32-year-career OTP employee remembered as a storyteller [UPDATED]Published 12:01pm Thursday, October 17, 2013 Updated 12:02pm Thursday, October 17, 2013
Harold Erickson liked to tell stories.
One person who knows that well is Al Seltz. He and Erickson, as employees of Otter Tail Power Company, traveled hundreds of miles together for business.
“When he would tell a story, he would tell it with his hands, and his hands would be flailing,” Seltz said. “And when he got to the punch line, he’d slap you on the knee.”
Erickson died Oct. 11 in West Fargo at the age of 91. He worked for 32 years at Otter Tail Power, 22 of those as personnel director, before retiring in 1985. Erickson was involved in recruiting Seltz, who started in 1967 as a staff writer and ended up as director of corporate communications.
“You felt very comfortable going to see him,” Seltz said. “You didn’t think he was being critical or judgmental. He was very approachable.”
Erickson was a graduate of Moorhead High School and Moorhead State Teachers College and the United States Navy Midshipman School, Columbia University, New York City.
He was also involved with many local organizations, from the Fergus Falls School Board to the Pebble Lake Golf Club. His other involvements included Elks, American Legion, VFW life membership, Jaycees (where he served at the state vice president), Chamber of Commerce, Boy Scouts, Kiwanis, Toastmasters, Masonic Lodge, 30 years on the board of directors at Lake Region Halfway House, 12 years on the Fergus Falls School Board and 13 years as a board member at Lake Region Healthcare.
John MacFarlane, former president and CEO of Otter Tail Power, knew Erickson since 1960 when he was looking for employees and MacFarlane was a graduate looking to get hired.
“I thought he was fairly polished and professional,” MacFarlane said. “I guess he was a pretty accommodating guy and easy to talk to.”
MacFarlane saw in Erickson someone who was patient, a decent negotiator, preceptive of people and someone who knew his craft well. Basically, he was just good at what he did, MacFarlane said.
He also remembered how immensely proud Erickson was of his grandchildren, always talking about them and showing off pictures.
There was one other thing, too.
“He seemingly didn’t age,” MacFarlane said. “He always looked younger than he really was.”
One of Erickson’s friends, Ralph Johnson, will be 91 in a few days. They used to kid around about their age. Erickson, being two months older, “used to indicate that two months was absolutely nothing,” Johnson said. Johnson worked at Otter Tail Power as public relations director for 39 years and was working there when Erickson started. They first met in the Jaycees.
Mostly though, the two were friends outside of work, since their jobs didn’t really cross paths.
“We could kid around quite a bit,” Johnson said.
“I used to kid him about his cars because he always had to have a car practically every year for awhile there.”
Then Erickson shot right back that Johnson had two cars (one was his wife’s).
They had quite the friendship and spent lots of time golfing together. A “golf gang,” Johnson called it. A bunch of guys gathered Saturday mornings at the first tee box, put a tee on the ground and threw golf balls toward it. The ones that landed the closest to the tee would play together.
Johnson also recalls Erickson as a storyteller, not exactly a comic, but he had a good sense of humor.
Seltz remembers one story in particular that Erickson told more than once. Seltz was driving the pair back to Fergus Falls from a business trip when he started driving into the ditch to avoid an oncoming truck he saw drift into his lane. Erickson screamed, “what are you doing?” to Seltz, as he didn’t realize the truck up ahead was coming toward them. As the truck centered back in his lane, Seltz moved out of the ditch, and that was that.
“But he liked to tell that story,” Seltz said. “And of course it was complimentary to me. When he realized why I was going into the ditch, he was glad I was. Maybe that’s indicative of his sensitivity.”
You just never got bored with Erickson and his stories, Seltz said, though he was a storyteller, not a jokester. Some people complain a lot or talk about the same things over and over. But not Erickson.
“He just wasn’t that kind of a person,” Seltz said. “If he had an interesting incident, whether it was happy or sad, it didn’t make any difference if he thought it’d be interesting to me, he’d tell it. He was not a boring gabber. He was an interesting person to talk to. He always had interesting observations.”