Little Falls business owner will be missed by many

Gene Pappenfus passed away July 13

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

Eugene Pappenfus, the owner of Pap’s Sport Shop in Little Falls, passed away July 13. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for about 10 years. He was 90 years old.

Gene Pappenfus passed away July 13. Besides being the second generation owner of Pap’s Sport Shop in Little Falls, he was bigger than life in the community. Pictured above is the message his family sends after his death. Below is Pappenfus doing what he loved: hunting and being in the outdoors.

An avid sportsman and a promoter of organized sports in Little Falls, was buried in his camouflage with a duck call and a key to the hunting shack in his hand.

Pappenfus was born in Sauk Rapids, but moved to Little Falls when he was 3 years old. He graduated from Little Falls High School in 1940 and in there, joined the Air Corp during World War II from 1943 – 1946. Pappenfus landed at Normandy three days after D-day

“Dad was in charge of the supply depot in Belgium after training in communications,” said his daughter Paulette. “He  was transferred to the depot when it was learned he had retail experience. There he lived with a family in Belgium, who he never forgot.”

Pappenfus came home in January 1946 and married his longtime sweetheart Margaret LaFond in February.

“We were together since elementary school and were married for 66 years,” said Margaret. “When we were teens and best friends, we would go to the dump together to shoot rats. It was great fun.”

Margaret doesn’t remember when the romantic attraction actually began, but said that one afternoon, after a day of shooting rats, Gene kissed her.

“I asked him why he did that and he just said, ‘I wanted to,’” she said. Margaret also remembers her girlfriends and she had made a bet on who would be the first to kiss Gene, who was at that time very shy. They all bet a tube of lipstick. Margaret won.

During the time Pappenfus was in Europe, Margaret would send him small bottles of booze sealed in tin cans. She knew the liquor store owners and there was a cannery in town. It was the perfect gift.

In 1947, Pappenfus’ father, Tony, retired from running his two Pap’s Sport Shop stores in Little Falls and St. Cloud. The two Pappenfus brothers formed a corporation and took over running both stores; Bob in St. Cloud and Eugene in Little Falls. When Bob’s health began to fail, Pappenfus bought out the corporation and closed the St. Cloud store in the early 1970s.

Pappenfus retired in 1985, and Paulette took over Pap’s Sport Shop.

“Dad was everything outdoors,” said his son, Tom. “He loved to go boating, fishing, hunting and camping. As a family, we camped as much as possible, which was hard with a business to run. He would sometimes have to catch up with the rest of the family on Saturday night after he closed up the shop.”

Tom remembers that when he and his siblings began to snow ski, both his parents learned, too, just to stay involved with their children.

“But knowing he had to run a business, he quit when he realized he couldn’t do that with a broken leg,” said Tom.

Tom said his father showed him, by example, how to be a good father. “He also taught me how to fix anything and gave me a great work ethic,” he said.

He said he was luckier than his sisters for when he became involved in the Boy Scouts, his father became a leader. Tom would have his father just one more evening a week than Paulette and Mary.

Tom went on to become an Eagle Scout, making his father very proud.

“Dad was one of the people involved in the first deer count at Camp Ripley,” said Paulette. “With about 200 others, they proved that firearms were taking too many deer, so firearms were then banned and only archery was allowed.”

Paulette said she gets her self-reliance from her father.

“When I purchased the store from him, he shook my hand and congratulated me on my new marriage,” she said. “Dad was a gentleman, a comedian and he never swore. He would also never speak badly about another person. He saw the good in everyone.”

But, Paulette also remembers he was the strictest of all her friends’ parents. In one incident, when she came home with a speeding ticket, her father made her walk everywhere she went. She was not even able to accept a ride with anyone, for 86 days, one day for each mile per hour she was traveling.

“Dad loved to sing,” said his daughter Mary Kistler. “And if he couldn’t remember the words, he would make them up. I would love it when he brought me into bed with him and mom and sing to me.”

Mary said she would also miss his wink, something he would do every time he saw her.

Don Sorensen, retired math teacher and athletic director at Little Falls Community High School, remembers Pappenfus as being very involved with baseball.

“I moved to Little Falls in 1964, and Gene was raising funds and promoting the amateur teams in town,” said Sorensen. Those teams were called the Chiefs, Cowboys and Indians and were in addition to the Legion and high school teams.

“Gene was also very concerned with the children in Little Falls, wanting them to be involved in lots of activities,” said Sorensen. “Pap’s Sport Shop sponsored many sports teams, not just baseball. He didn’t just talk about doing things, he got involved. He was willing to go the extra mile for the kids.”

Pappenfus once sponsored 11 different teams in one season. And one year, with only nine members, his softball team won the city league championship.

Besides his business, his family and his love of all sports, Pappenfus was also a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, a third degree Knights of Columbus, a life member and past commander of the American Legion and the Little Falls VFW. He was a member of the Exchange Club and served as its local president along with the state president. He was the cofounder of the local Ducks Unlimited chapter and was actively involved in many other conservation organizations. Together, Pappenfus and Margaret received the Book of Golden Deeds award.

Mary said that even though her father worked hard at the shop and spent time in the community, every Sunday he would spend the day with his kids. He would take them out of the house to play so Margaret could have a day to herself.

“He once told me, with tears in his eyes, that he regretted not having more time for his children,” said Mary. “That broke my heart to hear him say that because we all thought he gave us so much.”