In St. Paul’s North End, Mike Hartzell was known by another name, one that drew familiar nods and warm smiles from storefront to storefront. “Bones” called Rice Street home, and residents and business owners claimed him as their own.
When television and newspaper reports described him as homeless, some bristled.
“The writer missed the point,” said a reader, responding online after a Feb. 2017 news article about a state legislative proclamation recognizing Bones on his 70th birthday. “Bones isn’t homeless. Rice Street is Bones’ home!”
Bones, a Vietnam veteran who swept and shoveled Rice Street’s sidewalks for his meals and found community outside its bars and stores, died Sunday following an illness, according to friends and family. He was 71.
In Feb. 2017, two state lawmakers read a proclamation at Lonetti’s Lounge on Rice Street honoring Bones on the occasion of his 70th birthday. The celebration included a nacho bar, cake and ice cream.
The proclamation recognized “Bones as an upstanding citizen of St. Paul and icon on Rice Street.” It noted that Bones attended Washington High School and, after graduation, served in the U.S. Armed Forces in Vietnam, a period that Rice Street locals say he never liked to talk about.
It went on to say: “After discharge, Bones became highly independent, caring for the North End neighborhood to the best of his ability … He is a steward of the community, cleaning up streets and sidewalks along Rice Street and caring for the health of abandoned pets.”
“He believes the world without walls is his home and has worked hard to keep the community safe … Bones became an iconic figure on Rice Street, and all stores in the area welcome him with respect.”
A Facebook page that was created a few years ago to track his exploits drew more than 11,000 followers, and a smattering of impromptu pictures of Bones on his bicycle. When his bicycle was stolen, the neighborhood sprang into action, scouring corners until it was returned to him.
Keith Skip Duffney, one of many Rice Streeters who considered Bones an unofficial extension of his own family, told the Facebook community on Nov. 20 that “Mike is still in hospital with pneumonia and a very weak heart. He is being stubborn about his care and he would like to go to VA hospital. We are trying to get him moved but that is not easy. We don’t really know what will happen here but praying for recovery.”
“I know Mike has been lucky to have all of you caring for him all these years,” he added.
On Sunday morning, as it became clear Bones had been transferred to hospice care, Jeremiah Welter posted, “I don’t know when things took such a turn for the worst? He seemed alright when we went and (saw) him in the hospital. He is very strong-willed and resilient though.” By Sunday night, Welter and others associated with Tin Cup’s Bar were fundraising for an engraved bench in Bones’ memory
Memorial Gathering on December 11th
A memorial gathering will be held from noon to 8 p.m. Dec. 11 at Bradshaw Funeral Home, 1078 Rice St. There will be a time of sharing at 3 p.m. and a prayer service at 4 p.m. A community gathering at the Klub Haus, 1079 Rice St., will follow.