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Olivia, Minn., mourns loss of business owner who believed in giving back

OLIVIA -- Olivia is mourning the death of an independent business owner who exemplified the belief that customer service and giving back to the community are the guiding rules for operating a small town business.

Ben Dirks died Saturday at the age of 83 at his home in Olivia after being diagnosed this summer with an incurable cancer.

Dirks was the third generation in the family to take over the Dirks Funeral and Furniture businesses in Olivia. He returned to his hometown after serving in the Marine Air Force from 1951 through 1953. He joined his father Harold in operating a family business started by August Dirks in 1913.

Ben and his wife, Pam, who were married in 1950, raised seven sons. Steve is the oldest of the sons, and now the fourth generation in the family to operate Dirks Furniture. He said his father guided the business through many major changes from the mid-1950s until he retired in 1994.

He was among the early adopters of new technology and expanding services and products, but his compass needle was always fixed on one point. "At the heart of it all is customer service,'' said Steve Dirks.

He described his father as a "strong and soft-spoken man with high expectations."

Ben Dirks served on the Olivia City Council, local school board, and was active in a variety of organizations, including his church and local veterans' groups.

Ben Dirks welcomed Gordon Blem as a partner in the funeral home business in 1979, and the two worked together for 33 years. They expanded the service to Bird Island, Renville, Sacred Heart and Lake Lillian.

Blem said Dirks was committed to both the profession and community.

"He truly understood that you made your livelihood from the community, and you give back. You give back to your church, you give back to your community,'' said Blem.

Dirks is also remembered as an avid outdoorsman. He loved all things outdoors, but water fowl hunting most of all, said his son.

He was equally passionate about sports, and played football at Hamline University, where he earned a degree in business. He earned his funeral director license at the University of Minnesota.

He believed it was very important for young people to have the opportunity to enjoy sports. "If you give a kid a ball to play with, they will get interested in sports,'' said Steve of his father's philosophy.

Ben and Pam Dirks donated several acres of land to the city of Olivia, which was dedicated in 2000 as Dirks Park. Today the park is a focal point for many outdoor sports by youths in the community.

Dirks is survived by his wife of Olivia and his sons and their wives. A full obituary is found in this edition.

The funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Faith United Methodist Church, Olivia. A burial service with full military rites will be at the Olivia Cemetery.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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