Frazee favorite is a walking town museum
By Robert Williams
Lou Graham is a regular sight riding around Frazee on his bicycle. Lately, some people have noticed and wondered why he was riding his old bike with a leg off the pedal.
“My shoes are worn out,” he said. “The old bike don’t have no brakes.”
A group of his friends recently got together and chipped in to purchase him a brand new bicycle, something he uses to get around town rain or shine and even in the snow.
“It’s obvious, I don’t have a vehicle, so I don’t get out of Frazee much,” he said.
Lately, he has been getting out of town for visits to the Veterans Administration hospital in Fargo.
“The 14th of December, I was up at the VA hospital to have an examination,” said Graham. “On the way back, we stopped at the Boys and Girls Club in DL and I thought that would be a good place to find a used bike. They didn’t even have a bike. So, I was going to wait a while.”
Hank Ludtke was Graham’s chauffeur that day and mentioned Graham’s need for a new bike to Third Crossing bar manager Tonya Mastin. Lou is a regular visitor to Third Crossing and a favorite of all the employees and patrons.
“Hank was talking to me one day and said, ‘Lou needs a new bike and this is what he wants,’” said Mastin. “I said, ‘Okay, I’ll get in contact with a few people, get some money together and get him a new bike.’”
Graham is a regular at Third Crossing, but for other reasons than many patrons.
“He doesn’t drink,” said Mastin. “He loves the jukebox and he rides his bike everywhere even in the wintertime and in the rain.”
Mastin and Graham have been neighbors for more than three decades.
“Lou deserves it,” she said. “He’s a good man.”
There were plenty of other volunteers willing to chip in but the donating group wanted to keep the presentation small. Lou is renowned for many things, his intellect, humor and especially his sense of humility.
“I didn’t want to get too many people involved and make it too big of a spectacle,” said Mastin. “He likes to be by himself; that’s just kind of Lou, but he does like to come here and socialize. He loves Frazee sports. He lives and breathes Frazee. It can’t go to a better person.”
One of the first people Mastin called to help organize the donation was Karen Pifher.
“He’s one of the smartest people; he knows more about the history of this town than anybody I know,” Pifher said.
The group involved the newspaper, as they wanted to share a little bit about Lou and his alacrity for Frazee, along with how popular a guy he is without really trying to be.
“We thought it was a good idea to bring some positivity to town,” Mastin said. “People actually help people.”
Graham has been helping people in Frazee his entire life. He was born here in 1951 and raised in town before going off to war at age 19.
“The draft got me and in 1970 I spent 14 months in Vietnam,” he said. “When I came back I had all kinds of opportunities to move to Minneapolis/St. Paul, or Duluth or any other place, but I chose to stay in Frazee. I don’t know if it was right or not but I did it.”
Graham’s return was not without its own personal strife. He had post traumatic stress syndrome well before it was the common diagnosis it is today.
“I came home from Nam with PTSD; I didn’t want it but I had it,” he said. “So, I tried to fit in with society, if you can imagine. I never got married, never had kids, but I put in 20+ years with the volunteer fire department.”
Graham battled his own demons from the war himself and was charged to help others who were worse off.
“The Army didn’t want nothing to do with that psychological stuff; my last job in the Army was escorting a guy who was shell shocked,” said Graham. “He couldn’t even talk. I had to escort him through Oakland and San Francisco to the airport where his family came down from Seattle to pick him up. I can still see his wife’s face. She tried to talk to the guy and he couldn’t talk and she knew something was wrong. The Army didn’t care about psychological stuff, just send them home to family.”
Upon returning to Frazee, Graham has worked all over town, including for the city and street department as a plow driver in winters and grass maintenance in the summers.
“I caught dogs; I was the dog catcher,” he said.
Prior to that, Graham was a constable in town for a short time. That recollection, like many, turned into a story from Frazee’s past.
“I carried a .38, but I only lasted two months,” he said. “Two of the biggest truckers in town got in a fight one Sunday afternoon. I was home and they said ‘Lou, get down to the diner, Hank Tate and Ronnie Marshall are fighting.’ So, I went out and I opened up the hood and checked the oil, water level on my radiator, went around and kicked all my tires. I didn’t want to be there when they were there, because either one could pick me up and twist me like a pretzel.”
Graham was also in charge of corralling some of the crazier bar patrons from Detroit Lakes.
“At that time, the Care Center here had a detox center, so Detroit Lakes would bring down all their characters from the Northside,” said Graham. “DL would get on the radio, ‘We need assistance, Frazee,’ so I’d drive over and help them with a patient.”
Many of Graham’s tales end with a smart quip showcasing his somewhat dry wit. Those stories often begin with the phrase, “The Frazee I grew up with…”
“I think it’s better now,” he said. “I grew up in Frazee down where the elementary school is. There was a family down there that didn’t even have wooden floors. They just had dirt floors and had barely any insulation in the winter to keep the wind off of them. In those days, there was no Becker County Human Services. The Frazee city council handled the welfare. They would divvy out to the families they thought deserved it. My dad was a councilman. When people would need help, they would come to our house and canvas dad for groceries or whatever they needed.
“There was no garbage service; you threw your garbage in the back alley and a couple guys went around with a dump truck. We had barn rats up the ass in town because of it.”
Much of Graham’s history dates back to when Frazee business centered around the old saw mill and the creamery.
“It was a small, family, dairy farm town where once a week the farmers would come to town to pick up their cream check,” he said. “They would cash their check; the restaurants would be full; the bars would be full and then the merchants would go together to get more farmers to come in. They had what was known as Silver Dollar Days and they would have a drawing for groceries and that would fill the town up with the local dairy farmers. When the creamery closed, that changed quite a bit.”
Graham finished his working career driving for Daggett Truck Line and a lengthy stint driving for Anderson Bus Company. He now spends much of his time reading and studying history, especially ancient history from 5,000-8,000 years ago. His recollection of Frazee is a nonstop stream of amusing anecdotes and factual chatter about places that have been gone from town for decades. He’s kind of Frazee’s walking museum, although he’ll be carrying his knowledge around town now with a new ride.