Wesley Balken, 68, of rural Erhard, died Monday, August 30, 2021.
How do you squeeze a lifetime into just 68 short years? Wes Balken did it, but unfortunately, he didn’t live to talk about it. So, it’s now up to his family to carry on his incredible talent for storytelling, stretching the truth, and just plain shooting the … well you know. Born into an already eccentric family, Wesley Taylor Balken was the third of four children to Albert (Leonard) and Christeva Balken on November 2, 1952. He always said he hated his name and was known by everyone as just “Wes”. His older sister Judy and older brother Randy welcomed him home and quickly put him to good use for pranks on their parents like putting marbles in his diapers to scare their mother. His younger sister Tracy came along 10 years later and he served as her protector, even as she continued to tease and annoy him through his final day. Wes’ best friends growing up were his family, cousins, and neighbors. With 12 aunts and uncles, Balken family get-togethers and visits were a way of life. Socializing and storytelling were instilled in Wes at an early age and anyone who met him knew he had the gift for gab. He grew up on a dairy farm outside of Rothsay, MN and “honest-to-God” – he and Randy milked all the cows, planted the crops, and baled hay from the time they started to walk. No joke.
Wes’ love for music and sports started at an early age as well. He played guitar, baseball, and football throughout his high school years. His football coach later recalled that although Wes was only 150 pounds at the time, he was “one tough Norwegian”. He loved playing fast-pitch softball throughout his life. He played catcher and no-one ever stole second base on him. No joke. He later coached little league baseball, was a softball umpire for many years, and even played in a pinch with his sons when they needed an extra player. Wes played guitar and banjo in several bands throughout his years, entertaining everyone who watched. Amazingly, he never read music and only played by ear. Which is too bad because he was slightly deaf.
Military service runs deep in the Balken family, and Wes and Randy both took after their father. Randy followed Leonard and joined the Navy but Wes’ love of aviation pushed him to the U.S. Air Force. He enlisted in 1970 and originally was going to be an electrician before falling from a telephone pole and hurting his back. He transferred into the communications career field as a postal Airman. While he was stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, Wes married his high school sweetheart, Elaine Dietz in 1971. He served in the Air Force for eight years on active duty in overseas assignments in Taiwan and Norway. They moved their family back to Rothsay and together they built the foundation of what would become an amazing and eventually enormous family. Home base for much of the Balken clan, their small house was the source of big gatherings, and even bigger card games. He transferred into the U.S. Postal Service. He worked his way up from a city mail carrier in Fergus Falls, MN into several area post offices as a postmaster. He served as the Rothsay Postmaster for 17 years. If you ever stopped to get your mail, you were always greeted with a joke or two. Whether they were appropriate was another question. He continued his service in the Air National Guard, retiring in 1994, and finished his career as the Breckenridge Postmaster, retiring in 2008.
Among all of his hobbies and past times, Wes loved to fish. Maybe more than life itself. Opening fishing was a holiday for him. If you were lucky enough to fish with Wes, you were lucky enough. To find out Wes’s true fishing tally, the rule of thumb was: take the number of fish claimed to be caught by half, and then divide by three. And the only lake Wes ever fished on was lake “Wish-you-knew”. He was most thankful for his children, nieces, and nephews – not for their fishing companionship but for saving him thousands of dollars by catching night crawlers in the rain and frogs in the weeds.
He also loved to deer hunt. His accuracy as an adolescent was questionable. However, his first “swamp buck” made the Minnesota record book. If you ever wanted to hear the story, he’d gladly tell you at the local bar. He was a master of the “good deal” at local auctions and always an expert handyman with duct tape, fishing line, and gorilla glue. In his personal life, Wes also a bit of a fashion king. He was ahead of his time with his lace-up crocs, white socks and tennis shoes, and his collection of American flag, bald eagle, and dream catcher t-shirts. His fashion sense was unrivaled in Ottertail County.
In 2014 he married his best friend, Lora Benhardus. Despite his best efforts, Lora often out-fished, out-hunted, and out-bid him at local auctions. Blood didn’t define Wes’ family. As his “Brady bunch” family grew, there was no difference in Wes’ heart as he always made everyone feel welcomed and loved.
His family takes solace in the fact that he was welcomed home by his best friend Gene Balken and his loving parents Leonard and Christeva Balken.
He is lovingly survived by: His wife Lora Balken, his children: Shane (Karie) Balken, Chad (Jennifer) Balken, Amber (Brock) Schatz; Becky (Travis) Roehl; Derek (Kayla) Benhardus; those who are blessed to call him Grandpa: Jacob, Reygan, Chase, Zachary, Isaac, Gabe; Taylor, Mia, Carter, Ella, Sloan; Madison, Landon; Sierra, Sydney; Ellie, Gracie, and Addie; his life-long best friends, Elaine Balken, and his siblings, Judy (Bob) Nowak, Randy (Polly) Balken, Tracy (Brian) Buchholz. In addition, many nieces, nephews, and the entire Balken clan, who look forward to carrying on his legacy.
Visitation: 5:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m., Friday, September 3, 2021, at New Life Lutheran Church in Rothsay with a 6:30 p.m. prayer service. Visitation will resume one hour prior to the service at the church.
Memorial Service: 2:00 p.m., Saturday, September 4, 2021, at New Life Lutheran Church in Rothsay.
Clergy: Reverend Randy Whitehead
Interment: Hamar Cemetery, rural Rothsay, MN
Arrangements provided by the Olson Funeral Home in Fergus Falls.
Online condolences may be sent to