Jon Kelly Echternacht, 68, died at his home in River Falls on Saturday, March 29, of lung cancer. At his side were his sweetheart and wife of 28 years, Jeannie Gryzwa, and members of the family he loved so much.
Jon was born in Buffalo Center, Iowa, in 1945 to John “Jack” and Floreine “Flo” Echternacht. He grew up in Brainerd, Minn., with his sisters, Jane and Jean. He graduated in 1964 from Washington High School, where he was co-captain of the football team.
In 1968 he graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul with a degree in English and later did graduate work in journalism at the University of Minnesota.
After a tour in the U.S. Navy serving aboard the USS Howard W. Gilmore, Jon began his career in journalism. Beginning in the 1970s, he worked as an editor for the Associated Press in Fargo, N.D., and Minneapolis; as sports editor for the Wahpeton Daily News; as managing editor for the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune; and as a reporter for the Brainerd Daily Dispatch.
Perhaps his best assignment was his 10-year stint as managing editor of the “Packer Report,” the weekly football magazine of the Green Bay Packers.
He and his wife owned and operated the Lake Hubert Store near Brainerd for a time before he returned to journalism.
For the past 14 years Jon was a respected member of the Hudson Star-Observer staff. In addition to covering the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Office, county courts, the county board and the Hudson School District, he was known for his insightful features, many about area veterans honoring their service by telling their stories.
Along with his skill as a writer, Jon also consistently provided Star-Observer readers with beautiful photographs, often of nature. Among his most memorable photo essays was the annual grape harvest at the Martell vineyard near Somerset.
Readers also looked forward to “Jon’s Jottings,” a column he wrote that included a wide variety of topics from sports to history to his travels. His last column for the Star-Observer was a lament over the sale of the venerable Jim Beam Whiskey company to the Japanese.
Jon appeared to have a gruff exterior but that was not the whole story. While he did not suffer fools lightly and was known for his sometimes salty language, he always worked to report factually and without bias. He was also known as a sensitive interviewer who could quote Tennyson when the time was right.
Jon took great interest in his nieces and nephew and made the trip to Iowa annually with a dozen roses for his grandmother Kelly’s birthday until the time of her death at age 111.
When not writing, Jon had a wide variety of interests and hobbies including jewelry-making, gardening and canning, cooking, woodworking, fishing and hunting.
Surviving are his wife, Jeannie; sisters, Jane Hallas of St. Paul and Jean Ness of Minneapolis; nieces, Libby Jean (Todd) Hallas-Muchow and Jana Alexandra Hallas; nephew, Andrew “Droxmire” Ness; great-niece, Samantha “Junebug” Muchow; as well as his colleagues and friends at the Star-Observer.
Preceding him in death were his parents; his grandparents, Estel Ira and Clara Thus Nelda Echternacht and Marion and Daisy Ruth Kelly; and his brother-in-law, Jim Hallas.
On his behalf, the family extends their thanks to those who provided care and support to him over the past three months including Dr. Joseph Ardolf of Stillwater Medical Group, Dr. Bruce Bennett and nurse Jim Sacket of Regions Hospital and Lakeview Homecare nurse Mary Gilkerson.
A memorial service is being planned for Friday, June 6, 2014 at the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter, in Stillwater, MN (time TBD). Memorials are preferred and will be forwarded to several organizations in Jon’s memory.
Arrangements with the O’Connell Family Funeral Home. (715) 386-3725. www.oconnellfuneralhomes.com