In loving memory of
May 2, 1951 - October 15, 2021
Dennis Carl Kerssen was born on May 2, 1951 in Mahnomen, Minnesota, to Philip Carl and Violet (Haak) Kerssen. They lived on a farm in Mahnomen County, MN, until Dennis was two years old and then they moved to the Iron Range. He grew up with four sisters (Shirley, Vonnie, Karen, and Marge) and one brother (Butch). Dennis being the youngest, he was called "Denny-boy" for years. Later on, a half-brother, Ron, joined the family. The family moved to Coon Rapids, MN, in 1962 when the open pit mines closed, and Dennis graduated from Coon Rapids High School in 1969. Dennis had fond memories of the time he spent with his uncle Ted in California as a young man, where he learned a lot about carpentry.
Knowing he would likely be drafted, Dennis volunteered for the Army in 1971 and served until 1973. During much of that time, he was stationed in Alaska. After the Army, Dennis went to work on the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia. He remembered being a smug kid at that time, until he met an immigrant railway worker who had been a science teacher in his home country. That stuck with him and humbled him: He tried not to make assumptions and always wanted to hear peoples' stories.
He met his future wife, Diane, in Spuzzum, British Columbia, in 1976, at a truck stop owned by a mutual friend. She had driven across the country from Québec to become the head waitress and he had taken a job as the head mechanic. Together, they were part of a motley group of friends—with a German Shepard named Rocky as their "mayor"—serving tourists in the remote outpost. For fun, they hiked and drank wine by the Fraser River, bartered for salmon with the local First Nations tribes, and drove an old Cadillac down precarious mountain passes. Dennis was the “good American” that everyone went to for advice, says Diane. The crew called him "Yankee" and her "Red" (for her long red hair).
Dennis and Diane got married in Hope, British Columbia, outside Vancouver, on April 18, 1977—just a few months after they first met (their marriage would last 45 years). When the truck stop closed, they packed up their belongings in Dennis’ refurbished ice blue Jaguar and Diane’s cherry red MGB convertible and moved to Crystal, MN, where Dennis owned a house. A talented artist, Dennis created a wall-sized mural of a birch forest to decorate their space. They lived in Minnesota for a few years until it came time to start a family. In 1981, they moved to Québec, Canada, where Diane wanted their child to grow up bilingual and near her extended family. Their daughter, Tanya, was born on November 19, 1981. Together, they lived in Québec for thirteen years.
Dennis was always a fast learner and learned French quickly. Though he could not understand everything his new in-laws were saying, he was soon included in all the fun conversations and was loved by all. Dennis learned a lot about the machining trade while working for Meloche in Québec and Fraser Steel and Agrimson Tool in Minnesota. He received a letter of commendation from Meloche for his excellent work. He was always self-motivated to learn new things, including computers, which he taught himself in the early 1980s and introduced to his colleagues at the machine shop—revolutionizing how they worked. Tanya remembers learning computer-aided drafting on her dad's lap as a small child—he would print out her designs in color on what must have been one of the first inkjet printers.
Their home on an island West of Montréal was an old brick house that Dennis completely gutted and renovated. Over the years he added on a solarium and a large, productive garden with a bountiful pear tree. In the summer, he often fished with his in-laws on the St-Lawrence Seaway, mainly catching perch. He'd take Tanya out on his small fishing boat and they'd spend hours trolling quietly—though she preferred to draw in her sketch book while Dennis fished.
Dennis' stepdaughter, Anna, who lived in Minnesota, made several visits to Québec as a child and young adult and has fond memories of spending time with their family and getting to know Tanya. Dennis was a father figure and an important person to Anna for a large part of her life.
In 1994, they moved back to Minnesota and a few years later, Dennis took the leap to start his own machining company, Production Machining, Inc., which he ran with his wife and business-partner Diane. The two worked side-by-side at the business for 22 years, developing a reputation for high-quality, precision parts for the medical and automotive industries. He always had time to help friends and family members on their passion projects, like machining custom motorcycle parts with his brother Butch—which won them several awards at local bike shows.
Never one to be idle, during a slow year for Production Machining, Dennis decided he would use the extra time to build a cedar strip canoe, which he customized with a wood inlay fleur-de-lis (the symbol of Québec and French culture) on the bow and the words "Life is Good" on the stern.
In 2016, they sold the machine shop and enjoyed several years of travel to France, Bolivia, and Mexico with Tanya. Dennis loved experiencing new cultures, especially talking to farmers and working people about their lives and everyday innovations. He also loved being a homebody during this time, installing a hot tub for him and Diane to enjoy in retirement and building a beautiful pergola over it, with grape vines and flowers. He took to cooking and became an expert in gluten-free baking after Diane was diagnosed as gluten intolerant. He loved to garden in the summer and ski in the winter. And he could read for hours on end—from John Grisham to nonfiction books on any subject. He loved to talk about books, culture, language, and politics, over a home-cooked meal and glass of wine. He also took loving care of his mother while she was in memory care for six years until her passing in June of 2021.
Dennis was a kind and gentle person who self-identified as an introvert, but loved to connect with people. He was stubborn as a mule, but almost never angered or raised his voice. He took advantage of every moment in his rich life, but was never in a hurry. Though known for his sharp tongue, every sarcastic joke he made was with a twinkle in his eye that radiated warmth. He loved animals, plants, mountains, and especially rivers. Dennis inspired everyone he met with his quiet, but inexorable talent and lust for life.
Dennis was preceded in death by his parents, his sisters Yvonne (Al) Nemchik and Karen (Perch) Peroceschi, and his brother Butch (Mary) Kerssen.
He is survived by his wife Diane; daughter Tanya; stepdaughter Anna (Tim) Green; step-grandchildren Marlis, Thomas, and Jacob; his sisters Shirley (Perry) Loegering and Marge Patrick; a brother Ron Kerssen; many loving in-laws in Québec, Canada; and many nieces and nephews.
NOTE: Due to Covid-19, a service will not be held at this time. Friends and family will be notified of plans to hold a public remembrance, possibly in the Spring or Summer of 2022. All who knew him are encouraged to share a memory or photo on this website. We also encourage you to light a candle, plant a tree, cook a special meal, or make a donation to a cause you care about, in his memory—If you do so, we'd love if you shared a picture on this website or sent it to Tanya via the contact form. Our condolences to all who knew, and were touched by, Dennis.
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