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Standing tall

Photo by Crystal Dey.

There he stands. At 28-feet-tall and constructed of Fiberglas, the Viking statue known as Big Ole has been keeping an eye on Alexandria from his vantage point at north Broadway for nearly 50 years.

But he hasn't been without hardship. Over and over again, he's been the target of natural disasters and vandals alike.

In 1996, 70-mile-per-hour straight-line winds created a sway in his steel-enforced structure. He was stored in the annex of the Runestone Museum in Alexandria for repairs.

Unfortunately, as he lay in supposed safety, the roof of the annex collapsed, breaking his leg and inner welding.

The Runestone Museum, which owns Ole, has a regular job of keeping up with weather damage, as well as with vandals, who strike often.

Ole is vandalized about every year or year and a half, according to Carol Meyer, a volunteer member of the Runestone Museum Board of Directors.

"We find it really disgusting when there is vandalism because he's such a community asset," Meyer said.

Just two years after making a home in Alexandria in 1965, Ole was dressed in a giant Santa suit for a Christmas celebration when someone set him on fire.

"Vandalism is quite vulgar. It is senseless and serves no purpose," Meyer said. "The last time he was vandalized, it was a 2-by-4 placed between his legs. That's the type of thing they like to do."

Meyer believes that Ole is targeted simply for the fact that he is there. "Vandals are people who are bored and who, as close as I can figure, get their delight in making other people unhappy," she added. "I feel sorry for people that dislike themselves enough to go out and try to hurt other people."

Last week, Ole fell victim to yet another vandal assault when a piece of anatomy was spray-painted on his leg. Within a few hours, though, the Runestone Museum, with assistance from a Sentence to Serve crew, was able to paint over it.

"If any good comes out of bad, we took a good hard look at him, and Ole's going to need to be painted again," Meyer said. The repainting is slated for the summer of 2014.

Ole has to be repainted every six to eight years. In 2006, he was repainted with funds received from Valspar.

The repainting process can take upwards of 40 hours, and each time, the museum calls on the fire department to power wash him before the painting begins.

Community members are also invited to help paint and usually respond with enthusiasm.

"I think people just enjoy having an identity," Meyer said. "Up north, they have the blue ox, Rothsay has a prairie chicken, [Darwin] has a ball of twine. But because the Vikings were here in 1362, we think a Viking is appropriate for us to have."

The museum is looking into ways to prevent vandalism from befalling Ole.

"We are investigating putting cameras on him," Meyer said. "Our biggest deterrent [of vandalism] is just people talking to other people. If someone dares you to go vandalize Big Ole, just be smart enough to say to your peers, 'This just isn't a good thing to do.'

"But the biggest deterrent will be if we can get a camera on him."

Despite all of Ole's ordeals, there he stands, thanks to the teamwork of the community and to those in charge of his upkeep.

"Ole will continue to stand there, watching over the city of Alexandria," Meyer said with a smile. "He'll continue for a long time."

Jessica Sly

Jessica Sly has been working as a content writer at the Echo Press since May 2012, contributing, proofreading and editing content for both the Echo and Osakis Review. A Wadena native, she graduated from Verndale High School in 2009 and worked that summer at the Wadena Pioneer Journal as an intern reporter. She attended Northwestern College in St. Paul (now the University of Northwestern - St. Paul), where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in writing and a minor in Bible. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the piano (and learning the violin), reading, writing novels, going to the movies, and exploring Alexandria.

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