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West End News: December 31

John Nelson
John Nelson

The end of the year is a significant point in time for the West End. There is the usual mixture of hope, tinged with sadness that everyone feels at the turn of the calendar.  It’s also when the hardest cold stretches of the winter season are just settling in for a good long stay.  But, the days are getting longer and it is, of course, peak season for visitors.
This year though, it’s hard to think about anything but the passing of John Nelson of Tofte.  I can’t even begin to list all the things that John did for the community of Tofte. I can say that over many years, John did more for Tofte than any living human being. His hand was in nearly every community and township enterprise.
John was instrumental in the re-formation of Tofte as a township in the late 1970s.  The last time I saw him, he was working on the front door of the Birch Grove Center, quietly and effectively making a key repair, as he had done so many times.  In between those two accomplishments he served as a supervisor, helped found the fire department, ran the cemetery, improved the Tofte town park, and worked on the Tofte 4th of July celebration – for just a brief sampling of everything that he accomplished. He was Tofte’s Citizen of the Year in 2009.
Mostly John was a leader.  He was the best kind of leader.  One who leads by example and inspires others to get involved.  John sometimes wanted people to think that he was a bit of a tough guy, but in reality, you couldn’t find a more sincere, sweet and perceptive human being.
Tofte will no doubt muddle through without him, but his legacy of civic generosity will be with us for a long time. 
Last week, I mentioned how tough the first pass through the area trails has been due to a high number of trees and brush bent over by heavy snow loads.  Well, it’s turned out to be worse than anyone thought and the amount of labor required to get the trails cleared has been huge.  Most trails are now cleared and trail riding and skiing should be excellent soon.
We were delighted to have Paul, Tom and Bill Jensen, brothers who grew up in Silver Bay, camping at Sawbill for a few days this week.  By my best reckoning, the Jensens have been regular Sawbill campers for close to 55 years.  Some West End old-timers might know the brothers better by their nicknames, bestowed upon them in Silver Bay so many years ago. Paul is “Friend,” Tom is “Hawk,” and Bill is “Grub.”  Friend and Hawk live elsewhere in Minnesota, but Grub still lives in Silver Bay.  Friend and Hawk are retired and Grub will be soon.
Their winter camping trip to Sawbill was mostly for companionship, but they did make a stab at ice fishing. They said the ice on Sawbill Lake was about 4” thick, with a layer of slush and then another couple of inches of frozen slush in most places.  All in all, still terrible conditions for lake travel.
While Hawk stopped by the office to say goodbye, a young woman climbed out of a car, clambered over the snow bank and waded through the knee-deep snow to the front of the store.  She turned out to be a Bluefin visitor who, with her husband, skis a 3-lake loop in the wilderness every year, right after Christmas, for the last six years.  It’s a cool tradition for them, as they rarely see another human being during their outing.
The young woman had a problem with her skis, which we were able to help with.  While she was waiting, she asked Hawk if he grew up around here.  Without hesitation Hawk replied, “Nooo… because I haven’t grown up.” 
This year, the slush turned the couple back pretty quickly, but they substituted a good ski on the Sawbill ski trails and left vowing to return next year.  They headed off down the trail for lunch at the Trestle Inn, so it was fun to see that they were getting a truly authentic West End experience.
(Photo courtesy of Cook County News Herald)