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Merry Christmas, Uncle Burnell

By Staff | Dec 27, 2013

He was the son of a German immigrant and an American woman with Norwegian heritage. His father had come to the United States as a young man and worked on the early bonanza farms in eastern North Dakota before settling into the coal business and farming in the Turtle Lake area. He was born December 27, 1929 in Underwood, and last week, on December 20, 2013, he was laid to rest at the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery at Mandan, North Dakota. This was my uncle Burnell Repnow, the son of Walter and Bertha (Anderson) Repnow.

Burnell and his four brothers Walter Jr., TeRoy, Milton, and Delano shared a close connection that was lifelong. The early years on the open prairie fashioned this as they were dependent upon one another. When Burnell was a month old, their farmhouse was completely destroyed by fire on a cold evening in January. I recall my dad telling how grandpa immediately rounded the family and the hired girl, Thelma Bergert, and rushed them out of the burning building. They stood in the bitter coldness on the exposed prairie as they watch the flames lick away their home. Then they heard the tromp of hoofs from spirited horses upon the snow. They turned and saw coming from the north their neighbor, Rudolph Home,with his team, sleigh, and plenty of blankets for he knew there was a baby in that house. As my father shared, “I will never forget the warm clasp of their hands as they helped us into their sleigh.” They were warmly welcomed upon arriving at the farmhouse by Edna and their two daughter Freida and Ruth.

This was an experience they never forgot and one from which the family learned a great lesson. Although Uncle Burnell was too young to remember this dreadful night, he heard the retelling and gleaned from this that the strength of a friend is a great comfort in dispelling fear and that the runners of a neighbors sleigh can glide forth hope.

Many of our childhood experiences shape who we become as an adult, and this was certainly true of Uncle Burnell. He was always willing to lend to a hand to a neighbor, friend, and stranger in need. Burnell had a close connection to his mother, and she had a gift for gardening. Like her, he raised bountiful gardens and wonderful flowers–always holding in high regard the lovely hollyhock, lilac, and gladiolas.

Uncle Burnell was drafted into the U. S. Army on April 11, 1951 and honorably served his country during the Korean War until March 26, 1953. He was proud to be a veteran and his years of service–like many– were not often talked about. Just the other evening, I took down the scrapbook containing my parents wedding cards from 61 years ago. Pasted inside was an address label written by Uncle Burnell that was used to send a satin embroidered bedspread from Korea which he gave my parents for their wedding. His handwriting resembles his father’s.

Upon returning to Turtle Lake after his service duty, he enjoyed time with his family and special cousin, Irene Anderson, who was a good friend of Doris Heinle. So when Burnell gave Irene a ride to school, she suggested they swing by and offer a ride to the very attractive, brown-eyed, Doris. Before long Burnell was visiting Doris often at the caf when she waitressed and his sparkling blue eyes, reddish blond hair, and wide easy smile captured her heart. Without a doubt the best decision Uncle Burnell ever made was to ask for her hand in marriage. On August 1, 1954 they were united in marriage at the Methodist Church in Turtle Lake which was lined with flowers that were grown in Grandma’s garden.

Over time they were blessed with three daughters Cheryl, Cristyl and Charlene. All their daughters’ names started with “C.” Burnell and Doris often expressed to me that I really should have been in their family, because I look like Burnell and my name starts with a “C.” Now how can you not love a family like that!

Each time one of my uncles has passed away, I think of the impact they have had on my life. Thank you, Uncle Burnell, for being a loving husband, father, son, and uncle. Thank you for showing me that a day’s work is a strong and rewarding foundation and that time in the garden is always well spent. Thank you for serving our country honorably. Thank you for being active at Faith United Methodist Church with Aunt Doris. My thoughts of you loving to tinker in your garage are forever. A treasured image is one of you and your brothers enjoying one another at family gatherings. Thanks for stirring in me an interest in antiques and laughing with me. Most cherished is the time that you spent taking an interest in Lydia, and she often told us, “I like going to Burnell and Doris’ place.” You are right–there is nothing like having a girl in the house.

It is Christmas Day and the green wreaths with red ribbons have all been placed upon the graves at the serene North Dakota Veterans Cemetery. Your body has been laid to rest, but you are celebrating Christmas in Heaven and someday we can visit about that too. Merry Christmas, Uncle Burnell.

This recipe was one from my Grandma Repnow, who had received this recipe from her sister, Gladys Wirtz, formerly of Turtle Lake. Years ago there were not boxed angel food cake mixes–they were created from scratch. When you use 11 egg whites for the angel food, you had 11 egg yolks to use elsewhere. From time to time instead of making noodles, they were transformed into a rich cake such as this. This cake is easy to make, rich in texture, pleasing in color-plus delicious!!-and as laid-back as a treasured old armchair.

Gold Cake

cup shortening

11 egg yolks (just about a cup full)

1 1/4 cup sifted cake flour

1/3 teaspoon of orange, lemon and almond extract

1 1/4 cup sugar

cup whole milk

teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream shortening and sugar. Add egg yolks and beat until creamy. (I really need to paint a bedroom this beautiful shade of yellow) Add milk alternately with the cake flour sifted with salt. Add extracts and last of all, the baking powder, beat well–but not as if you are doing an endurance test. Bake in ungreased tube pan. Note the recipe card does not have a baking time but I have done 350 degrees and then testing until a toothpick comes out clean.


1 pound of confectioners’ sugar

4 tablespoons butter

Orange juice to make smooth but not runny.

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