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Faithful following

Shorty Olson has been feeding the ducks at Lake Winona in Alexandria faithfully almost every day since moving back to the area about six years ago.

Shorty Olson has a faithful following.

Every day he can be seen with hundreds crowding around him, listening intently to his easy banter and eagerly partaking of the treats he shares.

Sometimes they fight with each other for his attention, but for the most part, he says they are "attentive and well behaved."

"I have about 28 that I call my own," Olson said of the mallard ducks waddling at his feet. "The rest aren't mine, but they still get a little something."

Olson and his wife, BeeAnn, moved back to the Alexandria area about six years ago. That's when he took up a new hobby - feeding the ducks at Lake Winona.

"I come once a day almost religiously, unless I am out of town, which is rare," Olson said as he tossed out a handful of corn kernels. "I usually get a couple hundred in the winter, but in the summer I just get my own."

If the weather is good, Olson walks from his home at the Alexandria Senior Center the few blocks to Lake Winona. When he's half a block away he starts whistling, and his followers come flocking in.

"They know my whistle and they come to meet me and we walk together here [to the park] where I feed them," he said. "Then we visit for awhile. The first ones that come in are mine. They get fed first."

Olson carries a bag clearly labeled for its purpose - "4 My Ducks."

"This bag is just for their corn," he explained, fanning out more of the yellow kernels on the ground in front of him. "They know what's in it.

"They get four dippers full each day," he explained while hurrying over to break up two quarreling ducks. "Come on now, there's enough to share!" he scolded. "Don't be greedy.

"I've got to ration it," he explained once the ducks settled down. "A 50-pound sack is up to $8 now! I get a bag every once in awhile from a friend, but otherwise I buy it."

Olson scattered the last handful and in less than a minute every kernel was gone.

"Come away from the road!" Olson called to a few hens waddling close to the busy road.

"I have to remind them all the time to stay away from the road," he said, watching them anxiously. "Once in awhile one gets hit and that makes me feel pretty bad."

Sometimes BeeAnn, Olson's wife of 65 years, accompanies him on his duck-feeding treks.

"She comes along once in awhile when I drive over," he said. "She enjoys the ducks, too.

"I met her when she was 13 and I was 17," he reminisced. "That was it. She was the one."

Olson retired from his job as a rural mail carrier 32 years ago. The couple spent 26 years in Arizona before moving back to this area.

"I'll be 90 in April," he said proudly.

"I used to make a mile or two walk out of it by going around the lake, but I've slowed up some," he chuckled. "I even wear these on my shoes now so I don't slip," he said, pointing to the ice cleats on his shoes.

"Later on there will be geese," he said, turning his attention back to the ducks. "They'll have babies and there will be about 50 to 70 of them around. I shag those away. I'm not here for the geese, I'm only here for my ducks.

"I really love it. It gives me something to do and something to take care of. I enjoy it as much as the ducks do."

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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