There were times, Linda Irgens admits, when it wasn’t easy being “the sensitive daughter” of a former Marine Corps Lt. Col. who expected his children to toe the line, get their hands dirty and finish their chores to his satisfaction. She said her father, Richard M. “Dick” Irgens, lived a large life and had high expectations.
“I don’t think he knew quite what to do with me sometimes,” she said of her father, who grew up on a farm, learned to fly helicopters and jets and loved hunting and fishing and all things outdoors. “But he always had something fun to counteract the chores.”
And now she misses him dearly.
Irgens, 86, of St. Paul died June 8 of complications from vascular dementia and diabetes. When she thinks of her father’s life, and how it ended, Linda Irgens is reminded of a quote by poet Clarissa Pinkola Estes: “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.”
Dementia confined her father in the harbor of memory care but “he always had the energy of a great ship. It is my belief that he is free from the harbor now and is happily sailing again,” she said.
Irgens was born Dec. 9, 1931, in Glenwood, Minn., to Chester and Mary Irgens. After graduating from Glenwood High School, he joined the Navy. But his younger brother, Donald Irgens, said it didn’t take long for the Marines to reach out and offer the 17-year-old a place in their aviation officer candidate school in Florida. He would learn to fly both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. While he never talked much about his time in the military — he served from 1951 through 1958, and another 17 years in the reserves — he exhibited bravery and calm, family members say.
Once while flying a single engine jet over Florida, the engine failed. “Rather than eject over a populated area, he headed to sea and ditched the plane over the ocean so no one would be hurt,” said Donald Irgens, who also became a pilot at the encouragement of his older brother.
The Marines sent a story about the incident to Irgens’ parents in Glenwood. Irgens himself never brought it up. “All he really said was, ‘I was doing my job. This is what I was trained for’” his daughter said.
After retiring from the military, Irgens became a commercial pilot for North Central Airlines. He later served as a Civil Defense Coordinator for Prior Lake and was elected to the Prior Lake City Council. He also served in a number of other civic organizations.
His passion, though, was the outdoors, filling his spare time with hunting, sailing, snowmobiling, skating, skiing and working on a small farm he bought. There, he taught his children hard work.
“One time, at an auction, he bought calves and we had to take care of them,” Linda Irgens said. “He had a flight, so he gave us a list of what to do and said, ‘When I get back, they better be alive.’ ”
Yet, she also remembers the joy of horseback rides, snowmobile rides and being taught how to drive the pontoon.
“I have many happy memories of boating with my dad and miss his physical presence,” Linda Irgens said. “This was a sad Father’s Day for me and I am trying to carry on.”
Said Donald Irgens: “With his children, he was both stern and not so stern. They still loved him.”
Besides his daughter and younger brother, he is survived by children Kimberly Rose-Pannell, Richard Irgens Jr., Lisa Irgens and Michael Irgens; brother Robert Irgens, and four grandchildren. Services have been held.