Community tries to make sense out of murder-suicideThere are a few words that describe last week’s murder suicide involving longtime Hudsonites Claire and Betty Lou Erickson. The words heard most often when friends and associates talk about the friendly, mild-mannered couple include “stunning, disbelief, shock, unbelievable, bewildering,” and the list goes on.
By: Doug Stohlberg, Hudson Star-Observer
There are a few words that describe last week’s murder suicide involving longtime Hudsonites Claire and Betty Lou Erickson. The words heard most often when friends and associates talk about the friendly, mild-mannered couple include “stunning, disbelief, shock, unbelievable, bewildering,” and the list goes on.
“It was incredible shock,” said Mike Sime, a longtime friend and business competitor of Claire Erickson. “I’ve known Claire and Betty since I moved here in 1965.”
Sime owns Mike Standard (BP) Service, 1313 Coulee Road. Erickson, of course, was the founder of Erickson Oil/Freedom Valu Center with more than 60 locations in the Midwest, including three stations in Hudson.
“Claire and Betty were nothing but classy, nice people,” Sime said. “I used to go fishing with Claire, Dave (Erickson) and Jim (Kron). Claire was such a nice guy – he never said anything bad about anybody.”
Sime is also close to Claire and Betty’s son, Dave, who currently operates the Erickson Oil company. In fact, Sime was best man in Dave’s wedding when he married Debi Iverson. Dave and Debi are godparents to Chad, one of Sime’s children.
“Despite being a competitor, Claire was always more than fair,” Sime said. “In fact, we did most of the work on the company and personal vehicles of the Erickson’s – they were not only my friend, but also a customer.”
Sime said Claire was always willing to give back to the community.
“He was more than generous,” Sime said. “He supported many causes and was active in all sorts of local organizations over the years. This is just a shock to us all – it’s an emotional thing. I still can’t believe it.”
Claire and Betty Erickson were active members of Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson, and Pastor Dennis Nelson said there is no way to explain the tragedy.
“We can’t understand it, and there is no way to explain it, but during this tragedy it offers a terribly important reminder that none of us can walk in the shoes of another person,” Nelson said. “We all live on the faith of God’s mercy.
“Claire and Betty were faithful worshippers of God and they sought God in their lives. They were definitely a faithful part of this congregation. They were supportive of our ministry.”
Nelson said it is important to be supportive of the surviving family members
“This is a devastating loss and is bewildering for all of us – especially the family.”
In business circles, and as a close family friend, Associated Bank Market President Ken Heiser probably knew Claire Erickson as well as anyone. Claire served on the bank’s board of directors for 14 years (1971-1985).
“I was stunned,” said Heiser, who was golfing in Florida when he got the news.
Heiser, who has a winter home in Bonita Springs, Fla., had been at the anniversary celebration for Claire and Betty in Naples on March 18.
“Claire had not been feeling well that day and there was some debate as to whether they would have the party, but it went on,” Heiser said. “He was his usual friendly self that evening. Both Claire and Betty were friendly with the guests and spent a lot of time visiting with everybody. My wife, Lynn, and I had also had dinner with Claire and Betty a couple of weeks earlier in Florida.”
Heiser described the Ericksons as pillars in the community.
“Claire was always a pillar and still is,” Heiser said. “When I came to Hudson, he was on the bank board and had a great business mind. He was a very successful and smart businessman.
“Many businesses come and go, but Claire had the sense to do the right things at the right time. He knew the oil business and knew it well.”
Claire left the bank board in 1985 when he purchased his own bank in Lindstrom, Minn., and later in Waseca, Minn. At the time of his death, Claire and his children still owned the businesses.
“Even after he left the board, he was always loyal to the local businesses,” Heiser said. “I think his philosophy was to do as much as possible locally.”
Heiser said Claire Erickson was always fair in his dealings.
“I think that shows in the Erickson Oil Company. They have a lot of longtime employees; he must have treated them right. He was always a fair guy to do business with.”
In the Ericksons’ personal life, Heiser said they were very family-oriented.
“He had great relationships with his kids and his grandkids,” Heiser said. “There was always a lot of care and respect. The family did a lot of things together – very close.”
Heiser said the Ericksons were very philanthropic.
“Claire and Betty were very generous,” Heiser said. “When I was raising funds for the new hospital, they came through in a big fashion. They gave significant gifts to virtually every organization in Hudson.
Heiser said everyone has theories about what may have happened last week, but claims to have no special insights.
“If I were to speculate at all, I would guess that a medical condition was somewhere in the mix,” Heiser said. “We will never really know the whole situation, but it is important to remember who they were and what they meant to their family, friends, business and community.
“If anything good comes out of this, it may be that the Ericksons were so well-known, and the story has been so well-publicized, that it may inspire families and elderly couples to discuss their health situations, what it means and what assistance may be available.