“On this auspicious occasion, unaccustomed as I am to speaking to a group this size ...”
It was a line, delivered as a toast on countless occasions, that never failed to bring down the house for Arnold Bockstruck.
The joke, of course, being that Bockstruck was known as one of the most enthusiastic toastmasters in Ramsey County.
A gregarious soul who never met a person he didn’t like, a tireless promoter of his hometown of St. Paul, a third-generation business owner, Bockstruck died Oct. 28 at age 91.
During his long life, he held leadership roles in a seemingly endless list of community organizations, serving as chairman of the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, president of the St. Paul Rotary Club, president of the St. Paul Athletic Club and prime minister of the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
Meanwhile, he found time to run Bockstruck Jewelers, a family shop founded by his grandfather that was a fixture in downtown St. Paul for 113 years before closing in 2006.
Bockstruck’s father, Herbert, was a domineering personality who kept a firm grip on the business during his son’s early years. That led Arnold Bockstruck to turn his energy outside the store as a young adult, said his son, Rob.
“Civic activity was his forte,” Rob Bockstruck said. “He was a real people person; he had all the relationships.
“All my life, when I’ve introduced myself, people have said, ‘Are you Arnie Bockstruck’s son?’ ”
Of all the people Bockstruck connected with, the one who stood above all others was his wife of 58 years, Jessie, who died in 2011. The couple met in Hawaii when Arnold Bockstruck was a naval officer during the Korean War after graduating from Dartmouth College.
They met under a banyan tree during a dance at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu and soon became inseparable.
“We never saw them fight. He never said a mean thing about her, he was never critical,” said his daughter, Betsy Erlien. “When my mom was failing, he was there for her. He never complained, never asked for help. Part of being a husband was taking care of his wife.”
Arnold and Jessie Bockstruck loved to sing, and any social gathering was sure to feature a duet of “Edelweiss,” with lyrics written specially for the occasion.
“They would have a song for whatever occasion it was,” Rob Bockstruck said, adding that whenever his father heard “Edelweiss” in his later years, he’d get a tear in his eye.
“We always talked about the love affair he and my mother had,” Rob Bockstruck said. “They really were a team.”
In later years, the couple wintered in Jessie Bockstruck’s home state of California, but always returned to St. Paul.
Bockstruck had a great sense of humor and “had a playfulness about him,” Erlien said. “He would do fun things and be silly, always very enthusiastic.
“As a dad, he was great,” she added. “Always very supportive and encouraging, and wanted to be at all our events.”
And he was famous for his toasts, which always began with “On this auspicious occasion. ...” It was such a trademark, Rob Bockstruck said, that several of the condolence cards the family has received included that line.
“He was totally a people person in that he made everybody around him feel important and comfortable,” said his daughter-in-law, Jane Bockstruck. “He was interested in everybody that was around him.”
In addition to his son and daughter, Bockstruck is survived by seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A funeral service will be held Saturday, Nov. 9, at 11 a.m. at House of Hope Presbyterian Church, 797 Summit Av., St. Paul.
John Reinan • 612-673-7402