Harlan “Scooter” Pernu had a tale to tell

It’s a story about survival, sacrifice, strength and spirit
Scooter Pernu smiles for his elementary school picture. He was about 9 or 10 years old at the time. Submitted photos.

Scooter Pernu smiles for his elementary school picture. He was about 9 or 10 years old at the time. Submitted photos.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Scooter Pernu of Britt loved to write. Disabled at 4 years old, the result of a car accident, he wrote a story about his life—the accident, highs and lows, memories, and family and friends. Scooter died on April 18, 2018, at age 57. His family gave Hometown Focus Scooter’s story to encourage people, disabled or not, to live their lives to the fullest.—Jill Pepelnjak, HTF staff writer

My life as it was and is

By H.R. (Scooter) Pernu Jr.


I dedicate this book to the medical staff of the Virginia Medical Center (Virginia Regional Hospital, 1960), Virginia law enforcement, physical therapists, my family and others.

I owe my life to Virginia firemen Bill Claviter and Lloyd Sakrison. They were on ambulance duty the night of my accident. They kept me alive until the doctors were able to take over.

This is a true story of my life, as it was and as it is.

Scooter Pernu stands in the front of the church at his wedding, surrounded by his heroes Lloyd Sakrison (left) and Bill Claviter (right). He married Holly Benolken in 2002 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Virginia. (Nine years later, they divorced.)

Scooter Pernu stands in the front of the church at his wedding, surrounded by his heroes Lloyd Sakrison (left) and Bill Claviter (right). He married Holly Benolken in 2002 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Virginia. (Nine years later, they divorced.)

A life-changing event

My name is Harlan Raymond Pernu Jr., but they call me “Scooter.” I was born on Aug. 9, 1960, in the Virginia Hospital to Harlan (Shuggo) R. Pernu Sr. and Carmen L. (Brunfelt) Pernu. I have two younger brothers Jeffrey Allen and Mark Steven. My first brother Jeff was born May 1, 1962, and my second brother Mark was born Nov. 7, 1963. My parents adopted my sister Charlene when she was a teenager.

I had a normal childhood till 1964. It was on Oct. 25, 1964, when I was involved in a car accident with my parents and two brothers.

It was a beautiful Sunday evening. At 7 p.m., we were involved in a two-car accident on Highway 53 near Andeline’s Store in Britt. After the accident, the state patrol and paramedics came to help with the injured and the investigation. Paramedics Lloyd Sakrison and Bill Claviter started CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on me and continued until the doctors took over.



I was in critical condition, near death, with a broken neck. To the credit of the EMTs (emergency medical technicians) and the Highway Patrol, I made it to the hospital. When I was first brought to the hospital, I was barely alive. The doctors told my parents that I would not survive the night. Due to the efforts of the doctors, I would survive.

The night I was brought into the hospital, I had several doctors and nurses working on me. I give my gratitude and thanks to these men and women of the medical care profession.

After I recovered enough, I started physical and occupational therapy in my hospital room. On the fifth week, while I was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), these treatments lasted for 15 minutes every day. These treatments were extended to 30 minutes when I was transferred to Pediatrics.

After three weeks of treatments, I was able to make the trip down to the Iron Range Rehab Center where my physical therapy continued every day until my release.

I was released from the hospital on Jan. 29, 1965. At the time of my release, I had to be tied to a chair, because I could not sit up by myself. I had to sleep in a crib.

My legs would scissor badly when I was placed in a standing position and my speech was not understandable.

Special equipment, consisting of parallel bars, a standing table and a custombuilt desk, were used to assist in therapy, which I continued at home.

I went to the Rehab Center three times a week, which lasted only one hour a day (10 – 11 a.m.). The physical therapist worked on my balance so I could sit by myself, and the occupational therapist worked on my wind so my speech would improve. I spent a half an hour in each department.

Soon, I did learn to sit by myself. I got coordination and strength back in my arms, but my legs were still very weak.

My speech was rapidly improving. The occupational therapist continued to work on coordination in my arms and strengthening my legs. I was put in the standing table, first for five minutes and then for longer periods of time until I was spending almost 30 minutes in the standing table. During this time, I would color, paint or lace a shoe to assist in developing coordination.

In physical therapy, my arms and legs were strengthened by exercises such as sit-ups and push-ups.

I learned to crawl in April 1965. At first, it was slow but, before long, I got along quite well.

Then the therapist placed me on my feet and put me in the parallel bars. At first, my legs scissored badly but, with hard work, the scissoring was corrected. The next step was to get me to stand by myself. At first, I could not stand at all but, by fall of 1965, I was able to stand quite well and was visibly proud of my accomplishment.

Next, I was required to get into a standing position by myself. This was very difficult and took a considerable time. But the day did come in February 1967 and, again, I was proud of myself.

