Dergantz gives back to his hometown

by Nick Wognum
When an Ely area veteran passes away, his or her spouse receives a folded flag in a handmade wooden box.
Those boxes are made by Elyite Donald Dergantz who now lives in Illinois. For the past 10 years he has supplied flag boxes for Ely.
“I made one for Donna Niskala,” said Dergantz, 87, who was at the Ely Cemetery Monday for Memorial Day Services. “I make regular boxes and custom boxes.”
He also makes boxes for the American Legion Post in Crete, Illinois.
He and his daughter Stephanie Johnson drove 13 hours to be at the ceremony. It’s a trip he knows well.
“I’ve been coming up here for the last 20-some years for Memorial Day,” said Dergantz, who is a 1952 graduate of Ely Memorial High School.
He was drafted in 1954 and served two years in the Military Police. His first assignment was at West Point.
“They had a posting on the board that said anybody who wants to go to Panama, so I signed up,” said Dergantz, who is related to the Skraba family in Ely.
“I got shipped to Panama and didn’t regret it,” he said.
Making each box is a “time consumer, it’s a hobby - you’ve got to be doing something.”
Dergantz has used African and South American wood in some of the boxes.
Dergantz worked in Ely’s Pioneer Mine and later moved to Thornton, IL to work in quarries there.
“I was responsible for all the drilling and blasting in 13 quarries in three states,” said Dergantz.
“He’s the reason they call Thornton ‘Boomtown,’” said Johnson.
“Making the boxes is something I like to do,” said Dergantz who went by “Spaga” in high school which means string in Slovenian. “Everybody in Ely had a nickname.”
His volunteerism has spread to his daughter who has volunteered on nine Honor Flights helping veterans on trips to Washington D.C.