Famous people have ties to the area [UPDATED]Published 4:26am Monday, July 8, 2013 Updated 6:27am Monday, July 8, 2013
Every so often you hear about famous people and those with lesser degrees of name recognition who have ties to Otter Tail County.
A few days ago, I learned that a cast member of the movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” hailed from Fergus Falls. Actor Frank Albertson took the role of Sam Wainwright in the 1946 film that starred Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
This movie is considered one of the most beloved films in American cinema and has become traditional viewing during the Christmas season.
Wainwright, played by Fergus Falls native Albertson, is best remembered for his trademark expression of “hee-haw” in the movie. Sam says this while sticking his thumb in his ear.
As a child, Albertson later moved from Fergus Falls to Frazee. He graduated from high school in the state of Washington.
Albertson portrayed future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in the 1956 episode “Rough Rider” of the CBS western television series.
He guest starred in the early NBC western series, “The Californians” and appeared in the David Janssen crime drama, “Richard Diamond, Private Detective.”
He was cast in 1959 and 1962 in different roles on Walter Brennan’s sitcom, “The Real McCoys.” Albertson was only 55 when he died in 1964.
In previous columns, I’ve talked about other famous people with ties to Otter Tail County and this area of west central Minnesota.
Vining is home to astronaut Karen Nyberg. She’s a mechanical engineer and is serving as part of Expedition 36 aboard the International Space Station.
Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, the twelfth and last man to walk on the Moon in 1972, spent many summers at the family lake home on West Battle Lake.
He grew up in southern Minnesota and currently lives in New Mexico.
Celebrities also have ties to this area. One of them is 1960s rock star Gary Puckett whose grandparents lived in Pelican Rapids.
His aunt, Gloria Votapka, still lives in the community.
A few weeks ago, I was paging through a section of a book which gave hometowns of other celebrities. I was surprised to learn that model and businesswoman Cheryl Tiegs was born in Breckenridge and lived on a farm in Wilkin County for a few years.
Over the years, many celebrities have come to Otter Tail County for relaxation on one of our many lakes. Others come for hunting and fishing. Among them are former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, former Minnesota Twins player and current broadcaster Dan Gladden, and others.
A few WeFest performers have come down from Detroit Lakes to play golf in Otter Tail County. They’ve included Willie Nelson, Amy Grant, Vince Gill and others.
• • •
In his book, “Memories of Otter Tail Lake,” Fergus Falls native Lance Johnson says that no other place on Otter Tail Lake’s north side has ever evoked more affection and nostalgia than Amor Park Store.
Johnson’s parents owned a cottage on Roinez Beach.
“In the 1940s and 1950s families lived at the lake from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” said Johnson. “Fathers and husbands would drive back and forth to work.
Amor Park Store was an oasis for those on El Dorado, Shirley and Roinez Beaches.”
The old hand-operated gravity gas pump with the glass bubble on top was used until the early 1950s. The store’s most popular product was Russell’s ice cream which, said Johnson, had no equal.
“When the weather turned hot, farm families would flock to Amor Park to cool off in the lake and the store would get cleaned out by sundown,” said Johnson. “By July 4th, Amor Park took on the look of Coney Island.”
Business declined, however, during the 1960s and the building was eventually razed.
“All that remained was the tree that used to stand sentry in front of the store,” said Johnson. “An era had ended.”