Barb Bukowiec, 83

November 13, 2023
Barb Bukowiec Barb Bukowiec

On Monday, Nov. 6, we said goodbye to our mother and grandmother, Barb Bukowiec. Per Barb’s wishes, following her death, there is to be no burial and no funeral service. She said she always hated going to funerals.

However, none of us could let her go without acknowledging how special this woman was and how she enriched all of our family’s lives and the lives and so many others. Born and raised in Illinois, Barb had great interest in math, science, and engineering. She said she drove her father crazy because she always wanted to be out in the shop with him working on things. She was also quite an artist. We never realized this until she showed us an old sketchbook full of drawings she had done.

In college, she was part of many theater productions, mostly musicals, due to her beautiful singing voice. During her college years, she would eventually choose to become an English teacher. Also during that time, in 1962, she married Stan Bukowiec, and after having three children, she finished earning her Bachelor’s degree. Her teaching career commenced in the Joliet, IL, area where both she and her husband taught English, instructing literally many hundreds of students over the years to read, to write, and to appreciate literature.

Barb and Stan both had a love for the outdoors, hunting, and fishing. They decided it was time to leave Illinois in search of a less populated area in which they could enjoy those things. In 1972, their journey would take them to Baudette, MN, where Barb took a position as a high school English teacher, and Stan took a position as the high school principal. They thoroughly enjoyed living in the North Woods, embracing fishing, hunting, and snowmobiling. True, there were some things they couldn’t get in Baudette. Barb couldn’t find bagels anywhere, so being an accomplished cook and baker, she made her own.

Stan decided to take a break from education and bought Rainy River Lodge on Wheeler’s Point Road. They became resort owners, although Barb continued to teach while helping with the resort. She could drive the launch as well as Stan and was the accomplished navigator on Lake of the Woods. After some years as resort owners, Stan felt the call to return to education.

They both secured teaching positions at Turtle Mountain Community High School in Belcourt, ND. They would remain teaching there until Stan died in 1999 and Barb retired. Once again, they embraced the lifestyle they found themselves in, making friends and exploring the local Native American culture. Barb really went the extra mile to teach her students and try to make it fun and memorable. While teaching a segment about “Olde English,” she set up a Madrigal dinner for her students. To generate interest in Shakespeare, she had them watch Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson.

Once their children had all graduated from high school, they purchased their “dream home,” an old house that had been empty for years but was full of hand-painted woodwork, etched transoms, and other unique features. It was the perfect place to showcase the antiques they both collected. The house was in Perth, ND, a ghost town of sorts with only five houses and ten miles of gravel to travel in any direction to get to an asphalt road.

Barb continued to live there after Stan passed away and after she retired from teaching. It was her sanctuary. She enjoyed the time spent caring for her yard and going to auctions with her next-door neighbor, Maxine.

When Tom and I married in 1990, I felt blessed because my mother-in-law was like a best friend. In 2010, she called one evening and asked us how we would feel if she sold her house, put an addition on our house, and came to live with us. We all gave her a resounding “Yes!” I remember our boys jumping up and down chanting, “We get Grandma!”

In 2011, her addition was completed, her house sold, and she moved in with us full-time. We all benefitted from her presence. It was a dream as a working mom to come home to a clean house and a delicious supper on the table. We had a blast!

Grandma came to all of the band concerts and baseball games. Our sons have so many wonderful memories of driving around in Grandma’s “bad-**s” Dodge, 4-wheel-drive pick-up with a HEMI while rocking out to Bon Jovi, the Bee Gees, and Paul Simon. Truly, the coolest Grandma in the world.

In 2018, Barb was diagnosed with stomach cancer and dementia. What followed were endless appointments, chemotherapy, and a gradual loss of her ability to form words, to write, and to perform simple tasks.

During this time, she and I had many conversations about life. The one that stands out in particular was a time when she said, “If I had it to do all over again, I would still be a teacher.” I found this amazing because most of us, myself included, would choose to do things differently. I asked her, “Why?” I will never forget her response. She said, “I loved the kids. I loved it when I taught them something, and I would see them get that spark in their eyes that told me that they got it.” A testimony to her calling as a teacher.

It was our intention to care for Barb at our home for the duration. However, after four years, her condition was such that she needed to be placed at the Warroad Senior Living Center. Our heartfelt thanks go out to the dedicated staff who work there. They do their job with competence, respect, dedication, compassion, and love for their residents. The work they do is never acknowledged or appreciated enough; they are angels walking among us.

Rest in peace, Barbara. Your work here is done. You will be remembered in the hearts and minds of thousands of students that you educated, encouraged, and inspired. As your family, we will never forget you.

I will leave you with lines from the eternal William Shakespeare that Barb often quoted. If you had Barb as a teacher, you probably already know it: Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any[one]. Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

Barbara Ann (Binkele) Bukowiec: born August 3, 1940, in Peoria, IL. Passed peacefully on November 6, 2023, in Warroad, MN. Preceded in death by her parents, Otto and Janette (Goldsmith) Binkele; her husband, Stanley Bukowiec; her grandsons, Sean Riggins and Jeffery Ruland; and her brother-in-law, Rodger Haga.

Survived by her children, Trudy (Scott) Ruland of New Town, ND, Debbie Riggins of Watford City, ND, and Tom (Joy) Bukowiec of Warroad, MN; grandsons William (Jess) Ruland and Barrett, David, and Aidan Bukowiec; great-granddaughter Maci Ruland; a sister, Earlene Haga, and brother, David Binkele, and nieces and nephew Diane, Amy, and Duane. An extended family of great-nephews, a great-great niece, great-great nephews, and many cousins also survive.

Memorials are preferred to either Lake of Woods Public School in Baudette, MN, or Turtle Mountain Community High School in Belcourt, ND. Our public schools face monumental challenges trying to educate the young people in our country. In addition to educating the future generation, educators find themselves dealing with behavioral/mental health issues among students and making sure they have enough to eat, all while juggling budget cuts that cause staffing shortages and increases in class size. Teachers spend countless hours of their own time correcting papers and planning lessons and projects. They spend much of their own money buying supplies for their classrooms. Your donations in Barb’s name can help ease some of these challenges. Barb also loved all wildlife, mostly birds and, in particular, loons. Memorials can also be made to The National Loon Foundation.