On a warm summer day, June 22nd, 1931 on the family farm in the Town of Corning, a son was born to Paul and Constance Duginski. Numbering the fourth of six children, Lawrence Francis would someday become the proprietor of this land where he would build a legacy of leadership, devotion to family and neighbors, and exhibit a general love of life.
It was a surprise to his children to learn that dad had been what we once termed a “city slicker”, for a short while during his formative years. His ‘Ma’ and ‘Pop’ had once owned Club 64 as a home, even though it was a dancehall and bar, before selling it to their cousin. Lawrence was a young lad when their ‘dupas’ were hauled back to the farm because ‘Ma’ worried about the trouble her boys were finding down in the old ‘bloody sixth’. Those tough disciplinary guidelines still travel the generations.
On the farm, family expectations ran high and the highest in Lawrence’s memory was, go to church, don’t swear, and do as you are told. Abiding by most, he was often rewarded by his Ma with a special treat of a chocolate crème pie, his favorite, as was he to her, according to the source. As a child in the countryside, with many daily chores having priority, you absolutely had to have a hiding place to call your own. Lawrence found his little peaceful ‘idlewhile’ in the loft of the hay barn. He thought the sound of the pattering rain on the old tin roof was a relaxing reprieve from all the daily hustle of farm life. Of course a few less chores certainly didn’t hurt either.
Lawrence’s education had its roots in a small one room schoolhouse in the Town of Corning. Often walking would lead to many alternative mischievous adventures. However, carrying a hot potato to stay warm and eat later for lunch comes highly suspect. Seems either mythical or legendary. It was on to St. Francis School through the 8th grade followed by Merrill High School. It was during those years he became a light weight boxer and developed agility and strength skills that would serve him well into the future.
Following High School, Lawrence served in the United States Marine Corp and active reserves until 1960. While stationed in San Diego from 1952-54, he entertained himself and others by becoming a Golden Gloves Boxer, middle weight division. He also procured highly coveted chauffeuring responsibilities, having to take executive officers to and from official and entertainment events. During these excursions Lawrence met many interesting, often famous, people. One would stand out and become a life friend who at the time was just beginning to share his artistic talents. The renowned Native American Artist, RC Gorman, would one day share camaraderie by opening his home and studio in Taos, NM to his old friend, daughter, and granddaughter who lived nearby in Santa Fe.
Returning from San Diego, it was in 1955 that Lawrence jumped in with both feet by purchasing his family’s farm and marrying his sweetheart, Mary A. Geiss, on October 15th. It wouldn’t be long and a brood of eight was underway.
While owning and operating a dairy farm, Lawrence followed his father into a managerial career as General Manager of Consumers Co-op Exchange, Merrill. As manager, he helped the agricultural community with a hands on approach assisting in goal setting, leading, and problem solving through many adversities. He was an example of integrity and respect to his employees. Fellow farmers, employees, salespeople, and managerial associates would become friends and family. Many would accompany him in travel, from Florida, Vegas to Mexico and destinations in between.
Because Lawrence was an avid outdoorsman, some joined the hunting escapades to Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and Colorado pursuing big game and big adventure. As well as locally, ‘The Great White North’ became a frequent location for some serious fishing and earnest story telling well into retirement.
During Lawrence’s management years he always sought the opportunity to deepen his knowledge and sharpen his managerial skills. He attained an NTC degree in their agricultural program and continued management advanced training provided by regional cooperative programs. With this expertise he traveled to Macedonia and Russia to teach Cooperative Law and often hosted visitors from these countries to help expand their own knowledge and experience.
Throughout his careers, as manager and farmer, Lawrence was consistently involved in community. For many years he served as the Town of Corning Board Supervisor, Pine River Dairy Cooperative Director, Wisconsin Feed Dealers Association Director, Federation of Cooperatives Director, and served with the Merrill Housing Authority. His talents were also tapped by the Merrill Sherriff’s Department in the deputy replacement process.
Civic responsibilities were important to Lawrence, as was a little fun. He could throw a mean fast ball in his day and enjoyed playing on both church and tavern leagues. While appreciating this fellowship, at St. Francis, he’d also lend a hand serving on the Finance Committee and becoming a Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus member. As a member, he assisted in organizing the grilled chicken dinners held during the annual St. Francis Carnival, referred to by many, and affectionately as, Fr. Peter’s Beer Party.
