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Jimi Dee's turn to get by with a little help from his friends

<i>Submitted photo<i> Jimi Dee playing drums at a wedding a few years ago.

To most people, he's simply "Jimi Dee." Travel with the guy, be it in Chicago, Florida, Arizona, and someone, somewhere will pop up and greet him.

Jimi Dee Hansen has long been a fixture in River Falls. He moved here from St. Paul in 1960 as a fourth grader and grew up on a town of Kinnickinnic pig/beef and dairy farm.

Earlier this month Jimi Dee joined his 1969 River Falls High School graduating class for a reunion -- with the likes of St. Bridget Catholic Church's Pastor Jerry Harris and Pierce County Judge Joe Boles.

He's held various jobs, including shop welder for the old Vollrath Refrigeration in River Falls, but he's really associated with two things: Drumming and bartending.

Jimi Dee's drummed and done vocals for 40 years with a various cover bands that played everything from classic country to rockabilly. His latest band is Skidmarx.

"When I was young, in the 1960s, playing in a band was the cool thing to do," Jimi Dee explains. "I guess some people thought it would be a passing thing for me, but it wasn't. My ex-wife once said to me about it: 'Aren't you ever going to %#@* grow up?" And for more than 20 years, Jimi Dee's dispensed drinks downtown at Mel's Midtowner.Jimi Dee the musician has also generated goodwill by lending his name and talents to hundreds of benefit gigs.

"Over the years I've done all kind of fundraisers -- for house fire victims, St. Bridget's Church, youth hockey, kids with cancer," he says.

That's why Jimi Dee's nephew, Mark Johnson, hopes people will return the favor.

The 59-year-old Jimi Dee is on the mend -- slowly -- from double-bypass heart surgery that replace two valves and inserted a pacemaker.

There were risky medical procedures, lots of preparatory work and a post-surgical, self-induced coma -- all told, about six weeks of hospitalization and another month at Prescott Nursing & Rehabilitation center.

"I lost weight, about 25 pounds, but I feel so much better," Jimi Dee says. "I can walk up and down stairs again without losing my breath. It's just a matter now of building up my strength and endurance."

Johnson, who was Jimi Dee's legal guardian, said the medical bills are staggering.

"They're coming in -- $5,000 for this, $25,000 for that and another $40,000 for that," he said. "He's got insurance but it won't cover everything. I figure when all is said and done he's going to owe, at bare minimum, 15 grand."

That's why Johnson has set up a Saturday, Aug. 14, (all-day) benefit for Jimi Dee.

"It's his turn -- for all he's done for others," Johnson said. "He's one of those guys who would give the shirt off his back, anything, to make a person who needs it happy. We're hoping now that everyone steps up now for him. He's earned it."

He reminds people that an account is already in place for Jimi Dee. Those unable to attend the Aug. 14 benefit can send donations to First National Bank of River Falls/Attn: Friends and Family of Jimi Dee/104 E. Locust St./River Falls WI 54022.

The bank account to defray Jimi Dee's medical expenses will stay open through August.

Read more on this story in the July 22 print edition of the River Falls Journal.