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Roots and Wings

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Family roots helped guide a career in pharmacy, a profession instrumental in vaccinating his generation against COVID-19. Air Force wings propelled him to meet his wife of 56-years. Duane Hammargren’s roots and wings have influenced his 89-year journey, with a few fiery detours along the way. The Vista Prairie at Windmill Ponds community in Alexandria, MN has been Duane’s home for more than five years.

As a boy and later a young man, Duane’s roots grew deep in drugstores. He swept the floor at the store his dad owned. After his father became a traveling rep for a pharmaceutical company, Duane was called home from his first year in college to drive his dad from store to store, following a serious car accident.

Those experiences grew Duane’s wings to his own career in pharmacy, enrolling at what is now North Dakota State in Fargo. Wings of a different nature led to a detour. Four days after he joined the Air National Guard while in college, his unit was called to active duty during the Korean War. Following his Air Force discharge two years later, he met and soon married his bride Joanne.

“She was a wonderful person. I married up,” Duane says. He resumed his pharmacy studies in Fargo. In the next three years, Jo gave birth to two of the couple’s five children. During those school years, Duane supplemented Jo’s income as a nurse by working full-time in a drugstore in Moorhead. 

“I really enjoyed the school and the classes,” Duane recalls. “Just before I graduated, I was initiated into the Rho Chi Pharmacy Honor Society.” Now a licensed pharmacist, Duane and Jo wound up in the Twin Cities suburbs where his professional roots and wings eventually combined with his beloved partner and mentor Don Hanson in the business of pharmacy.

Duane vividly recalls another detour in those early years, “Thanksgiving Day, 1965, got a phone call that the whole shopping center was on fire.” It started in a back room of the Gamble store next door. While the store was a total loss, Duane and Don set up shop in a small vacant drive-in restaurant – and were back in business the same day, at least to dispense prescriptions.

“When we moved back into the main store after the fire, Don sat down with me and wanted to know if I’d like to be his partner,” he remembers. “I went to work as a pharmacist and when I came back after the fire, I was a partner!” Don and Duane eventually expanded to four pharmacies, which they managed until they sold all four and retired in 1983.

Duane and Jo moved to Alexandria where they found a house on Lake Ida until yet another detour. Their car exploded in their driveway and set the house on fire – another total loss. They had already put down roots on that lot, so they built a new house on the same site.

After Jo passed away in 2011, life got lonely for Duane, even with 15 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren. He decided to move to Windmill Ponds five years ago. Considering the pandemic’s challenges, Duane credits the community’s executive director, Chris Carter, “I feel that her handling of the virus has been excellent. She’s done an excellent job.”

Duane’s roots in health care make him a believer in the value of the COVID-19 vaccine. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” he says. He’ll get his second dose of the Moderna vaccine at Windmill Ponds on Feb. 16. The community offers assisted living in 65 one- and two-bedroom apartments, designed for seniors who enjoy an active social environment and expect high quality care.

editor’s note — Windmill Ponds plans to resume inside visits following required COVID-19 testing, in compliance with Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.