Willis Otelius Sorenson (1924-2001)

Willis Otelius Sorenson was born in Little Sauk, Minnesota, on March 17, 1924. He was the fifth child of Anna and Olaf Sorenson. His middle came derives from his uncle Otelius Sorenson, who died at an early age from tuberculosis. Grandma Averill, the local midwife, attended the birthing. He and his best buddy, Buster Thompson, were inseparable. He was always out traipsing the marshes and woods, and invariably came home with wet feet. Geolina, hoping to help him out, bought him some red galoshes one day with her hard-earned money. He merely proceeded to wade out into the lake until the water level rose above the boots, and once again, he could return home with wet feet. ‘Tiny,’ as he was known in the Little Sauk area, was not much of a participant in athletics, but loved to fish. According to sister Geolena, he always caught his fish (at nearby Cedar Lake.) 

He served his three year carpentry/construction apprenticeship with Gilman. He joined the US Navy during World War II, a gunner who served on the Japanese front. He married Alice Halvorsen (born in Minneapolis on July 30, 1929 and died in Long Lake on February 15, 1987). They had a single son, Tod. The family lived in the Long Lake area, and it was there that he acquired his second nickname, Baki. When asked to go out or try something new, he predictably balked at the thought, hence his namesake. Alice and later, Tod, were responsible for Emma’s Café, which they acquired from Alice’s mother, Emma. Baki focused on his carpentry.

The following is a letter written to his sister, Geolina:

Dear Sis and all,

     Well as I haven’t anything to do here in school and the instructor isn’t in so I will snap you off a letter. I wrote Gil, Gladys and the folks last nite so I really have been on the ball. I haven’t heard from Gil for a long time I can’t figure him out, oh well I guess he is pretty busy. We have airplane recognition hr. every day, we’ve learnt 17 polanes already and today we have a test, boy they are really hard, he flashes em at 1/10 of a second and you recognize them. Well next week I won’t have anytime as I have to go to night school for those four days I missed. I got a letter from Gladys and she was telling me how Janice could write. We have another captains inspection Sat. so that means more work. I never knew one fellow could cause so  much work, but he is one who really can cause it.

Well I suppose Buster had a good time while he was home. If I can save enough money and I get delayed orders I can probably make it home for a couple days after I finish school, (if we ever finish). We had one of the seven wonders out here the other night guess what (it rained) but the next morning it was still just as dusty. Well the instructor is back so I better sign off.



Baki and Tod loved to fish together. Baki loved to hunt as well. He was an avid bowler for many years, averaging up to 180 pins per game. The family sold Emma’s Café in 1987, shortly after the death of Alice. On one trip to Little Sauk, Tiny drove Geolina over to Grey Eagle to visit a restaurant. Tiny took great delight in pointing out the stools, tables and knick knacks which had come from their restaurant and had been purchased when the contents of the restaurant were sold.

David, Baki and I took several trips to the Indian Reservation Casino near Mille Lacs, Minnesota. Tiny was more than happy to leave the company of family for a little gambling adventure at the drop of a hat. He didn’t actually wager much, but loved the quiet company and novelty of the new casino.

In terms of personality, Tiny was most similar to his sister Gladys (Gilman and Geolina exhibit more extroverted characteristics.) He would have been voted, “least likely to organize a family reunion,” preferring to spend time with his family and friends at the Legion. He surprised Gladys when he flew down to San Antonio for a visit, spending a week with Gladys, Jan and Noel.

Every year, Tiny, Gil and Mil would travel to Little Sauk to visit Geolina. He loved to play aggravation. Geolena took great pleasure making him lefse (Swedish potato pancakes) each year. He was also a great fan of lutefisk, that Norwegian abomination that most Norwegian Americans have learned to love (to hate). This is codfish that is soaked lye. Geolina says that Lutefisk was the biggest seller in their store in Little Sauk.

Baki was very active in the American Legion. He had a passion for horses, and owned two racehorses which competed at nearby Chanhassen downs. One of the horses, La Estrella (the star), even turned a profit for him! Baki’s best friend was Jinks, his terrier. In January of 2000, he fell and broke his hip. He went to the VA to have it repaired. The surgery resulted in a crooked setting, and despite physical therapy, Baki would never walk again. When he fell and broke the other hip, he was admitted to a nursing home in Long Lake, joining his sister-in-law, Millie Sorenson. His friend, Jinks, would come for visits to the nursing home (two hip fractures a year before his death prevented him from walking). Geolina would send shipments of Lefse with the help of Gil.

He passed away on May 20, 2001 in Long Lake, Minnesota. His funeral was well-attended by family and friends at the Rettinger Funeral Home. He chose to be cremated, and laid to rest with his wife, Alice.