An ode to Pops

Ward Brown, Jr., and his son Ward “Chip” Brown III at the shack last year. (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

If you’re in your 40s and still have grandparents, you’re pretty lucky. I certainly am. In a couple days my grandfather turns 90, one of those big, round impossible numbers you hear about sometimes. 

Nonagenarians sometimes dole out advice, such as following a strict regimen of diet and exercise, avoiding all vices. But that certainly doesn’t explain how my grandpa, Ward Brown, lived so long. He’d tell you to stay busy, get a good night’s sleep and live your life how you want. If you want a beer, have a beer. Cook the cheeseburger rare and, while you’re at it, make one for the dog.

Pops is always good for a story or two because he’s lived an interesting life. In fact, I think he might be one of the last living people to work in underground mines on all three Minnesota iron ranges, the Mesabi, Vermilion and Cuyuna. 

So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to share a poem I wrote for my grandpa to mark his 90th birthday in a few days. 


Ninety years ago in some faraway town
into this world came a boy named Ward Brown.
Born the same year as Donald Duck,
Before his balls dropped he was driving a truck.

The family came home to the Mesabi Range
where digging for iron was the exchange.
There Poppy would scheme underground mines
while Wardy snuck beer from available steins.

Ward’s penchant for cars made many a story,
combining speed and misfortune into unforeseen glory.
No one knows how this young Brown survived,
even when wrecking he always arrived.

Soon Ward would heed the call of the shaft,
chasing ore to ply his mechanical craft.
He almost died twice, or maybe three times
by fall or by drowning in those dank climes.

The underground closed, and none too soon;
marriages and kids would be Ward’s next boon.
Though he would own the Armory Shell
running a gas station was his private hell.

For years he drove rigs across Highway 2
hauling trailers of grain over and through.
Later he founded a humble junkyard
until the price of scrap metal made it too hard.

His kids Ward the Third, Scott, Brian and Jeff
helped him fix engines until he was deaf.
Then came Brett and Glenn, Shane and Sharon
And eventually grandkids, starting with Aaron.

Soon Ward and Linda sat down to discuss
the financial merits of driving a bus.
Over many long years Brown Transportation
Hauled the minors of miners from school to station.

True, in the old days Ward could be overly frisky,
with hare-brained ideas, red meat and whiskey;
There’s just no explaining why he’s still alive,
but he settled down nicely once he hit 85.

Today, Ward is 90 and still telling tales
about hunting for deer with pitchers of ales.
His life manifest includes numerous freights. 
Now truckloads of grandkids include a few greats.

Aaron J. Brown, May 4, 2024

Happy birthday, Pops! 

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, May 4, 2024 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. Great poem Aaron! Wish my grandparents had survived! Happy birthday to Ward. The first stanza was hilarious.

  2. Mary Friedlieb says

    Happy Birthday to Ward! A fine tribute poem from a grandson I’m sure is loved as deeply in return. Love ’em while you’ve got ’em!

  3. Theresa says

    Beautiful! Love it. Congrats to Pops!

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