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Obituary: Frederick Keith Little

Frederick Keith Little, 93, passed away in Cloquet on Oct. 23, 2022. Fred was born July 17, 1929, in Ferndale, Michigan, the first of four children born to Austin H. and A. Winnifred Halpenny Little.

Fred believed in working and playing hard, putting time and effort into communities and causes he believed in, encouraging others to find their strengths, and in telling stories, even if the listener had already heard them a time or five before. Dad's stories typically were lengthy, so be warned that the family followed that tradition in writing this obituary.

In addition to his many stories about life at home in Westland, Michigan, with his parents and sisters, Fred loved to tell stories about his treasured times spent on the farm in Arthur, Ontario, with his grandfather, uncles, aunts, and cousins. We heard many a tale of running the mail route (by horse) with his grandfather, and of the shenanigans he got into with his cousins, especially Ken Waters.

After graduating from Fordson High School in Dearborn in 1947, Fred attended Michigan State College, graduating in 1951 with a degree in civil engineering. After graduating, he served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

In the summer of 1952, Fred developed what he called "heart trouble" when he met Barbara Ann Cloud, who was working in the secretarial pool before attending nursing school in the fall. It sounds like he found a few excuses to need secretarial help, or to tell a story or two, that summer. They married on April 30, 1955, and spent the next 65 years loving one another and occasionally driving each other crazy. (That's them in the photo above.)

Fred and Barbara added four children to the family, each born in a different city as the young couple moved around to further Fred's engineering career. Fred's work moved the family around in North Carolina and Virginia, where he worked with R.A. Ransom and Co., and Southwestern Virginia Gas Co.

We recall blowing up lead soldiers with fireworks, then melting them back down and remolding them with Dad, as well as other adventures that seem inconceivable in modern times. The younger children remember stories told from the phone book, which (probably due to their novelty) we treasured more than our more regular reading times with Mom.

In 1979, Fred took a job with Inter-City Gas (later Northern Minnesota Utilities), and the family moved to Cloquet, where Fred and Barbara found home and community.

Fred's life (and his stories) had several ongoing themes, many of which revolved around service, especially to community. A lifelong Boy Scout, Fred went from member in the 1940s to Scoutmaster in the 1960s and 1970s, with ongoing service adding up to a lifetime with the Boy Scouts. He was awarded the Order of the Arrow in 1974, the Silver Beaver in 1987, and the Golden Eagle Champion of Community Service in 2011.

After retiring in 1990, Fred served as mayor of Cloquet from 1995 to 1998. He was also active with the Community Memorial Hospital Foundation, serving as member, treasurer, drive member, and president. Fred served on and chaired the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District. He was a board member and treasurer of the Carlton County Historical Society, and he also worked as the trail coordinator when the Wood City Riders was new. Fred was an active participant in the Rotary Club in Cloquet. He was a top rose seller many years and was named Rotarian of the Year in 1993.

Some may remember Fred as a major booster and the voice of Cloquet High School football and track over the public address system for many years. Unsurprisingly, he absolutely loved volunteering to read stories to kindergarteners.

Fred loved doing almost anything outdoors, no matter the season. The kids grew up camping and canoeing, often with our Michigan family, and we recall many an evening of stories around the campfire.

Fred loved a good road trip, and we went on quite a few since we were far from his family in Michigan and Ontario and, at times, from Mom's family in northern Virginia. We were game, enthusiastic even, and we loved visiting our aunts, uncles, and cousins, although to this day it is still slightly traumatic to recall the thought of cigar smoke in a closed station wagon, where we bounced about unbuckled, of course.

The stories helped us pass the hours in the car. He told us stories of "Fallen Rock" or "Falling Rock" when we passed those road signs. He would never make a U-turn or go back the same way he came, because somebody might be waiting to ambush us.

After retiring, Fred dove into recreation wholeheartedly, quickly accumulating four-wheelers, snowmobiles, and other "toys" for the pursuit of outdoor adventures. He put them all to good use. There were snowmobiling trips in Minnesota, Michigan, and out West (where he once was stuck in the mountains overnight). Fred used the four-wheelers for a lot of fun things, but probably his favorite was participating in bison roundups at Niobrara Valley Preserve in Nebraska.

With his son David (and help from many others), Fred started building "the shack" in the 1990s, which became his favorite place. He passed his love for the place along to his children and grandchildren, and although what happens at the shack is supposed to stay at the shack, our times there with family and friends have been and will be the subject of stories for years to come.

Fred was a regular participant in the annual family reunions in Canada with the descendants of his grandparents Hugh and Annie Little, missing very few until travel became difficult. In recent years, he enjoyed family trips to Glacier and Yosemite national parks with his kids, although he was mad when we wouldn't let him zipline with us in 2012 and 2015 (especially since Mom was allowed to).

Dad's last few years had challenges. Barbara was gone, he was in assisted living, the pandemic kept family and friends away, and in his last adventure at the shack he added to the impressive lifetime broken rib count. (We do not recommend any advice he ever gave about how to get to age 93. Fred had good genes, good adventures, and good luck, not a healthy lifestyle.)

He still told stories, perhaps a bit more slowly than he used to, but with a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face. We are grateful for the wonderful caregivers at Diamond Willow in Cloquet the past several years who didn't just care for Dad's failing body, they also entertained and challenged his still-functioning mind and spirit. We are so fortunate that he was himself until the end, although possibly a gentler and more patient version of himself.

I'm sure we will be telling stories about him for years to come, which I know he would love, but keep in mind the adage we grew up with: "Never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Fred was preceded in death by his wife of 65 years, Barbara Cloud Little (d. 2020), and a lot of beloved relatives, including many cousins, and some in-laws. Fred is survived by children Fred A. Little (Annie Gerard) of Palisades, New York; Sheryl Mireles (James) of Houston; Diane Ray (Willis Yarberry) of Helena, Montana; and David Little of Wrenshall. He is also survived by grandchildren Peregrine Gerard-Little (Connor Wiktorowicz), F. Corwin Gerard-Little, Erin Epperson, Lauren Ray, Rayna Little, Kristin Epperson, and Allison Ray; and by great-grandchildren Ivy Epperson, Cael Mireles, Samuel Gruenwald, and Leo Wiktorowicz. He is also survived by his beloved sisters, Peggy Ann (Bob) Webster, Marge Sullivan, and Sue Kurginski, as well as his fellow "outlaws" on Barbara's side of the family. This list barely scratches the surface, as Fred is also survived by cousins of every degree, nieces, nephews, and many friends, including the group he went to coffee with for many years.

I'm not sure that Dad knew what comes after death, but I am sure he was hoping it would involve a reunion with Barbara, lots of apt listeners, cousins who would be his companions in shenanigans, and bear hugs from "sweet young things." Unfortunately for him, with respect to that last one, we suspect the afterlife is more tame than he was.

What is clear is that he will be missed by those who loved him. If you fall into that category, tell a story about him. In lieu of flowers, please make memorial gifts to the Cloquet Community Memorial Hospital or the Voyageurs Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Because the family could not have a gathering or service when Barbara passed away in 2020, we plan to take this opportunity to memorialize both Fred and Barbara. Visitation will be held at Nelson Care in Cloquet 5-7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31. A memorial service will be held at Nelson Funeral Care on the following day, Nov. 1, with visitation at 10 a.m. and a service at 11, followed by luncheon. The family invites people to share stories about both Fred and Barbara.