Patricia “Patty” Bjork was like the mom of the Minneapolis Police Band, where she played the euphonium for 25 years. Everyone looked forward to the fried chicken and apple pie she brought to rehearsals. When she was going through cancer treatment and too weak to lift her heavy instrument, Bjork still joined the group at practices. And finally, she made sure there was a new euphonium player to replace her in the band.
“Playing band music was her life,” said Ilga Dulbe, a friend and colleague at Lutheran Brotherhood in Minneapolis, where they worked for 35 years before retiring in the mid-2000s.
Bjork, of Bloomington, died on April 9 at Fairview Southdale Hospital at age 71. At her memorial service, members of the Minneapolis Police Band played.
“Her friendships with band members and the music sustained her during a dark time,” said brother Bill Bjork.
Bjork grew up in Shakopee and played the cornet in the Shakopee High School marching band, graduating in 1962. She majored in kinesiology at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her passion for music landed on the back burner while she was a catcher for a women’s fast-pitch softball team in Columbia Heights, for which she garnered accolades as an all-star player in the late 1960s and ’70s. Later, Bjork switched to coaching women’s softball teams, winning many trophies.
When kneeling became too painful, Bjork traded in her catcher’s glove for a musical instrument. She played the cornet, trumpet and eventually the euphonium, performing in scores of community bands. “She was a natural,” said her brother. “She liked the tone and parts she could play with the euphonium.”
In 1991, Bjork found a welcoming atmosphere among the talented musicians of the Minneapolis Police concert and marching bands, and her bandmates became like a second family. The bands perform show tunes, marches and big band numbers at the Lake Harriet Band Shell, Aquatennial parade, senior centers and other venues. The Minneapolis Police Band was formed in 1917 and two years later, civilians were allowed to join.
Bjork had stints as band president, wrote the newsletter and tirelessly recruited new members.
“She even bought 30 Santa hats for all of us to wear at Christmas concerts,” said friend Janelle Kletzin, who plays trumpet for the band.
Bjork took her leadership role seriously and offered encouragement at band practices, said band member Joan Madden. “She was part of the glue keeping us together.”
Bjork was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and underwent a series of surgeries and medical treatments, but kept playing. “She loved to play the rockin’ songs and Broadway tunes,” said Ann Westerback, a band percussionist. “It took her mind off her illness.”
Bjork was “a kind and generous soul,” said brother Jon Bjork. “She was a great big sister.”
When her aging parents were still alive, Patty Bjork visited them daily to buy groceries and do other chores so they could stay in their home as long as possible. “After dad passed away, she moved in with mom for six years,” Jon said.
Bjork didn’t have any children, but she loved to show kids “the beauty of the music that came from her instruments,” Dulbe said.
When she could no longer play her beloved euphonium, Bjork turned to the bass drum. “Patty was sure I could hear it all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska,” said Bill Bjork, who lives there. “Because she played it loudly with gusto.”
Bjork is survived by brothers Bill and Jon. A memorial service has been held.