John Runningen, now a resident of Atlanta, Georgia, was a member of the Fergus Falls High School Class of 1971.

The Runningen family, headed by Ray and Joan, lived at 1032 W. Summit Ave. Their house was a stone’s throw from an area to the north which in 1968 became the new campus for the community college (now M State – Fergus Falls). 

Ray and Joan operated Runningen Café which later became Osterberg Café and then the Viking Café.

John has several memories of his growing up years.

The woods at the end of West Summit Avenue, says John, had two climbing trees, “Old Joe” and “Old Jenny.”

“Old Joe” was a good climbing tree for neighborhood kids overlooking Van Dyk Park, which today is the location for the county museum.

“Old Jenny,” was farther north by 150 yards and, according to John, was “the most superb climbing tree you have ever seen.”

Later, Runningen added a third tree to his climbing trees of remembrance.

“Old Broken Down,” not to be confused with Broken Down Dam east of Fergus Falls, was a tree on the west side of Summit Avenue that was struck by lightning in the mid-1960s. 

“This tree came tumbling down in the middle of the woods,” John recalls. “On its side we could scurry up from the base and get into the limbs. When the leaves fell off, we could see and climb even further.”


Fishing at Pisgah Dam

“Like most young boys, we liked to go fishing,” says Runningen.

 “To do that our West Summit group of kids had to walk through the woods, across Van Dyk Park and Highway 210 (West Lincoln Avenue), down the road past the packing plant, past the rendering plant and through the sand pit to get to Pisgah Dam.”

The dam is just west of what today is the bridge that crosses the Otter Tail River on the west side of Fergus Falls.

“Back then it was about a half mile walk,” John recalls.

Surprisingly, at 10 to 12 years of age they were given the freedom to wander over there with fishing poles. When they arrived, the boys learned that the outlet just below the dam was the best fishing spot.

“It was a river where you would expect fast water fish, but no, just sunnies and crappies,” John says.

In the fishing gang with Runningen were Billy Williams, Jeff “Bobo” Skogmo, Al “Snudge” Hartl Jr., and twins Peter and Paul Swenson.

“Most of us couldn’t catch a thing. We didn’t have the patience,” John says. “But the one kid in our group who always caught fish every time was Pete Swenson. He still does today, 55 years later.”

Oftentimes Pete would catch a bunch of sunfish and take them home. 

“His mother, Gen, would make Pete clean the fish himself,” John recalls. “Then she’d fry them up and all us kids were given samples. Yummy.”


A twisted headline about Phyllis George

The passing of Phyllis George on May 14 brings back a unique story about the former co-host of “The NFL Today.”

In 1975 Daily Journal sports editor Bruce Bakke had me finish up his sports page, prior to going to press on a Saturday morning. A short three paragraph story was needed.

I found one about the Vikings crew setting up an outdoor changing room for Phyllis, prior to the Sunday football game at the old Met Stadium in Bloomington.

My idea for a headline was, “Phyllis is assisted at stadium.”

But my mind had been working on arrest news and headlines for the front section of the newspaper. 

The sports headline came out in print as, “Phyllis is arrested at stadium.”

It was my mistake but, nonetheless, an attention grabber. I later told publisher Chuck Underwood I made the error and not Bruce.


Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears Saturdays.

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