Growing up, Vern Bartholomew shared one bed with three brothers. His sister slept in a crib until she was nearly 12.
Whichever sibling awoke first got the good pair of shoes to wear to school that day.
The humble upbringing, by a baker mom and house painter dad, molded him into a well-loved man who tried to get along and help any soul in need, including his time as chauffeur and bodyguard to Hubert Humphrey.
Bartholomew died Nov. 2, two months shy of his 101st birthday, at his Brooklyn Park home after a short illness.
The father of four, grandfather of nine and great-grandfather of many was preceded in death by his wife, Bernice, daughter Mary and two grandchildren. Services were held Nov. 9.
“He was the kindest, most compassionate man you would ever want to meet. There is no one who did not like Vern,” said daughter-in-law Barb Bartholomew. He ran Meals on Wheels and church rummage sales to help the poor, said daughter Sue Northenscold. He and his wife took in friends who had fallen into poverty so they could eat.
Bartholomew knew about hard times, “so he would bend over backward to help anyone. He insisted we all did,” son Charly said. His son also told of a Golden Gloves boxer who could grew up fighting and turned hard when needed.
To help his parents during the Depression, Bartholomew dropped out of West High School in Minneapolis to work, eventually joining his brother Carl on the assembly line at Ford Motor Co. During the time he was working there, he asked Bernice (Bernie), whom he had met at the roller skating rink, to marry. She said no because he wasn’t Catholic.
Ever calm and determined, Vern said nothing but he secretly converted.
After a year of Catholicism classes at Incarnation Church, he was welcomed into the church and again asked Bernie for her hand. They married in 1940, rented a house in Minneapolis near the airport’s Wold-Chamberlain Field and started a family.
Charly arrived in 1941, Mary the following year and Sue in 1945. Mark came in 1952. Because the benefits were better, Bartholomew quit his job at the Ford plant and became a Minneapolis police officer.
As a cop, Bartholomew would do whatever was needed, whether it was working nights, working in precincts in south Minneapolis, the North Side or City Hall. “He never complained about it. He just worked wherever they put him,” said Northenscold.
His favorite assignment came when Humphrey was elected Minneapolis mayor in 1945. For four years, Bartholomew was chauffeur, body guard and trusted friend. He baby-sat Skip Humphrey, drove the mayor cross-country and chased down threats.
In 1947, with Bartholomew standing guard outside Humphrey’s home, someone shot at the mayor three times. No one was hurt, and Humphrey, with Bartholomew’s help, kept his manic schedule of speeches railing against corruption, labor disputes and housing shortages.
“Those two were inseparable,” said Charly, laughing.
When Humphrey headed to the U.S. Senate in 1949, Bartholomew stayed behind, becoming top guard for Minneapolis’ next three mayors as well.
He went back to school, got his high school diploma and rose from police sergeant to lieutenant. He retired in 1969, after 25 years.
Not one to sit idle, Vern joined Borson Construction where he drove trucks, did carpentry and cement work. Vern bowled, fished and camped well into his 80s and 90s.
“And he became an official honorary member of the Nimrod Deer Hunting Club,” Northenscold said. He organized hunting trips, chopped firewood and built deer stands.
“But he never shot a deer,” she said.