A quietly spiritual man, Lawrence truly enjoyed the Old St. Francis’s regular Guitar Masses, finding the music an uplifting and refreshing addition to tradition. If he wasn’t singing old folk songs to his small children, you were sure to find radios planted in the barn, garage, workshop, home, office and even his home at Woodland Court to be playing tunes to soothe his soul. His appreciation to music traced back to polkas, waltzes, old and new country, early pop, blues, ballads, and gospel, which captivated his heart. Nearing the end, not only was music relaxing to his mind, but music helped many loving memories come back to life.
As responsibilities heightened and children were leaving the nest, it became time for some serious personal decisions. It was in 1984 the beloved family farm would transfer ownership. A wonderful young couple would blend our history with theirs creating a legacy of their own. The Farm remains a special place to visit, cared for by special people. Lawrence would remain ever grateful for their thoughtful maintenance and often remarked how proud he was of their efforts. The Farm will always be the ‘Home of our Hearts’.
It was in 1994 when Lawrence would retire from Consumer’s Co-op after 25 years of management. However, just prior to that exit he took the seed planted in his youth, a life-long dream, and built his log cabin in the woods. By his hand, from lumber harvested, dried, fitted, cemented together, and stained coupled with a few years of sweat and toil, that the cabin was completed in New Wood Forest. This soon to be retiree’s dream would become the hub for camaraderie between family and friends. Many a hunting, card playing, refreshment sharing, creative cooking gatherings and Thanksgiving holidays would take place. All fully enjoying the labor of love that went into building this Woodland Chalet.
While living his retirement dream, a call back to duty came and Lawrence found himself at the helm, once again serving as interim General Manager of the Pulaski Co-op. Never too soon, and within a year, a younger version of himself was found and he could get back to the serenity of the great outdoors.
During his retirement years Lawrence found himself enjoying many hunting and fishing excursions. As life moved on he continued to find time to help his neighbors, friends, and family. Being useful and of service to others was always a priority throughout his life. Whether fixing lawn mowers, repairing equipment, assisting in general maintenance, or even taking down trees, he was called upon. Known to many as a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy, he’d often lend that needed hand. He believed a neighbor wasn’t just a neighbor, but a friend that you looked after and cared for while doing it. He was sincere in his dealings, trusted, honest, disciplined, hard-working, respected, and, had an abundance of integrity, all sprinkled with quick humorous wit. He was dearly loved and appreciated.
Near the end of days, Lawrence was asked what he was most proud of in life…he paused, smiled and simply replied, ‘his children’. Although the memory fades, never did the love. A man who wore many hats, remembered as a beacon of light to our hearts, who echoed nature’s tranquility and always man’s humility. Let go, let God.
Lawrence’s legacy lives on through his wife of 65 years, Mary, and his children, Juliana Pufal, Patrick, Jeffrey (Peggy), Lori, Colleen Coccaro, Marie (Fritz) Rybert, and Joni (Matt) Schewe. Grand children, Nicolle (John), Jacob (Neile), Danielle, Melonia (Dominic), Ryan, Madison, Molly, Brady, and great-grandson, Seth. Sister, Helen Kolka and many beloved nieces and nephews.
Lawrence was preceded into the hereafter by his parents, Paul and Constance (Kolasinski), son, Michael, daughter-in-law Laura, sisters Dorothy Nettekoven, Valrene Behrens, brothers Paul Jr., Myron, and Ralph. Also, sister-in-law, Carol and brother-in-law, Ted Kolka as well as never forgotten nieces and nephews.
Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Thursday, July 22nd 2021, 1:30 pm at St. Francis Xavier Church, Merrill. Burial following at St. Francis Cemetery with graveside Military Honors by the Merrill V.F.W. post 1638 Honor Guard. A visitation will take place Wednesday, July 21st 2021, from 4 – 7pm at Taylor-Stine Funeral Home, Merrill.
Online condolences may be made at www.taylorstinefuneralhome.com
We are forever grateful for the vigilance and kindness of all at Woodland Ct. Assisted Living and Compassus Hospice Services. Thank you. To loving neighbors and friends with watchful eyes and helping hands, God Bless. Thank you.
On behalf of a man of community, please consider a donation to a local heartfelt cause or charity.
903 E. Third St.
Merrill, WI 54452
Merrill, WI 54452