John F. Zdrazil, 59, Elbow Lake
May 23, 1962 – May 28, 2021
John Fredrick Allmon Zdrazil (59) died at his home in Elbow Lake, Minnesota, on Friday, May 28, 2021 surrounded by people who loved him. John—also known as Mr. Z., Jack, Zdraz, Z, and Charlie Brown-—was born on May 23, 1962 at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, MN, to Jim and Linda Zdrazil, joining older brother, Tom.
John Zdrazil was extraordinary. He was creative and clever, funnier than one person has the right to be, and kind beyond measure. He was tuned in to the specific beauty of wheat fields and the healing powers of Lake Superior. He loved crabby old dogs and moody teenagers and small towns and abandoned buildings. John’s life was far too short, but man, did he make the most of the time he was given.
John grew up in the backyards and libraries of Minnetonka, making friends and an indelible impression wherever he went. As a child, he captained a milk carton boat built by his engineer father during the inaugural Aquatennial Milk Carton Boat Race. He snuck into the Boy Scouts before he was old enough to join by wearing his brother’s uniform and showing up for troop meetings. He impressed his high school classmates with his stellar Blues Brothers impression, his larger-than-life personality, and his willingness to be ridiculous in the name of school spirit.
John graduated from Hopkins Eisenhower High School in 1980. He would undoubtedly send his apologies for not quite finishing the project he promised to take on for the class’s Covid-delayed 40th reunion. After high school, he attended Bethel College in Arden Hills, MN where he was a legendary figure on campus, known for his leadership, creativity, and for voluntarily being spray painted gold to serve as a living Academy Award statue. He spent his college summers working at Trout Lake Camp in Pine River, MN, where he made friendships and memories with people who adored him. He graduated from Bethel in 1984.
In the fall of 1985, John moved to Elbow Lake where he taught English for nearly 40 years until retiring in the spring of 2021. John introduced his students to great books and taught them the utility of the semicolon. If Mr. Zdrazil was your teacher, you learned the history of rock music in Minnesota and the value of sarcasm doled out via brightly colored Flair pen corrections. You learned that your awkward teenage quirks were exactly what made you someone worth celebrating.
John embedded himself in the Elbow Lake community, creating the annual Harvest Moon live radio show, showing off his modest guitar skills at the Flekkefest talent show, helping out at the Thorson Memorial Library and overpaying his library fines. Along with his former student and dear friend, Eric Sanford, he co-founded the Extemporaneous Marching Band, battling other marching bands in various small-town parades. John served as a pulpit supply pastor for Aastad Lutheran, Rock Prairie Lutheran, and Peace Lutheran churches, among others. He worked with the Grant County Humane Society to foster dogs at the end of their lives, organized celebrations honoring the area’s veterans and spent every Memorial Day weekend planting flags on veterans’ graves across Grant County. He created the Sunshine committee at West Central Area Schools that took care of financial and other issues for fellow school staff in their times of need. Mr. Zdrazil was frequently chosen as Most Influential Educator by WCA graduates, including by the Class of 2021.
In addition to his degree from Bethel, John earned advanced degrees from Hamline University (Liberal Studies), Moorhead State (Creative Writing), and the University of Minnesota (Mortuary Science). John took a leave from teaching to serve as a funeral director and mortician, bringing kindness and comfort to families all over Minnesota. He won the inaugural Lake Region Arts Council Six-Word Novel Contest ("Kenny Rogers ruined my life--again.") and his short story, “Winter Burial,” was selected for inclusion in American Fiction Volume 13 (2014).
In short, John was a man of boundless imagination and compassion, gifts he shared generously with the communities he cared about.
John loved Scotland, the Twins, Bob Dylan, plaid shirts, small-town tennis courts, All-Star Wrestling, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (which he saw 21 times, always in a theater, always with his dad), Prince, sharp pencils, clipboards, floor hockey, road trips with his brother, the clearance rack at Target, surfing, Lake Superior, graph paper, Trout Lake Camp, Flair pens, MN Hockey Day, bagpipes, the State Fair, egg coffee, Stan Smith tennis shoes, geriatric dogs, and flannel sheets. He is survived by his father, actual rocket scientist James Zdrazil (Vernice); his brother, Tom; sister-in-law, Janice Zdrazil; princess niece, Hannah Zdrazil; and Daisy the barking dog. He was preceded in death by his mother, Linda Zdrazil, and his beloved dogs, Betsy and Grandpa. He leaves behind a vast community of dear friends, co-workers, cousins, former students, parishioners, and veterans who will never stop missing him.
Public visitation will be held from 12 p.m - 3:00 p.m. at Aastad Lutheran Church, 19383 Co Hwy 110, Fergus Falls, MN on Saturday, June 5, 2021. Funeral services will follow at 4:00 p.m. at Lawrence Presbyterian Church, 29926 310th St, Wendell, MN. We ask that attendees follow MN state guidelines regarding masks for unvaccinated people and stay home if feeling ill. A private family burial will take place at Lake Lillian Cemetery at a later date. Funeral arrangements were made by Benson Funeral Home, St. Cloud, MN.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to organizations to the Grant County Humane Society, Friends of the Thorson Memorial Library, the Basilica St. Vincent de Paul Shoe Ministry at St. Mary’s Basilica in Minneapolis, and First Baptist Church in Minneapolis.