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1938 Tolly 2023

Duane E. Tollefson

September 23, 1938 — March 5, 2023

Little Falls


Duane “Tolly” Tollefson, 84, passed away peacefully on Sunday, March 5, 2023 at his home in Little Falls, Minnesota with his beloved wife and three children by his side. He had been battling Alzheimer’s disease for several years.


Duane Elton Tollefson was born September 23, 1938 at Saint Olaf Hospital in Austin, Minnesota. The only child of Arnie T. Tollefson and Vivian A. Cochran, Duane grew up in a loving, rural home four miles east of Hollandale, Minnesota. At Austin High School, Duane developed a passion for fast cars, modifying his own, and racing at every chance. Duane was a charter member of the Thumpers Car Club. Later in life, he restored an award-winning Candy Apple Red 1966 Ford Mustang GT convertible. He laughingly said it was the only car he owned that went up in value. After graduating in 1956, Duane received a Trade Certificate from Austin Area Vocational School in auto body rebuilding.


At 19, he met the younger sister of his friend John at Jack’s Drive-in where she worked. The introduction would be the start of a love story lasting more than sixty-four-years. On May 7, 1960, Duane and Catherine Marie Locher were united in marriage at Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Austin, Minnesota. A little over a year later they welcomed the first of their three children. He and Cathy instilled the importance of education in their kids saying, “No one can ever take it from you.” All three would go on to earn post-graduate degrees, something Duane was particularly proud of.


For several years in the late 50s, he worked for a trucking company as well as helping his dad with his milk hauling business. In 1961, Duane accepted a position at IBM and moved to the Rochester, Minnesota area with his family. They moved back to Austin in 1968, when Duane started working for Hormel. The house next door to his childhood home became available in 1972, with room for the Arabian horses he had always wanted. During this time, Duane worked the night shift at Hormel and hauled milk during the day. In 1975, with his father ready to retire, Duane purchased his dad’s milk trucking business. For the next 25 years, with a thermos of coffee and a can of Coca-Cola nearby, Duane picked up and delivered milk to various creameries, with the Stacyville Creamery in Iowa being the primary co-op. In 1984, he acquired the title of grandpa. He spent the rest of his life being the best grandpa to his seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. They could talk Grandpa into doing just about anything.


In 1997, after 40 years of hard work, he and Cathy retired to a home overlooking Table Rock Lake south of Kimberling City, Missouri. The two spent many of their retirement years volunteering at church and in the community, making new friends, and renovating another home together, most of which was done with their own hands.


Throughout his life, Duane lived the lessons taught to him by his parents: taking pride in his work, appearance, the things he owned, and his Norwegian heritage. Duane dressed sharply, insisted on quality, and could often be found washing his car or fixing up his home. His favorite lefse was rarely missing from a holiday dinner table. He treated others fairly and with empathy striking up conversations with anyone and everyone. While he would never admit, Duane’s life was not without hardship. No matter how difficult things were, Duane was always quick to put them in perspective with unyielding optimism. He would recall all he still had to be thankful for, frequently commenting on how rich he was, referring to his family.


Duane enjoyed his horses, cars, fishing, telling stories, reading, flower gardening, birds, parties, and dancing, particularly to the big band music of his youth. No matter what kind of day he was having, he always seemed happy to see you, greeting others with enthusiasm. As Duane would often say, “Life is good.” He made sure of it for himself and for all those who had the good fortune of sharing it with him. He will be greatly missed.


Duane is survived by his devoted wife, Cathy, of more than 62 years; his three children: Lisa (Anthony) Fleck of New Ulm, MN, Darren (Janelle) Tollefson of White Pine, TN, and Kelly (Craig) Mertens of Little Falls, MN; seven grandchildren: Trevor (Autumn) Fleck, Brett (Jill) Fleck, Becca Fleck, Kaylee Tollefson, Sarah Tollefson, Zachary (Maranda) Mertens, and Carlie Mertens; four great-grandchildren: Vivian Fleck, Kipton Fleck, Alivia Hulett, and Benjamin Mertens. Also, brothers and sisters-in-law: Patricia Locher, John Locher, Dorothy Lukes, Ray and Linda Locher, and Michael and Maureen Bibus.


He was preceded in death by his parents, father and mother-in-law, Ray and Regina Locher; sisters-in-law: Carol Locher Schaefer, Virginia Guiney Locher, and Susie Locher Bjornson; brothers-in-law: Landol Locher, Bob Lukes, Ken Rauen, Ray Bjornson, and Dick Schaefer. The family wishes to thank Dr. Mark Moe and the CHI Hospice team for their unfailing dedication and support.


A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, August 12, 2023 from 11:30- 2:30 PM including a prayer service at 12:00 PM at the Cass Gilbert Depot, 200 1st Street NW, Little Falls, MN 56345.


In lieu of flowers, memorials to Shriners Hospitals for Children are preferred. ( to the


Emblom Brenny Funeral Service is Cherishing the Memory and Celebrating the Life of Duane.


To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Duane E. Tollefson, please visit our flower store.


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