Don Hamann usually had a deck of cards in his back pocket and a cribbage board in his back seat. So it came as no surprise that he passed away while playing cribbage at his favorite bar, holding a winning hand. He was 92.
Hamann had told his wife, Shirley, that when he went, he wanted to go on a good day.
“It was a good day for him,” said his granddaughter, Karlyn Coleman of Minneapolis. “Beer, cards, time spent with my grandmother and friends.”
After he was dealt his last hand Jan. 5 at the Moonshine Bar and Grill in Princeton, Minn., friends and family reflected on just how important all of those card games were. For Hamann, most of life’s lessons could be taught over a cribbage board.
Come to the table with joy. Even in his final year, when his heart was failing, he continued “tinkering” around the house and bragging about the rutabagas and sunflowers in his garden. He built a deer stand last fall. And he always made time for cards.
“He was here every Tuesday for card day,” said bartender Heidi Thompson. “He’s definitely a guy who will be missed.”
Born in 1923 at the family farm in Bogus Brook Township just north of Princeton, he attended school until eighth grade and worked alongside his parents and his brothers at the family farm. Without much to do in a small town, the family passed time playing card games. Young Don’s mother, Esther, would say, “We can play cards or talk about the neighbors.”
They played cards.
Count your cards carefully. Every point counts. A childhood during the Great Depression taught Hamann to be resourceful and frugal.
He served in the U.S. Navy, returning to the family farm in 1945. He married Shirley Bonkowske in 1949, and together they milked cows and raised crops and four children.
One point or two, sometimes it’s the slow and steady movement down the board that gets you ahead.
On the farm, not every year was good or every crop bountiful, but the couple made it through. The farm was recognized as a “century farm” in 2014 by the Minnesota State Fair and the Minnesota Farm Bureau for continuous ownership by a family for 100 years or more. Their son, Rod, operates the farm today.
Take time to sit down with family and friends. Hamann loved his country and his farm, but his greatest joy was his family. His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all learned to play rummy and cribbage.
Hamann got along with everyone. “It is hard to get in an argument when you are busy counting cards,” Coleman said. And he was always on the lookout for cribbage opponents. “Young or old, he’d talk to anyone,” daughter-in-law Connie Hamann said.
He rarely lost, everyone agrees.
He was a bit of a wild card at times, too, getting into situations that now serve as catalysts for plenty of “remember when Grandpa Don …” stories.
His final lesson, and perhaps the most important? Laugh when you get skunked, because that is all you can do. And then shuffle the cards and start again.
Hamann was preceded in death by his parents, Oscar and Esther; and his brothers, Alvin and Earl. He is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughters Connie Haubenschild of Plymouth and Sandy Haehn of Princeton; sons Ron of Milaca, and Rod of Princeton; 11 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren. Services have been held. On his casket sat a cribbage board with a perfect hand.