1939 Denis 2024

Denis Paul Kawlewski

October 10, 1939 — January 6, 2024


Denis Paul Kawlewski, 84, of Crookston, MN, passed away in his home under hospice care on January 6, 2024, after a long struggle with heart related issues. He was lovingly cared for in his last years by his wife and his two eldest children who live close by.

Denis was born October 10, 1939, in Perham, MN. He was the second of two sons born to Paul and Dorothy (Abel) Kawlewski. When Denis was a child, his parents rented land in Dent, MN where he and his older brother, Roger, helped their parents work the family farm. As a youngster, Denis loved to spend his free time fishing & hunting and teaching himself how to play a variety of musical instruments. He taught himself how to play guitar, banjo, drums, mandolin, and dabbled with the piano. Denis went to Perham high school where he graduated in 1957. When Denis was a sophomore in high school, he and some friends formed a band called the KBK Harmoniers. Denis played lead guitar. The band played all types of music, including country, rock-n-roll, and old-time dance music like waltzes, cha-chas, and polkas, and they played a lot of music by request. They traveled to small towns all around MN and ND playing wedding dances, firemen’s balls, bars, etc., until about 1961.

During this time, Denis also worked for other farmers baling and hauling hay, combining, and doing other general farm work. In 1957, he got a job at the Turkey Plant in Pelican Rapids, MN. He started out on the line, but very quickly moved into refrigeration. He worked there for the next 4 years, honing his skillset. His mentor saw his potential, and in 1961, recommended him for a refrigeration position just opening up in Crookston, MN at a new frozen potato processing plant. Denis got the job and moved to Crookston, renting a room in a house on the corner of Euclid Avenue and South Main Street. He began his new position at Jiffy-Fry, Inc. from the plant’s opening day.

Denis left Jiffy-Fry in 1965 to take a maintenance position at Sears in Grand Forks, ND. He was very talented; there was nothing he couldn’t build or fix. In 1969, he started his own business and worked as a self-employed construction contractor in Crookston for the next 17 years. But the severe economic recession of the 80’s had drastic effects on his business and forced him to close his shop in 1986. He then went to work for Dee, Inc. He started out in the machine shop and then moved to the Match Plates Division, where he worked until he retired in 2005.

Denis met Carol Donarski in 1961 at Jiffy-Fry; she also began working there shortly after its opening. They started dating in October of 1961 and got married on July 14, 1962, when he was 22 and she was 20. They were married in Crookston at Cathedral Church and their wedding dance was held in Euclid, MN, 15 miles north of Crookston. They spent the first 3 months of their married life in a rented house out in the country. They then moved into a rented apartment in the north part of Crookston. While living there, their eldest child, Teresa Ann, was born in April 1963. In August of 1963, with the help of Carol’s father who loaned them money for the down payment, they bought a house on Euclid Avenue, built by Carol’s uncle, Adolf Mackowick. This would be their family home for their entire lives. They went on to have 3 more children: Daniel Paul - born in April 1964, Angela Belle - born in December 1966, and Rodney Allen - born in August 1969.

In the early years of their marriage, Denis helped Carol enhance her guitar-playing skills (she was also self-taught, and Denis helped her learn some new chords). When the kids were young, the house was often filled with relatives or family friends who played musical instruments and jam sessions frequently broke out. Denis bought a couple of snowmobiles and that became another much-loved winter activity with his young children. He also enjoyed playing cards; Smear was THE card game in northern Minnesota. Both Denis and Carol grew up playing this card game and passed it along to their children. They had many fun family card games over the years and Five-Handed Smear was everyone’s favorite. His other favorite pastimes included tinkering in his workshop, working on home improvement projects, driving (or more accurately - playing with) his John Deere tractors to blow snow, mow the lawn, and till the garden. He enjoyed golfing with his sons, and later, his grandsons. In his retirement, he could occasionally be found playing music with an ad-hoc band to entertain the residents at the Villa St. Vincent Nursing Home in Crookston. Some of his most memorable travel experiences were visiting his daughter, Angie, in California in 2003 and going on an Alaskan Cruise for his son and daughter-in-law’s wedding (Rod and Linda) in 2012.


Denis is lovingly survived by Carol, his wife of 61 years, and their four children: Teresa Kawlewski of Crookston, Dan (Leann) Kawlewski of Crookston, Angie Kawlewski of Washougal, WA, and Rod (Linda) Kawlewski of San Jose, CA and Inman, SC; five grandchildren: Zachary Strommen of Crookston, Brock Strommen of Crookston, Cassandra (Jared) Trepanier of Bemidji, MN, Kody Kawlewski of Crookston, and Blake Kawlewski of Crookston; one step-granddaughter: Sheanna (Chance) Cooper of Grassy Pond, SC; three great-grandchildren: Kendra Strommen, Jayce Trepanier, and Cooper Trepanier; three great step-grandchildren: Jazzlyn Doss, Parker Cooper, and Charlotte Cooper; brother and sister-in-law, Adolph and Bernetta Donarski of Crookston; sister-in-law, Delores Donarski of East Grand Forks; brother-in-law, Ronald Gruhot of Crookston; and many other cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Preceding Denis in death were his parents Paul and Dorothy Kawlewski; parents-in-law, Frank and Belle Donarski; brother, Roger Kawlewski; brothers-in-law: Albert Donarski, Irvin Donarski, Leo Donarski, Frank Donarski, Jr., and Ronald Donarski; sisters-in-law: Jean Marie Piper, Mary Jean Donarski, Mary Lou Gruhot, Elaine Donarski, and Elaine Kawlewski; nephews: Douglas Donarski and Terry Kawlewski; and step-granddaughter, Starr Rogers.

A celebration of Denis’ life will be held by his family at a future date.

To order memorial trees in memory of Denis Paul Kawlewski, please visit our tree store.


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