A big heart: Forada firefighter loved helping everyone
As a young boy, when Steven Hlinsky wrote his name on his schoolwork he never used his real name. Instead, his mother, Dorothy Hlinsky, said he would write the name that everyone knew him as, Beaver Hlinsky.
As she sat on a chair in her grandson's living room at his farm just outside of Forada Wednesday, Dorothy Hlinsky looked across at the containers of baked goods that lined the counter in the kitchen and shared stories of her beloved son, Beaver. It was a task she never expected, nor wanted, to be doing.
Beaver, a 46-year-old farmer and long-time Forada firefighter, died unexpectedly Sunday, May 13, at his son Dominic's home — eight days after a reported assault outside Muddy Boot Bar and Grill in Forada, caused him to be airlifted to St. Cloud and put in intensive care.
As the family waits for answers to what really happened on May 5 when Beaver was found bleeding, they are in the midst of planning his funeral.
The name stuck
Before her grandchildren, Dominic and Abby Hlinsky, Beaver's children, joined her in the living room, Dorothy Hlinsky shared the story of how her son became known as Beaver.
As a boy he watched reruns of the television show, "Leave it to Beaver," and was thought to resemble the lead character, Theodore Cleaver, who was nicknamed "The Beaver." Dorothy also said that her son used "Beaver" as his handle for his CB radio.
"The name just stuck with him and that is how he signed everything," Dorothy said. "Unless his teachers made him sign his real name."
Patty Suchy, Beaver's sister-in-law, said from a loveseat beside Dorothy that her children "didn't have a clue" that their uncle's real name was Steven.
"They truly thought his real name was Beaver," she said, laughing.
Abby Hlinsky, 23, a social worker in Grant County, shared the story of her dad's first few days at the St. Cloud Hospital following the assault. She said the nurses would say his real name, Steven, but he wouldn't respond. Once they were told to call him Beaver, they got the response they were looking for. After that, Beaver was written on the whiteboard in his room and that is what all the doctors and nurses called him.
As the family shared stories about Beaver, there was a common theme — he had a big heart and loved helping people. Dominic Hlinsky, 25, who is following in his father's footsteps and owns his own farm, said his dad would do anything for anyone; he would give the shirt off his back if it would've helped.
Dorothy Hlinsky said her son loved being a firefighter and first responder and trying to save the lives of others.
"I just wish he could have saved his own," she said.
He took his responsibilities as a Forada firefighter very seriously, she said, with her grandchildren smiling and shaking their heads in agreement. They said he loved to always try and be the first one at the fire hall when a call came in.
Dorothy remembered a time when a fire was reported and Beaver was sitting in the combine in the field. He knew she was close by and he used his cell phone to call her to come and get him to take him to the fire hall. He instructed her to get there as fast as possible, saying, "Step on it, Mother!"
Once she got to him, Beaver jumped in the driver's seat and drove to the fire hall.
"My car never went that fast," she recalled with a laugh.
Richard Hlinsky, Dorothy's husband, was the same way, recalls Dominic. Richard, who died in October 2004, was one of the original Forada firefighters. He joined when the department was formed in April 1963.
Because his dad was a firefighter, Dorothy said that Beaver couldn't wait to join and become one, too. As soon as he turned 18, he became a firefighter and was on the department for 28 years. He was named Firefighter of the Year three times and First Responder of the Year four times.
Dominic joined the department when he was 19 and has been a member for six years. Abby joined the Forada First Responders when she was 17 years old, but had to wait until she was 18 to go out on a call.
Beaver's two children were his pride and joy, said their grandmother. He loved them more than he loved farming and being a firefighter, always saying how proud he was of of each of them.
Abby, who said she and her dad were best friends even though they were too much alike, remembers hunting trips together and always being her "daddy's little girl."
Dominic recalls spending time in the tractor and on the farm with his dad from about the time he started walking and talking.
He laughed thinking of the time when he was about 9 years old and his dad put him in the driver's seat of the tractor, shifted it into gear for him and told him to drive to his grandparents' farm.
"I didn't even know what side of the road I was supposed to drive on," Dominic said. "But dad knew there was no doubt I would get there. I grew up in that tractor."
There was also no doubt Dominic would become a farmer, just like his dad and grandpa, and he feels blessed to be doing just that.
"I love farming because there is such a bond with the land and earth and what God has given us," he said.
Beaver's children also remember all the times their dad took them boating and snowmobiling, or the times he spent playing video games and how good he was at them. They said he was really smart and good with numbers. Abby, who is going to miss his daily morning phone calls to wake her up, said her dad was helpful, hard-working, talented, inspiring and kind, and lived life to the max.
Both of Beaver's children said they could go on for hours about the wonderful man they had the privilege of calling their father.
Dorothy Hlinsky called what happened to her son a senseless, horrific tragedy. The family knows that the road ahead is going to be hard for them, and Dorothy hopes they get some answers soon.
Steven "Beaver" Hlinsky's funeral is set for Saturday, May 19, at 1 p.m., at Alexandria Covenant Church, 4005 Dakota St., Alexandria. Visitation will take place Friday, May 18, from 4-8 p.m., at Lind Family Funeral and Cremation, 1623 10th Avenue E., Alexandria. A visitation will also take place an hour before the funeral on Saturday.