I was now graduated to a walker from my wheelchair. Walking with my walker was very slow at first and I tired very rapidly but, the more I used it, the stronger I got.

Next, I learned to walk by myself. This was the most difficult of all. As of now, I walk by myself quite a bit, but the steps are still slow and stiff, although improving.

About May of 1967, my treatments were cut from three times a week to two a week. My arms and hands had developed quite well, but my speech was slow. I started speech therapy in September 1965 and continued until July 1967 when it was discontinued.

I started school in September 1967. I went for half days and I did quite well. I still went to the Rehab Center for an hour once a week for physical and occupational therapy.

The Rehab Center was a big part of my life and I was very fond of the therapists. My spirits were high, and I maintained a good sense of humor. I showed a large amount of determination. I firmly believed that soon I would be “all well.”

Although this is not all I accomplished, it was definitely the hardest for me to accomplish.


Since the accident, I went on to be confirmed on April 11, 1976. When I got confirmed, I read the following:

Yes, I love our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I know I could not have made it through the years since the accident if He had not been with me.

He was with me the night I was hurt, and the doctors said I would not live through the night. With His help, I did live.

He was with me when the doctors said I would be a living vegetable. He was with me and with His help, I was able to think and do for myself. He was with me when the doctors said I would never again be able to have the use of my legs or arms. With Jesus Christ by my side, I first learned to sit by myself and then crawl, and then stand. He was right with me when I took my first step. He was there helping me keep my courage, so I would not give up.

Jesus Christ has been with me every step since then.

When I fall down, He is there to help me pick myself up and go again. Yes, I give myself totally and completely to Jesus Christ.

I thank Him each and every night for what He has done for me. Yes, I love our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and I know I am never alone because He is always with me. Whether sick or healthy or sad or happy, my Lord is with me always.


In 1980, I graduated with my class of 217.

The day I graduated, I was very proud to take my place among my fellow students. When I went to get my diploma, I was given a standing ovation by my classmates. It made me feel good, and thought that maybe I made more friends or maybe left a good impression on my classmates, for them to show me such an honor.

I have lived in the past, I live the present, and I will live the future.

Battles won and lost

Life is war for me. I’ve been fighting it for all my life. I’ve lost a lot of battles, and I’ve won a lot.

Battles won are as follows:

• Making it through school
• Making friends
• A car accident (1964)—a big battle,
battle with self
• A bleeding ulcer (1977)—a major battle
• Getting confirmed
• Working (1979-1988)—both a minor
and major battle

Battles that are still going on or I should say are won or lost:

• Conflict with self (ongoing)
• Losing major battles
• Dependency (lost)
• Trying to be by myself (semi-won)
• Making new friends (semi-won or semilost) • Going out for dinner or on a date (semiwon) • No car or driver’s license (lost)
• No girlfriend (semi-won, semi-lost)

Remembrances from the past

I remember having a cabin on the Cook end of Lake Vermilion. It belonged to my Grandpa Sparky and Grandma Tyne. After my grandpa died, my grandma got a cabin on an island on Vermilion. One day, while staying at the cabin, my brothers and I were sitting in Grandpa Sparky’s car. I was goofing around with the gearshift—and put it in neutral—and the car started to move forward. Luckily, it hit a rock, not the lake.

One day, while spending time at my grandma’s cabin on an island on Lake Vermilion, I was eating fish for dinner. I got a fishbone caught in my throat. My ma called for my pa, who was down by the lake. He came racing up the hill and dislodged the bone from my throat.

In 1977 or 1978, I survived a bleeding ulcer.

When I was a senior in high school, I was transferred to the Alternative School in Midway. I met a few women while I was there, but I remember two in particular: Deneen Sawter—she was nice to me, and Kelly (I don’t know her last name)— she was an Indian girl, soft-spoken and kind. When we first met and talked, I really liked her, but it didn’t go anywhere.

While at the Alternative School in Midway (1979-80), Deneen Sawter wrote the following to me:

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Sugar is sweet But the hell with you. Remember Grant, Remember Lee, the hell with them, Remember me.

And I wrote the following to Deneen:

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Everything’s nice, And so are you.


I often wondered what flying would be like. If flying is as free as a kite caught in midair, I often wondered what it would be to fly, to be free and sail on the wind of the air. Or is flying just a dream of mine, I wonder if so? Or will my dream come true, will I fly someday soon! Will that day ever come, that’s a question to ask? The wild blue wonder is for me.

In 1990, I went to my 10-year class reunion. I was glad to see everyone. I also went to the all-class reunion. These are the times, including holidays, that I get out of the house. To pass the time, I have various hobbies, such as reading, model building, taking pictures and more.

