Al Quie left us.
But what Al Quie left us, remains.
This weekend, Minnesota remembers its former governor, congressman and neighbor who died in August, one month shy of his 100th birthday. He will lie in state in the Minnesota Capitol rotunda on Friday, and the weekend will be full of celebrations of the life he led and the lives he touched.
This is a story about one of those lives.
It was 1956 and Mishael Emilio Hernandez had moved his growing family from California to Minnesota to attend Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul. One day, a dairy farmer from Rice County named Albert Quie approached him with a job offer.
Fifty miles south, Grace Lutheran Church in Nerstrand, Minn., needed an interim pastor.
A Norwegian enclave with a population of 228 in the 1950 census, Nerstrand sat on the rolling southern Minnesota prairie, surrounded by farmland. Mishael and Virginia Hernandez and their five small children would be the only Mexican Americans for miles in any direction.
Quie was head of his church's call committee. Grace Lutheran was a flock in need of a shepherd, he would later say. In Hernandez, still a student at the time, Quie saw a shepherd.
"We knew nothing about subfreezing temperatures, how to load coal in a furnace, keep track of mittens, how to eat lefse, which was so different from Mom's tortillas," said Miriam Hernandez, who was about 5 when her family moved into the parsonage and enrolled her in a one-room schoolhouse.
"Albert Quie," she said, "made a leap of faith for diversity in the 1950s before diversity was a thing."
Nerstrand welcomed them. The Quies made certain of that.
"The Quies got us started," Hernandez said. "An invitation to dinner. Our five kids with their five kids."
She later wrote in a memorial on those early days, "It was a vexing proposition for my Mom who had never been so honored in her life. It would be so much work for Gretchen. And would the children behave? Mom was a bundle of nerves."
At one point during the dinner, as four adults and 10 children broke bread, Virginia Hernandez admired a glossy yellow Melmac pitcher on the table — the height of midcentury modernity. Gretchen Quie gave it to her as a gift on the spot.
Virginia Hernandez, now 97, still treasures it, almost 70 years later.
It was a temporary posting, but Nerstrand and its people and the kindness of the Quies left a profound mark on the family.
"Oh my gosh, we loved it. Everything," Miriam Hernandez said. "Snow angels, trick-or-treating, cakewalks, ice cream socials, church pageants ... our Christmases were amazing. It was so much fun. It was a wonderland."
Her father, a talented musician and artist, performed with the church's brass quartet. There was Luther League. There was hot dish. Autumn bonfires. The Hernandez children introduced their classmates to burritos.
Mishael Hernandez served his flock for about a year — long enough to baptize one of the Quie children — then completed his studies, was ordained and moved on to a congregation of his own.
They were neighbors for one year out of the 99 years and 11 months of Quie's life.
The Hernandez family never forgot his kindness and they never forgot Nerstrand. The families stayed in touch. Most of the Hernandez children found their way back to Minnesota for school or work.
"Not too long after we left Nerstrand, [Quie] called my dad and asked for an endorsement," Hernandez said. Quie, a Republican, won the 1958 special election that sent him to Congress, where he voted in favor of both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.
Hernandez said yes, taking to the radio to talk glowingly about his former neighbor. "He had a lot to say about Al Quie," his daughter said.
Mishael Hernandez died, far too soon, just after his 50th birthday. His family chose to bring him home, to the Valley Grove cemetery in Nerstrand.
Al Quie will join him there on Sunday.
The celebration of Al Quie's life begins Friday, Sept. 8, when he will lie in state in the Minnesota Capitol rotunda from noon to 3 p.m., with eulogies at 1 p.m.
Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, with visitation starting at 11 a.m.
He will be buried Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Valley Grove Church and Cemetery in Nerstrand.