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World War II vet who died at 100 knew the meaning of hard work

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As a young man, Wallace Conrad picked crops, following the harvest. As a soldier in World War II, he drove trucks across the battlefields of Europe. As a carpenter for decades, he built scores of homes, including two for his own family.

“He was the kind of guy who just did his job,” said his son, Curt Conrad. “He knew hard work.”

And he lived a long life. Wallace Conrad, of Pine River, died May 3 of prostate cancer at age 100.

Conrad was born in Lamberton, Minn., on his family’s farm. There he worked the fields, piloting a horse-drawn plow when he was just 9 years old. During the Depression, Conrad joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal work relief program that included tree planting and flood control projects.

After a year with the CCC in the late 1930s, Conrad worked a host of jobs. In Washington state, he picked apples, dug potatoes and topped sugar beets. In California, he worked as pin-setter in a bowling alley. Back in Minnesota, he drove railroad spikes for a time and drove trucks on long-distance hauls.

Nine months after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Conrad was drafted into the U.S. Army. For the next three years, he would serve in artillery units, transporting supplies and soldiers — and occasionally German prisoners of war — in a 2.5-ton truck.

He got strafed by enemy aircraft, and witnessed a French city reduced to rubble by American bombs aimed at German occupiers. He kept driving — lights off at night — following the convoy truck in front of him.

“He was proud of what he did, that’s for sure,” his son said.

In 1946, Conrad married his longtime sweetheart, Lorrayne Margaret Krieger. They had met some years before at a dance in the tiny town of Rutledge, Minn., and had corresponded during the war. (She served in Casablanca with the Women’s Army Air Corps.)

After the war, Conrad took up the carpentry trade, eventually becoming a foreman, and for a time, running his own home-building company. He built a home in 1959 for his wife and three children in Eden Prairie, when the now populous suburb was still farm fields.

“He built our house in his spare time,” Curt Conrad said.

When Eden Prairie established a volunteer fire department in 1967, Conrad joined, serving until 1982. By then, he was readying for retirement, so he built a new house in Pine River, moving in 1984. “It was a beautiful house in a beautiful setting,” Curt said.

Perched on Upper Whitefish Lake, Wallace Conrad could pursue a lifelong passion. Whether from a boat or on ice — and even with a spear — he enjoyed fishing. He hunted deer and pheasant and grouse, too.

Lorrayne died in 2012, but Wallace kept living in his Pine River home until a fall two years ago. After that, he primarily resided in an assisted living center.

Conrad was also preceded in death by his youngest son, Spence. In addition to son Curt and Curt’s wife, Rita, he is survived by daughter Cyndee Barnes; daughter-in-law Jan Conrad; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and half-brother George Grieger.

Services have been held. Conrad was buried alongside his wife at St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in her hometown of Willow River.

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