’d pray a miracle would stop the dawn
And when you’d smile at me
I would look into your eyes
And make sure you knew my love
For you goes on and on
If I had only known
The love I would’ve shown
If I had only known
3 more lines – get ready to read for all of them. Stay unemotional, say strong so they can open up ready to read. Unemotional for everyone else
Personally, I want to say that when we were driving home from standing up for Mark and Erin at their wedding, I told Teri, my wife, that it was the best day I had in the past few years, I was so happy that they were tying the knot. I will also say that today is the most important day I’ve had for quite a while, because I want to honor Mark the best that I can, Mark, like my wife and kids, always pushes me to be the best I can be. 
On behalf of all of us, I would like to thank Mark’s parent’s and family for making Mark the MAN he was. They did something right, though I don’t know what it was. We also acknowledge people like Erin, his brother and sister, Mary, Pete, Jim and Terry Liska, April, Mike and others who shaped Mark into the man that we loved. To these people we say: “Blessed are they, who leave good work behind. And who leave behind a life that is so worthy of respect” Thank You for Mark.
Mark was generous, Mark was a gentle giant, yet he was known as “the Hammer”, or as he liked to say it, the Velvet Hammer.
Mark was mischeivious without malice, as full of faults as a craggy rock. It’s said that if a personality is like a smooth stone, there’s nothing for us to attach to. It’s the rough edges and prodruding sharp points that endears us to someone and makes them someone we can relate to.
 Mark first and foremost has always been a kid
Mark and I had taken my son, Paul to the Bellagio in Las Vegas for Paul’s 21st birthday. Paul and I were walking through the Bellagio casino when we saw a large crowd of people gathered around what looked like a blackjack table. Inside the group, was Mark sitting alone at the table. Mark was playing a new game at the fanciest casino. He was playing WAR. You know, the kids game, where you keep flipping cards up and whoever has the highest card wins? Mark was playing $600 per hand. He was having a great time, and loved the attention.
Mark and I played semi-professional blackjack off and on for a couple of years. I did the card counting, usually 3,000 cards in a 5 hour session, and his only job was to drink, and keep the dealer and the pit bosses entertained and occupied so they wouldn’t catch on to what we were doing. The only problem was that as Mark drank, he got antsy, so he would start to make comments to the dealer about me, saying crazy conspiracy theories about the weird guy over at first base. Before I knew it the count was gone, and we were laughing so hard, we started losing all the money we had worked so hard to win.
We had a group of 6 people at a landscape convention. Mark had gotten into my brother’s hotel room by telling the housekeeping staff it was his room He took the queen size mattress out. he had stuffed the mattress into Mike’s shower, and not only stuffed it, but wedged it in so tight that Mike couldn’t get it out. Mike demanded that Mark get the mattress out and get fired on the spot. Mark wouldn’t go back down, but 3 of us did, and we couldn’t get the mattress out. It was amazing.
I love to travel and go to conventions. At some point, Mark had gotten hold of a Burger King paper crown that they gave out with Kids Meals. When Mark knew I was going to be gone for a few days, or if Mike was going to be gone for a few days, Mark would proudly put on the crown, walking around and saying, I’m KING while they’re gone, then be as obnoxious as he could. In the words of a famous radio host, Mark would run a “benevolent dictatorship”!
If Mark would’ve lived, he would’ve been the crazy uncle or the really cool grandpa.
When we were at a convention in Nashville, Mark and I drove to see my sister in Louisville. It was a rental car, and Mark wanted to drive. Just as we left Kentucky, a Tennessee state trooper caught Mark going down the hill at about 110. He didn’t catch up to us until we were most of the way up the next hill/mountain. He wrote out the ticket, but Mark didn’t seem bothered at all, I mean twice the legal speed limit. I didn’t understand it. As we pulled away from the trooper and just before wecrested the hill, while the trooper could still see us, Mark reached for the ticket, crumpled it up, and threw it high in the air on the highway. His only comment was he wasn’t planning on coming back to Tennessee anyway. He had too many other places to go and people to see.
Mark was legendary!
Mark, the everlasting.
When Mark was designing landscapes, especially on some of the most prominent corporations in the twin cities, he wanted something that said “Mark Wirkus” to everyone who drove by. Mark decided to start suggesting Buckthorns to be planted in nearly every one of his jobs. It was a perfect Mark planting. 
It was invasive, it grew about 10 feet every year. You couldn’t get rid of it, and it had dark berries that birds relished, although the berries had a laxative in them, so the end result was a hundred birds leaving purple markings over every car forever. In 2000, Minnesota banned Buckthorn as a noxious weed, but some of Mark’s buckthorns live on, even at my last house, where he had them planted without telling me. The Buckthorn has since been classified as a noxious weed, it’s illegal to sell buckthorn here, but when you see it, have a chuckle, Mark’s legacy lives on.If they would have known Mark better, they would have classified it an “obnoxious” weed.
Mark the mysterious
I’ve thought long and hard about what made Mark so special. There was something truly different about Mark, something that drew people to him when they first met him, even though he was not always the loudest and most gregarious in a group. It could have been that deep laugh, it could have been that twinkle in the eye, it could’ve been that sarcastic wit, but I think when it’s all said and done, it came down to a sense of self. Mark knew who he was. Mark knew who he wanted to be, and Mark was comfortable in his own skin. That sense of self was pure honesty, and it came across to everyone he touched. Mark’s customers knew that Mark would tell them exactly what he thought. Sometimes, he told off customers in shocking ways that would surely lead to them cancelling our services, but that was rarely the outcome, more likely, he ended up with all of their business.
