Friends, customers remember produce guy 'Farmer Hank'
As Cheryl Deloach saw it, Hank Bos wasn't just the guy who sold sweet corn and cucumbers by the side of the road near Duluth's Lake Superior Zoo. He was a father figure.
"From the moment I met him, he made me feel like we'd been friends for all our lives," the Proctor woman said. "He reminded me a lot of my dad, who I lost not long before I met Hank, so meeting him was a blessing."
Bos, who for decades faithfully drove the 94 miles from his Shell Lake, Wis., farm to western Duluth daily from July to late October to sell produce from next to his pickup truck, died on Feb. 4 in Shell Lake after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 79.
Bos sold produce everywhere from Shell Lake to Duluth for 37 years, according to his obituary.
People knew him as "Farmer Hank," said Michelle Bryce, 58, but during a telephone conversation she occasionally referred to him as "Dad."
"He's my Dad No. 3," said Bryce, who lives in the Morgan Park neighborhood but had grown so close to Bos over the years that she was with family members at his bedside when he died, she said.
Bryce originally knew Bos as his customer, she said, starting to buy produce from him in the late 1990s. Since 2003, she had helped him out, volunteering her time.
Cloquet resident Cliff Carey reported a similar experience, first stopping to buy produce and later volunteering to help out for at least the past 16 years.
"I'd never seen him angry," Carey said of Bos. "Ever. He was always smiling. He was always cheerful. You couldn't ask for a nicer person."
Both Carey and Bryce talked about Bos' generosity, saying that when people came by who appeared to be down on their luck, he'd give them a couple of extra ears of corn or throw in a few apples. "He'd say, 'Here, that's on me,' " Carey recalled. "That's just the way he was."
Larry Whitney, 71, had been buying produce from Bos for just the past five years or so, he said. "He was fantastic," the Hermantown man said. "He'd go out of his way for customers. He went out of his way for me more than once."
Bos didn't grow garlic or potatoes, but when that's what Whitney wanted, Bos would make sure he had those items available for sale, Whitney said.
In an interview for a 1995 News Tribune story, Bos described how he would get up before dawn every morning, pick vegetables by hand and drive to Duluth while the goods were still field fresh.
"They're rewarding days, but they're not for people who don't like to work, work, work," Bos said then.
Bos loved the Halloween-themed "Boo at the Zoo" event in October, Carey said. "He'd go through a couple thousand pumpkins."
Bos also went through a few pickup trucks over the years, most recently a heavy-duty red Ford, Carey said.
Whitney was familiar with that truck. "The last I heard he had 360,000 miles on it," Whitney said. "It had the front end replaced a couple of times because a couple deer decided to walk out in front of him."
Deloach, 56, said she had been buying produce from Bos for about 20 years. When she'd stop by his stand she would always bring him homemade peanut butter cookies that he'd snack on during his drive home, she said.
Her dad had been a gardener, and Bos always was willing to answer her gardening questions, she said.
"I never saw him without a smile on his face, even when he wasn't well," she said. "He is missed so much by so many."
A memorial service for Henry R. "Hank" Bos will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Shell Lake Full Gospel Church, 293 Highway 63 S., Shell Lake.