A neighborhood in Minnesota is paying back one beloved World War II veteran who likes to spend his retirement walking around the neighborhood twice a day.
But at 95 years old, at times Harvey Djerf needs to stop to catch his breath. “A few years back,” Djerf told ABC News, he noticed one neighbor had left a chair outside for him in their yard.
“It’s kind of snowballed now. I’m up to 12 chairs now,” he said. “They must’ve seen that I was pausing and catching my breath and that’s when they probably took pity on me.”
It’s kindness not pity that makes Djerf’s neighbors in Plymouth, Minnesota, put chairs out for the veteran. They also bring him lemonade on hot summer days and even cookies, he said.
Djerf said it means a lot to him, especially since he’s been living in the neighborhood for 66 years. In fact, Djerf and his wife of 69 years built their home in 1951.
But after his wife suffered a stroke in June, she moved out of the house the two shared for decades and into an assisted living facility in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
And Djerf kept walking around the neighborhood for companionship and a breath of fresh air.
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Harvey DjerfWorld War II veteran Harvey Djerf with his wife of 69 years, Patricia.
A veteran with a love of nature and the outdoors
Born in south Minneapolis, Djerf has always loved the outdoors.
Djerf studied forestry at the University of Minnesota, learning about the slim varieties between trees and the forest ecosystem inside the campus’ 4,200-acre forest.
It would later help Djerf pick which trees to plant in his Plymouth yard.
Before becoming a biology teacher, teaching seventh and eighth graders at what’s now known as Breck School in Golden Valley, Minnesota, Djerf served in World War II.
He was a member of the European Theater of Operations with Battery D in the 126th Anti-Aircraft Gun Battalion. It was Djerf and his battery’s mission to shoot down Germany’s V-1 flying bombs, or “buzz bombs,” using 90mm anti-aircraft guns.
Harvey DjerfBefore World War II veteran Harvey Djerf retired, he was part of Minnesota state parks’ Naturalist Corps.
Serving 33 months in the Army, Djerf’s tour of duty – half of which he spent overseas – took him to countries such as Belgium, England, France, Germany and Holland.
He’d later come home safely back to the United States, having five children with his wife and eventually 17 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A neighborhood looks after its own
Tom and Melanie Heuerman are one pair of neighbors who noticed Djerf’s twice daily strolls and placed a chair out on their lawn just in case he should ever need it.
The couple said they had noticed other neighbors getting in on the trend and figured they should too.
“We were looking out there one day and noticed there’s no chairs on our entire street here, so we put one out for him,” Melanie Heuerman, 59, told ABC News. “He found it the very next day.”
“I joked to Melanie: It’s kind of a status symbol in the neighborhood to have a chair out for Harvey,” Tom Heuerman, 71, said. “He’s a beloved character. I actually felt that it would be an honor if he sat in our yard.”
Harvey DjerfThis chair was left in Harvey Djerf’s neighborhood in Plymouth, Minnesota.
The Heuermans have known Djerf for seven years and consider him a friend. The veteran has stopped in their yard, often offering up a kind word.
“He always tells you something good about yourself,” Melanie Heuerman said. “He remembers everyone’s name … he’s just a good guy.”
He’s also a role model for Tom Heuerman “because he’s so positive and takes care of himself every day.”
Djerf told ABC News his neighborhood is perfect for a walk. In fact, it’s seven-tenths of a mile, according to the veteran.
“I look forward to it every day,” Djerf said, noting that he also swims three times a week along with landscaping and visiting his wife in her assisted living facility.
Between that, he’ll also play a game of bridge with friends or even go out to dinner with neighbors.
“They know I’m alone so they give me companionship,” Djerf said of his neighbors. “I’m very well taken care of.”