Columbus, OH — John E. Harmelink, 90, of Sioux City, Iowa, formerly of Rock Valley, Iowa, died Nov. 21, 2020.
Mr. Harmelink was born Aug. 29, 1930, to Gerrit and Minnie (Van Eldik) Harmelink. He attended Rock Valley Public School, graduating in 1948. He spent two years at Iowa State University and then enlisted in the United States Navy, serving at Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut.
He was united in marriage with his high school sweetheart, Margie Kramer, on March 15, 1955. They purchased a farm west of Rock Valley a year later, and lived there until 2019. They raised livestock and crops. When he was no longer actively farming, he focused on a large garden, raising tomatoes and giant pumpkins, and tending chickens. Over the years many, many friends and family members spent time visiting at the farm. He was a gifted conversationalist and never knew a stranger, at least not for long.
They owned and operated Rock Valley Sales Co. as a livestock auction barn, and later built a successful hay and straw auction. He was an accomplished auctioneer, and also sold real estate. He was the keynote speaker at the National Hay Convention in Milwaukee, Wis., and notably got the audience’s attention by opening his remarks with a live auction call.
He was introduced to harness racing by a friend of the family, Pete Vander Velde, in the early 1960s. He actively raised, trained and drove Standardbreds for the next 30 years, mainly on the fair circuit in Iowa and Minnesota. He also announced many races, and was a licensed presiding judge for Iowa fair racing.
He was a long time member of the United State Trotting Association. He had fun with the names of his racehorses, his favorites being horses named after friends or family members. Notable were Gary The Great, Martin Buckley, Minda J., Mama Marge, Al Pruis, Charla Beth and Jeremiah Judge.
Among his favorite racing memories were taking the family to Winnipeg, Manitoba, to watch Gary The Great win going four wide at Assiniboia Downs; watching Al Pruis chart his first win at Humbolt, Iowa; and having all the local horsemen come to the farm on Saturdays in the spring and early summer to train horses together.
He was a member of Faith Reformed Church in Rock Valley. He was a Sunday School teacher, and he and Marge represented their church at a missions conference at Hofstra University in New York. They also traveled to Vietnam with Hope Haven International Ministries to distribute wheelchairs.
He loved Rock Valley, and served as the general chairman for two of Rock Valley’s events — the Diamond Jubilee in 1955 and the Centennial celebration in 1979. He was also a member of the local American Legion. He was a member of the basketball team when in high school, and always rooted for the local school sports teams, attending as many games as possible. When mobility challenges made attending live games difficult, he and Marge would listen with rapt attention to the broadcast of the games on KVDB radio.
He frequented the Rock Valley Public Library, and was a voracious reader. He and Marge would compete to see who could read the most books in a year. His favorites were nonfiction, particularly World War II topics.
Surviving are Marge, his wife of 65 years; daughters, Minda (Merlin Thompson) and Marcia (Michael Piontkowski); son, Gary (Laura); grandchildren, Beti Littlegeorge, Beth (Nic) Richter, Jeremiah (Robin) Thompson, Jordan and Bennett; great-grandchildren, Skylar Richter, NyKeylauna Richter, Issac Richter, Tristan Thompson, Adriana Littlegeorge, Alexis Littlegeorge, Alaina Littlegeorge, Josiah Thompson, and Delilah Thompson; sisters, Joan Goetsch and Ruth; brothers-in-law, Dennis Kaldenberg, Gerald Van Der Vliet, and Jerry Johnson; and sisters-in-law, Henrietta Paulson and Ruby Kramer. He was preceded in death by his parents; stepmother, Rena; sister, Caroline King; brothers- and sisters-in-law, Ron King, Gerald Goetsch, Leo and Hattie Monster, Hank and Julie Kramer, Jay and Annie Kramer, Bert and Jennie Kramer, Phil Kramer, Martin and Millie Kramer, Jennie Johnson, Bill and Liz Van Duyn, Richard and Alice Park, Mary Van Der Vliet, and Wally Paulson.
Memorial contributions may be made to Hope Haven International Ministries, P.O. Box 70, Rock Valley, IA 51247.