Editor's note: Each week reporter Matthew Guerry shares the life stories of residents of Minnesota or the Dakotas who have died recently. Maybe you don't know them, but their stories are worth knowing. If you have a suggestion for someone to be featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 651-321-4314.
Randy Bartz's father and grandfather both died at the age of 55.
Fearing the same fate, and looking to get the most out of his remaining years, Bartz decided to retire from the insurance business after turning 50. Drawing on his knowledge of the Minnesota wilderness and experience as a military dog handler, he refashioned himself as a full-time dog trainer and outdoor guide.
But his premonition of an early death didn't come to pass. Bartz was 81 when he died Friday, July 16, of heart failure.
In those 30 years, Bartz became known for launching his own line of goose flags, among other things. He was a fixture in the Minnesota sporting community, and spoke regularly at Game Fair, the outdoor show in Ramsey, Minnesota. In 2013, he was inducted into the Minnesota Waterfowl Hall of Fame.
"In the hunting and waterfowl world, people knew who he was," daughter Kim Alexander said in a recent interview.
Randall "Randy" Wels Bartz was born on March 28, 1940. He grew up and graduated from high school in Elgin, Minnesota, and lived most recently in Pine Island, Minnesota.
From a two-story outbuilding on their homestead in Oronoco, Minnesota, Bartz and his wife, Susan Schmidt, founded the Lake Shady Kennels. Schmidt and the couple's children ran the kennels during the day while Bartz sold insurance. The business lasted until 2003, when Schmidt died.
Alexander, 52, of Lakeville, Minnesota, said there was "always stuff to do out there," whether it was feeding or bathing the dogs or cleaning out their kennel runs.
"You kind of become an expert," she said. "You can look at a dog and know what kind of breed it was just because so many different breeds were coming through."
At the end of the workday, Bartz would ditch his suit and tie, "throw the dogs in the car, and head out and spend two or three hours a night training dogs," son Kirk Bartz recalled in an interview.
Bartz went hunting or fishing nearly ever weekend he could, including travelling to Texas and Canada.
In the late 1980s, Bartz began to tinker with a decoy flag for his goose hunting endeavors, eventually earning the nickname "Flagman." While other flags are generally made to mimic the sound and appearance of a goose flapping its wings, Bartz made his flags stand out by fixing it to a pole that grants the wielder a greater range of motion and behaviors to imitate.
In an older blog post, Premier Flight Guide Service in Rochester, Minnesota, quotes Bartz as saying he's "never had a single product returned ... because some hunter thought it didn't work."
Kirk Bartz said he and his siblings hope to continue the Flagman business and are exploring its sale.
Bartz is survived by his partner Bonnie Gathje and three children.