Willow River was home to archery greatness, and my cousin
April 28, 2023
My first cousin Byron Korby passed away Dec.11, 2022. At age 68, I guess it's somewhat expected and understandable, but, truth be told, I don't have that many cousins left on this earth. He was one of my favorites. He died at 74, from complications of Lewy body dementia, a disease with no known cure.
He grew up in Cloquet and graduated from CHS in 1966. He was an all-state performer on the rifle team and played trumpet in the award-winning CHS marching band. Byron also graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor of science in fisheries management.
In 1905, three Korby (Korpijarvi) brothers settled in Thomson Township, coming directly from Finland. Byron's dad, Matt, and my dad, Charlie, were brothers and sons of these immigrants and part of a family of 13 Korby kids. They grew up on a farm adjacent to the Midway River and most siblings, in later years, lived in Cloquet or Esko. As Korby kids, sauna night must have been a scheduling nightmare.
Byron's passing is grieved by his wife of 49 years, Cathy, and three kids, Billy, Peter and Becky, and grandkids, other family and friends.
For many years, Byron and family operated Korby's Rink 'n Range in Willow River. It was both an indoor roller skating rink and a place for archers to shoot at targets. How's that for a unique combination? It worked for them. Byron won multiple Minnesota archery championships; Cathy won national archery championships and competed at the Olympic training village; and the entire family once competed in the world archery field championships in Australia.
Hunting and fishing were part of his Finnish heritage and bloodlines. Byron loved the outdoors and passed that Finnish passion on to his kids as well.
I was busy talking to Byron and Cathy's son Billy at the funeral visitation, looking at some old Korby family pictures and reminiscing. Billy - who was named after Uncle Bill, another famous and acclaimed Floodwood Gamble's storeowner and archer - has also won state titles.
Billy asked me if I had any Byron stories to tell. Of course, I had a couple to share:
When I was a kid, maybe 11 or 12, my family and Uncle Matt Korby's family were spending a summer weekend at the Sunset Beach Resort on Portage Lake in Bena, Minnesota. It was owned by my cousin Ruth Fagre and her husband, Pete, so the Korby brothers probably got a discount. My older brothers weren't with us at Bena, so I got to tag along with cousin Byron.
After a rousing game of electric arcade bowling in the resort - with salt on the wooden table lane (remember those? Sold for $1,500 on recent American Pickers) - Byron asked me to go fishing with him. For the thrill and game of it, he planned to fish with a fly rod. It was the first time I'd seen one of these long, flexible rods with the unusual reels. We went together in a small boat on an adventure on Portage Lake.
Recalling specific details is hard, but I remember Byron impressing me with his casting with the fly rod. My bobber was probably bouncing against the side of the boat. He asked me to please quickly reel in the line on my True Temper rod and reel. He had a large fish, obviously hooked. It seemed like a very long period of time that he fought that fish, reeling in and then releasing the line as the fish made quick runs away from the boat.
My job was to net the fish and get it into the boat. Nervously, I swooped at the fish and landed a Northern pike. Weighing in at a little over 6 pounds, it was the largest fish I had seen in my relatively short life. It was a fish fight worthy of a Sports Afield magazine article.
Later that day, Byron had another daring and exciting escapade planned for us. When it became dark, I watched Byron tape a flashlight to the barrel of his .22 caliber rifle. With the flashlight lit and pointed straight down, we walked away from the resort. We trekked about a half-mile from civilization, to where the Sunset Beach fish guts, from the bait/cleaning house, were dumped. Not responsible by today's standards, but in the '60s, it was a standard practice.
There was a cleared spot off of the single lane road. I hoped Byron knew what the plan was on this quiet and starlit, but very still, very pitch black night. I was anxious.
As we approached the opening, there was a scrambling noise I'd never heard before.
Something was rapidly climbing up the big pine trees. As we soon found out, it was a family of raccoons. Byron brought his .22 up to search the mighty pine treetops. We spotted several with their eyes glowing back at us. Byron sighted them in, but never took a shot. It was an experience I'd never had before, or again. The next morning, we walked out to the single lane road to check for tell-tale signs of raccoon mischief. As we got close to the stinky fish remains there was a surprise for us ... three black bears on the pile. Byron just told me to slowly walk backwards, retracing my steps. No wonder I remembered that weekend.
The other story is from about 1980. I stopped at Korby's Rink 'n Range on my way home from the Twin Cities to visit with Byron. I had taken up archery and wanted to look at his broadhead arrow tips and other inventory and maybe get some shooting tips. I took several shots and he gave me a few pointers. I then asked Byron if he could give a demonstration. He grabbed his bow, pulled back the string and seemed to aim forever. He released and the shot hit right in the middle of the target, a perfect bull's-eye. Seeing I was impressed, he giggled a little. Byron grabbed another arrow, shot again, and that arrow split the arrow already in the bull's-eye. Incredible, I didn't think it was possible. I'd seen it before, but that was on Saturday morning reruns of TV's "Adventures of Robin Hood" in the 1960s. It wasn't the first or last time, as I learned, that Byron had accomplished this feat.
Back to the present day.
On Saturday, April 15, Byron and Cathy Korby were both inducted into the Minnesota Archery Hall of Fame. Reading some of the 1980s Pine City newspaper clippings at the induction ceremony, it is no wonder.
He began shooting by borrowing a bow from his brother in the 1960s and, by the time of a 1985 article and after many hours of practice, Byron had won 11 state grand championships in the barebow division and 30 overall state titles. In 1980, Korby claimed the Indoor National archery honor and placed in the top four in the U.S. tournament several times.
Byron and Cathy met on the archery range. At the archery and roller rink, Cathy was impressed by how with his experience and keen eye, Byron could help customers and other archers tune their bows.
"Just by watching them shoot, Byron could watch an archer's stance, pull, and balance and make minuscule adjustments to the shooter's bow that maximized their shooting proficiency," she said.
Son Billy said most bow specialists have now been replaced by other technological, personal teaching methods such as YouTube.
"But, they're not quite as good," he beamed.
Byron was always humble and kind. I, of course, knew Byron, Cathy and their family were archery champs, but perhaps never appreciated their greatness. Up until his illness, Byron played the trumpet at a local church for Easter and Christmas services. Many at the visitation told me that they will forever hear that trumpet ringing out on those special days. Congratulations to the Korby family, and rest in peace, Cousin. You will be remembered.
Steve Korby's interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans c/o [email protected].