Hage: Vet fights on after act of thievery

Fred Michael is a disabled Korean War veteran.

He’s also a man who has fallen on hard times.

About 36 years ago, he was traveling the country and passed through Princeton.

He fell in love with the community, cut his cross-country trip short, and settled down to call Princeton home.

That was January 3, 1976.

But all good things must come to an end someday.

For Fred, he feels lucky that it took 36 years.

These days, Fred is preparing for a return to his native California. His house has been foreclosed on, making a move necessary.

“The payments just got too high,” he said.

Fred’s sister-in-law has experienced failing health of late, so the Michaels are going to live in a trailer near her property in order to help care for her.

For the past few weeks Fred has been preparing for the move.

He’s been packing up most of his belongings and selling others at a series of garage sales that have attracted large crowds at his home, located about 4 1/2 miles east of Princeton in Isanti County.

But while his garage sales have attracted large crowds, they have also attracted thievery — and that has broken Fred’s spirit.

Fred, he’s a stickler for detail.

So when he set out to have a garage sale, he inventoried every last item he had for sale on a pad of paper.

When an item sells, Fred scratches the item from his inventory list.

When Fred did his math after his first sale, things didn’t add up. His sales were down at least $1,000 from what his inventory sheet projected.

Fred thinks he was victimized by some professional thieves who targeted his sale. He remembers seeing a rusty, galvanized chain placed in a bucket that sold for $15. A brand new chain valued at $40 was among the missing items. Fred figures the newer chain was at the bottom of the bucket.

Among the many other items stolen during Fred’s sale was a 4×8 trailer filled with copper wire.

Fred thinks the thieves knew his sale would be busy. And it was. He thinks many of his items went down the driveway unpaid while the early crowds were more than Fred and his wife could handle.

Fred has been busy in the days since his sale. He’s been contacting salvage yards in St. Cloud and Cambridge offering owners descriptions of his belongings.

“Somebody took advantage of two old people who were forced to handle a lot more than they should have,” Fred told me last week.

“These thieves didn’t think about the consequences of their act,” he said.

The most glaring of those consequences, Fred says, is the fact that $1,000 would have gone a long way in helping finance the elderly couple’s move to California.

Fred is having another sale starting Friday. It’s the last sale before he packs up and heads west for California.

And if he has learned anything from his experience, it’s this.

“I’m going to have more help so we can keep an eye on people,” he said.

Fred and his wife have a lot on their minds. It’s too bad that the worries of losing their home and dealing with an ill relative have to be compounded by the fear that senseless thieves might show up at their home again.

When all is said and done, I hope Fred is able to keep his spirits high, sell all of his belongings and have safe travels to California — and remember Princeton as that community he fell in love with 36 years ago.

Jeff Hage is the editor of the Princeton Union-Eagle. Reach him by e-mail at [email protected]