In 1991, I had a girlfriend, but it didn’t last very long. It lasted about a year. Since then, I haven’t been lucky with the ladies.

I remember one day that I went with my brothers and aunt to see an old steam shovel.

One time, we painted my Grandpa Ray’s forehead while he slept. My brothers, Grandpa Ray and I got along well. We always walked down to the Oasis or down to the bridge. When my Grandpa Ray came home from work, he always brought something for us kids.

This is a story I was told by my Aunt Wanda and Willy Louma, a family friend:

I was told (many years later) that the night I was hurt, and the nights that followed, Aunt Wanda, Willy and my two brothers Jeff and Mark, who were all in the living room, heard footsteps upstairs. Every time the phone rang, the steps (pacing) stopped and, after the phone was hung up, the pacing would start again. This pacing continued, I was told, till I was out of the ICU.

I also remember Christmases, Thanksgivings and Easters. These times were great. The whole family got—and still gets—together so we can all spend time as one. Anytime you spend with your family is a time of special greatness.


My family and I went camping a lot when I was younger. We went to several campgrounds, such as Lake Jeanette, Echo Lake, Kabetogama Lake and Gunflint Trail.

During one camping trip at Lake Jeanette, it rained the whole weekend. It was a miserable week. I remember another time when we were at Echo Lake on Echo Trail, we were at one of the campsites with a rock hill. My brother and I played on it all the time. One time, my mother took me on the trail that went down to the lake on the backside of the hill. About halfway down, I froze. I couldn’t move. It took me and my ma some time to get back to the top.

When we went to Kabetogama campground, there was a nature trail. My brothers went on it all the time. Then, one day I went on it. When I was partway down it, I twisted my ankle. My dad had to come and help me back to the campsite. And, while at Kabetogama, my brother and I went to see a biplane that was parked down the way.

One day, when I was fishing and talking with my dad, there was a game warden checking fishing licenses. When he came to our boat to check ours, my eyes got big. I thought we were in trouble or something.

I remember one time in particular when we went to Echo Lake campground, we got sick because the water that we drank had been treated with some kind of chemical.

When our family went camping, we always had a good time because we were together.

I would like to say a few things about two very special places that played big roles in my upbringing—Camp Courage and Courage North. Camp Courage is located in Golden Valley, MN. I enjoyed it when I went to camp for two weeks every summer. While there, I went camping, fishing, boating, swimming and horseback riding. But that’s not all I did at camp.

There also was a 4th of July Wingding (program), which was fun. One 4th of July, I and a girl named Sally White got pretend married, but it was fun anyway. I want to tell you something about Sally White. She was kind and sweet and the daughter of two doctors.

I also went to Courage North, which is located by Bemidji, MN. I spent a lot of time at both these camps, and the times spent at these camps were very enjoyable.

Airshows and ships

I would like to tell you some more about my experiences and interests. When I was a kid, my family and I went to many airshows in Hibbing and Duluth. During my ventures to these airshows, I learned a lot about our military. There’s one airshow that I remember in particular, because it was of such great interest. This one was a visit to the Duluth Air National Guard Base, where I was allowed to tour the Strategic Air Command (S.A.C.) building. It was fascinating. This is all I’m going to say about it, however, because what I saw might be classified.

I also went to Duluth to see a few Navy ships. One was the U.S.S. William C. Lawe (DD-670) destroyer, and the other was the U.S.S. Edison (DD-439), also a destroyer. These two ships were of great interest, because I could see another part of our armed forces. I also saw another part of our armed forces, which was the Army National Guard, of which my dad, brother and Uncle Butch (Smith) were a part. When I went to the open houses that the armory had, I saw Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), machine guns, mortars, etc. I enjoyed it a lot.

But there were some bad times too. There are many that come to mind: fires, floods, tornados. I mostly remember the tornados as being very scary. There was one time in particular. It was a day that I was sitting in the porch on a couch when, all of a sudden, it got very dark in the middle of the day. The wind started to blow really hard. I was a kid and didn’t know what was happening. My ma came to get me to go downstairs with her. The wind was blowing so hard we barely got to the basement before the tornado was right there.

This wasn’t the only one. Out of several that would come, there was another time when a tornado came, and it blew most of the trees down on one side of the house. It just went over the house to the other side. It didn’t touch the house, but these tornados did so much damage to other places, such as Cook, MN. It flooded this small community completely. Except for the damage, everyone was OK in both communities.

But this isn’t the only thing I went through that was tragic. There was another time when I was still in school (1975), we had a bad fire at Birch Knob, a wooded area with a hill in the center, in Britt. This is why it is known as the “knob.” Anyway, the fire was big and it burnt many acres. It took many days to bring it under control and to extinguish it. This was a very scary time. We had to be ready to evacuate at anytime day or night. Luckily, we didn’t have to be evacuated.

