Lester Hazer, 105, danced through life.
On Sunday, May 6, Hazer danced on his way to death. From his bed, he moved his arms and legs along to the polka music his family turned on. A short time later, he closed his eyes to sleep for the last time.
Hazer, who founded Hazer's Auto & Truck Parts in West Fargo, was known to never give up on what he wanted. Although he passed the business on to his son, Duane, and grandson, Daniel, Hazer continued to work at the shop past age 100.
"Even up to the end, his mind was very, very clear," said his son, Duane Hazer.
Hazer, whose wife Rose died in 1987, continued to drive until October, often making the 100-mile trip to Jamestown, N.D., where his special friend, 88-year-old Ann Hess, lived.
The two widowers who shared a love of finding the humor in life often danced together. On his last visit to Hess, Hazer paused to tell her, "You'll be OK."
Hazer planned to see his sweetheart one more time via a video call, but she died in her home on April 27, just a little more than a week before Hazer died.
"I told her sons that when your mom dies, my dad will follow," Duane Hazer said.
Shortly before his death, Hazer's family had him admitted to Eventide to give caretakers who had been giving him home care a short break. But on Friday, May 4, Hazer said he wanted to leave the hospice center and go home, where he would die within three days.
He stayed true to his word, passing at home in his sleep Sunday morning surrounded by his family and caretakers.
Life well lived
Lester was born June 4, 1912, in a sod house on his family's farm near Woodworth, N.D.
A century's worth of experiences can harden a man's personality, but Lester remained lighthearted throughout his life.
"What he has shown me is how to weather difficult situations," his grandon Dan told the Pioneer in 2013, when Lester turned 100. "He has been through so much that it doesn't bother him. He has a deeper perspective on things. Some bits of wisdom can only come from experience, and because he has such a sharp mind, he can show me how to handle things without getting worked up. He is also one of the most honest and kind people I know."
Lester married Rose Angelica Guizzetti on Aug. 24, 1936. Lester would often say he did not have children - his wife did, pointing out that it was his wife that bore the children, not him.
Their six kids would eventually give the couple 69 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
After farming near McHenry, N.D., for 41 years, the couple moved to West Fargo, and Lester opened Hazer's Auto & Truck Parts in 1969.
Lester eventually passed the business to his son and grandson. But he continued to work at the shop, driving the "wrecker" and hauling vehicles, sometimes up to five times a day. He told the Pioneer in 2013 that working at the shop was not just a job but also a hobby.
"I spend all of my time here," Lester said. "I haul cars. That's how I spend my free time. I've had many days here for the past 43 years, and I don't have any interest in anyone else's business, so I might as well keep working. Even at my age, I don't want to be sitting around."
Retirement was not an option for Lester.
"I never could figure when that 'retirement age' was," Lester told the Pioneer. "I wasn't ready to stop then, and I'm still not ready. I see myself quitting this place when I'm lying in a box. How many people would say that? People that retire don't usually live this long. You've gotta keep your brain going."
His family said his untiring work ethic and sense of humor kept him living and looking young.
"Dad played hard and he worked hard," Duane Hazer said. " People maybe thought he was gruff sometimes, but he was just joking. When he was in the hospital, doctors and nurses would come in and look for the 100-year-old man and ask where he was. I'd say, 'He's right here.' Dad looked like he was 80."
The funeral will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 12, at Liberty Lutheran Brethren Church in Fargo. A visitation for Lester will be 5-7 p.m. Friday, May 11, at West Funeral Home followed by a prayer service at 6:30 p.m. Music will be played and attendees will be invited to dance as a way to celebrate Lester's life and love.
"He had such a long life and good life," Duane Hazer said.