Anoka County history: Unforgettable Griep made difference

This is a continuation of Ole Griep’s story told to me by Ole, himself, in 1996 while he was working as a volunteer “grandpa” at Crossroads Vocational School in St. Francis.

Ole’s family was among the early settlers in southern Isanti County, coming to the area in the 1880s.

Back in those days, Isanti had a distinctly Wild West flavor and keeping a semblance of law and order was a mighty big job. Ole’s father, Herman, was considered an educated man; he had got through the sixth grade. Maybe that’s why he was appointed constable.

Then, as today, many violent crimes were committed while under the influence. Some of the stories Herman told his children were about arresting murderers and settling domestic problems.

One domestic case that basically resolved itself involved two neighboring farmers who got to drinking and decided to trade wives for a while.

But one of the “traded” wives would have none of that. When her drunken neighbor tried to climb in bed with her, she clubbed him over the head with a baseball bat!

Another story of drunken indiscretion was about two men who, after drinking a few rounds, decided to trade guns, a 22-caliber for a 45. Then they got to arguing and the former owner of the 45 shot the other man in the chest with the traded 22.

Luckily, the bullet struck a button and bounced off without inflicting any great bodily damage. Had it been the 45, it would have been a different story.

Carelessness involving drinking and guns ended one career and fostered another. Shortly after the end of World War I, Herman Griep took part in a Thanksgiving turkey shoot at a neighbor’s farm.

Moonshine was flowing freely and Herman felt uneasy about the situation. He decided to leave early but was called back. He and another marksman had tied and would have to have a “shoot-off.”

As Herman was aiming, the guy standing behind him fired, shooting Herman’s leg off. Herman’s farming days were over and it fell on the shoulders of 12-year old Ole to run the farm.

During the course of years most of Ole’s brothers and sisters moved away.

Some found other occupations, but Ole remained on the family farm along with his parents who died in 1943 and 1945.

Ole started calling square dances in the 1930s and served as regional president of the Square Dance Federation of Minnesota.

During his career he called square dances throughout Minnesota as well as for 50,000 dancers in Detroit, Michigan during the national convention.

He shared his love for square dancing with 4-H clubs and church groups, teaching square dancing in community education classes and school gym classes as well.

Sometimes he called the dances from horseback and he often mentored up-and-coming square dance callers.

As president of the Square Dance Federation, Ole found himself involved in the square dancing activities of the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

Much to his surprise he was knighted by King Boreas at the end of the festivities.

Until the ripe old age of 50, Ole had remained a bachelor. He met his wife, Thelma, through square dancing.

She was reporting secretary for the state federation the same year he was president.

When Thelma died in 1979 Ole joined the foster grandparent program, focusing his energies and attention on helping young people in need of adult mentoring.

He was a familiar sight at Crossroads Vocational School in St. Francis where he was “Grandpa” to the students, helping and encouraging them as he sat in on their classes.

He began his volunteering in the foster grandparent program at Bar-None.

When Bar-None and Sheriff’s Boys’ Ranch combined their programs and moved to the shared facility, Crossroads, Ole moved with them.

Shortly before I interviewed Ole in 1997, Crossroads had featured Ole in a showcase exhibit.

Prominently displayed was the memorabilia of a man whose roots go deep into Isanti County and whose service to community impacted many.

Ole was honored as a foster grandparent by the foster grandparent programs of both Minnesota and the U.S. and as the outstanding citizen of Isanti in 1987.

Ole also became involved in community educations, serving as a senior representative on the District 15 Community Education Advisory Council.

After attending a theater production in Princeton, Ole thought it would be a good idea for St. Francis to have a theater group.

He brought his proposal before the advisory council and offered to provide $500 “seed money” to help a community-based theater get started.

In 1983 this new theater group presented its first play, a farmer/cattleman musical called “Oklahoma!” to an enthusiastically supportive audience, and thus, with Ole’s help, Playhouse 15 came to St. Francis and stayed for nearly 25 years until 2005 when the final curtain rang down.

Ole Griep was a man who lived his long life to the fullest, dying on Aug. 30, 2009 at the age of 98.

Although he resided just over the border from St. Francis in Isanti County, Ole made a tremendous difference in the lives of many people, young and old, in Anoka County and beyond.

Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member of the Anoka County Historical Society and a volunteer guide for their Ghost Tours of Anoka.

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