Big Ole gets masked

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Public Works Director Bill Thoennes uses a bucket truck to put a mask on Big Ole in Alexandria Thursday morning. The event was organized by Joani Nielson and Joni Jacobson, with the help of Amy Allen who made the mask, and several other individuals and groups, as a way to promote community safety and strength together. A video of the event can be seen on the city's Facebook page at (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

Big Ole is sporting a new look these days – a mask.

The famous Viking statue was fitted with a mask last Thursday, April 30, culminating a project that involved many volunteers and city staff.

The effort entailed much more than just a piece of fabric.

"Our message is simple — we are masking up for safety," said Sara Stadtherr, communications coordinator for the city. "Safety of our community, safety of those around us, ourselves and for our families."

Amy Allen made the mask and several other individuals and groups joined the effort as a way to promote community safety and strength together. Allen wanted it to represent the importance of the work being done by the community to flatten the curve and unify in the fight against COVID-19.


Volunteers, which included Joani Nielson, said a lot of love went into the effort:

  • Daycare children made beautiful hearts that were hanging from a tree near the statue.

  • Local police officers. One officer went to 12 daycares (who were the first to commit to making 20 hearts). The officer modeled social distancing and brought joy to each of the homes by letting the kids see the squad car lights in motion, Nielson said.

  • The Alexandria Fire Department. Members were originally going to lift the mask and place it on Big Ole, however, the park department’s equipment was better suited for the task. The fire department was still present to show their unity.

  • Local mask makers. More than 20,000 masks have been made for medical teams, essential workers, vulnerable residents and the general community. Each mask carries a story and there’s a “why” behind every stitch, according to Nielson.

  • Helping Hands. The local organization continues to support community members every day and have been instrumental in communicating the needs of individuals and fulfilling them, Nielson said.

  • The artists. The chalk art representing “we are in this together” was designed and made with love, said Nielson. “The artist’s work is displayed throughout the community and represents love and unity at the base of Big Ole,” she noted.

  • The speakers. “The speakers at the event spoke from the heart,” Nielson said. “Their love of our community goes deep and their words spoke of love for the students, our citizens and our community.”

A video of the event can be seen on the city's Facebook page at

Lowell Anderson has been a photographer and writer at the Echo Press since 1998.
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