 In January, while Mark was looking for a new job, we saw Steve Sylvester of S and S, we walked over and talked to him. Mark spent about 1 minute talking to him, and finished off with some sort of funny comment that sounded to me like an insult. I held my shaking head in my hands and said what did you do? Mark said Steve’s tough, he can handle it. Mark, went back later of course and Steve hired him after what seemed to be a bad start to getting reacquainted led to him getting the job. How does he do it?
paying his respects today is Steve Sylvester
My brother had fired Mark at least 6 times, he was so frustrated with Mark’s antics. Mark was insubordinate, difficult and questioned authority, Mark got immediately hired back by either Mike or me. How he got us to do that over and over again is a mystery. You could also play with Mark. If you EVER wanted NOT to see him, just call a meeting!, any meeting, the more important, the more likely he was to disappear for a day or so! 
Mark was the fastest snowplow operator in the country. If there were any emergency areas, Mark would grab whatever truck he could find and peel out of the parking lot. He would come back with an amazing amount of work done, then the inevitable. The walk from Gary. Steve, you have to see this, if you let this guy into one of my trucks again, I quit. The truck would come back, the plow half off, the axles bent, the rear bumper at a 45 degree angle, the transmission slipping. I’m sure there were chunks of sod thrown up into the windshield wipers. I think Gary quit 3 or 4 times, yet here is Gary paying respects to Mark. Another mystery. 
Mark, my son- in law. 
One of my wife’s most endearing stories that tells of kids attraction to Mark happened in Minneapolis. My wonderful daughter, Kirsten was 7 years old at the time, Mark was 29. Kirsten was following Mark around saying Mark, what do you want for Christmas? Mark said nothing and walked on, undeterred, Kirsten kept following Mark, saying a little louder, Mark WHAT do you want for Christmas? Mark said I don’t want anything!, Kirsten kept it up, saying again, MARK, WHAT DO YOU WANT FOR CHRISTMAS?, Mark again said, Nothing Kirsten, Then Kirsten said, But you don’t understand Mark, I LOVE YOU! Mark walked into my wife’s office and said “you need to take your daughter back now”
Mark had that effect on kids. Two of the first adult males I informed about Mark’s condition both said “that can’t happen, he’s just a big bear, teddy bear of a guy” If it came across to adults, how much more did children see it. When young kids were around, they saw some neon sign over his head that said “HOG PILE” 
Mark the retired thousandaire
We met Mark when he was 26. One of our first trips was to Treasure Island with Rick Anderson. We drove an extended cab S-10 with 1 12” jump seat where you sat sideways in the back. Rick had said something about saving up $500,000 and retiring. Mark from the back seat said $500,000? If I had $40,000, I’d retire, buy a payloader and 5 acres of land, and move piles of dirt all day, I’d make tall piles, short and fat piles, ramps, and even make piles that looked like different animals. I said OK, so what do you do when you’re done making the piles? I’ll take the dirt and move it into new piles.
Mark the friend
The friendship of two men is a nonsentimental, elusive kind of thing, but it can cut very deep. For each of us there were little but important things that were ours alone, and a part of us died with Mark. the world will never seem exactly the same without him; I will cherish the moments we spent together, and he will always remain important to me. I will draw upon him in the future. Because Mark once existed, I will never be quite the same.
Mark – the fearless?
As we think about Mark, there was NOTHING Mark was afraid of. He wasn’t afraid of death, of failure, of success, and he wasn’t afraid of life, he lived life as fast as he could. He rolled my snowmobiles, we traded our motorcycles for a few minutes and as we headed south on 77 over the river, he disappeared from my site. When I caught up with him 5 minutes later, he said hey, your bike goes 115 mph. Mark was always in a hurry to live life. So there was NOTHING he was afraid of? Or was there? 
There were 2 things, and only 2 things that at one time, Mark was terrified of. If you know how strong Mark was, then you can imagine an admission like this one was difficult for him to say. Mark would tell us, he was afraid he would be a bad husband, self absorbed, unable to be the perfect husband he wanted to be, unworthy of Erin. He loved Erin deeply. 
He also said he really didn’t think he’d be a good dad. He didn’t have it in him. He didn’t believe he could connect with a kid, didn’t know what to do. How do you know you’ll love someone you’ve never met?? I used to tell him what we told our kids when our parenting skills were being called into question.” You know, when you came out, there wasn’t a user manual in a ziploc bag that came out with you when you were born”, we’re doing the best we can.
Was Mark a good husband? A good dad? Did he make the connection? Could he love someone he hadn’t seen? 
So it’s no surprise that when we went to Erins a week ago and saw these pictures in their living room I couldn’t stop thinking about them. These hit me like a ton of bricks:
Was Mark able to be the great dad? Yes, here it is, for all the world to see, the eye connection, the open smile on Vaughn’s face, the playfulness, the love. Not only did Mark get it, and lived it, I believe he knew it, and for the two most important questions in his life, did he have enough love for Erin and Vaughn, in his heart when he left us, he knew peace.
Mark, you inspired me, you inspired us, because of you, all our lives will never be the same. There is a hole in my heart for you, a hole I want to keep, because I don’t want to replace it with anyone or anything else. 

Your friend forever, 

Steve Hoogenakker

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