I remember the day I said no when my Uncle John (Limmer) and his wife, my Aunt Wanda, asked me to go swimming with them. I wish I would have gone with them because, a day or so after the fact, my Uncle John died in an accident at work.

Family, friends and heroes

I have many fond memories of people with whom I spent time, loved and admired.

Grandpa Ray Pernu: He was born in 1910 in Finland. Grandpa Ray was a good person at heart and I loved him dearly. He was a sweet and kind man to us kids. When he came home from work, he always brought us kids something, such as baseballs, baseball bats, hockey sticks or whatever.

After Grandma Anna (Ray’s wife) died, I spent a lot of time with him. I think the time I spent with Grandpa Ray was good for both of us. I know it was good for me.

Grandpa Fred Limmer: He is a very kind and gentle man and I love him dearly. Grandpa Fred served in WWII in the Pacific. And I, for one, give him the honor and the grace that he deserves for what he did to preserve the freedoms of the free world. I also honor him as my grandfather, a good, honorable, gentle and kind man. This is why I love him.

Grandma Tyne Limmer: I also love Grandma Tyne. She is a wonderful and dear person. I have to give my grandma a lot of credit for all she’s been through, no matter how small or big.

Uncle Jerry Brunfelt: Jerry was an Army Aviation chopper pilot in the Vietnam War in 1970. He returned home in 1971. Jerry is and always will be my hero.

I remember when Jerry and I were talking at the lake (Isaac), he told me about one of his missions when a bullet passed between him and his copilot. He said it passed behind the copilot and in front of him. He and his crew (chopper) were a fraction of a second from death.

I also remember Jerry telling me about what it was like when he was flying his missions. He told me about one support mission he was on. He said when he fired the rockets, they crossed.When he fired the machine guns, it looked like one long line. When the missiles (rockets) were fired, they would cross in front of the chopper. On night missions, he said that they used tracers and, when he fired them, it looked like a long line of fire.

After his tour of duty was over, it was on Christmas Eve of 1971. I remember everyone was glad and happy to see Uncle Jerry come home. And I’m glad that I can talk and ask him about his tour of duty in Vietnam. I don’t press him on the matter but, if I have any questions about Vietnam, he’ll answer them all.

I would like to dedicate the following to those who fought and died to preserve peace and honor: The Stars and Stripes are symbols of our freedoms and states that we are free. And, for those who served her, are buried under her wave of freedom. And those who are buried under her, those are the great ones, who have fallen with grace and honor.

Sherry Pernu: I would like to talk about a very special cousin. Her name is Sherry Pernu. She was more than just a cousin, she was a friend. When we were kids, we did a lot of things together. We played together. She was the sister I always wanted—that is, before I got a sister. But know she’s a cousin and a friend.

Gary and Barbara Maki: They were the sweetest and kindest people I’ve ever met. They lived in Babbitt, MN. Gary got me interested in many things, such as Radio Controlled (R/C) models. He also got me reinterested in Ham Radio.

There was a time I remember when Gary, my dad and me were flying. It was when I just go interested in R/C flying. Gary gave the transmitter for the plane to my dad and things were going good till the plane got out of range of the radio. My dad then gave the radio to Gary, and they tried to regain control of the plane by running after it. But it was too late. By the time they regained control, it crashed. After they recovered the wreck, the whole field held a farewell ceremony for the lost craft.

I’m going to miss Gary and Barbara very much. For all Gary’s done for me, I give him a big thank you. He’s not here to hear it, but I hope he knows that I loved him and Barb. In a way, even after their deaths, I know that they know I loved them.

It really hit me hard when Gary and Barbara died. I would like to dedicate the following to Gary Maki:

Flight of little birds (R/C planes)

On the flight line, there’s a sound of little engines and the smell of fuel. Then there’s the first take-off. We watch in awe of seeing such a sight of wonder and of beauty.

Since starting this project, it has brought back memories of some distant friends, such as the names listed below:

• Donald Burge: He accidently hit me in
the head with an ax.
• The Westby clan: They were family
• The hippies who lived next door: They
were good friends.
I guess I just want to say that I have a
lot of good friends from the past, and I
still have many good friends now.


After putting the material together for this project, it came to me that the following statement not only applies to me (Scooter), but to everyone:

Live one day at a time, because this time won’t come again. And that you have to live life to its fullest— and to honor your life as you live it and not as others want you to live.

Scooter Pernu was buried on Aug. 10, 2018, at Sand Lake Cemetery in Britt, MN.

One response to “Harlan “Scooter” Pernu had a tale to tell”

  1. Sandy Lilli says:

    This was a wonderful story. It was wonderful for you to publish it. I am scooters aunt and very sad about his passing. He will be always in our thoughts. If you didn’t get to know him you really missed out.

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