If you were to station yourself down at Big Ole Park about 7:30 every morning – except Sundays – you would see what looks like a bunch of old guys trying to get some exercise by going for a little walk.

And you would be mostly right.

Except those old guys aren’t just going for a little walk. They walk at least an hour, if not more, and usually end up walking more than three miles each time. They like to get the miles in, despite the fact that a couple of them use walking sticks for assistance and one even carries his oxygen with him.

Exercise is one of the key reasons they walk, but it is also about the camaraderie and possibly the harmless heckling, joking and interesting conversations. Or perhaps it’s about having time away from their better halves, although none of them would deny or confirm that reason.

The group of mostly retirees have happily dubbed themselves “The Fat Boys Walking Club.”

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The club has a total of nine members, although you will most likely never see all nine walking at the same time. There might be two and there might be seven, but at least one member will always show up six days a week.

At about 7:30 a.m. six days a week, a group of guys, who all live in the Alexandria Lakes Area, meet at Big Ole and walk the Central Lakes Trail.  Pictured, from left,  are Tom Obert, Roger Johnson, Mike Bump, Rich Beltz,  Harvey Kranzler and Bob Annen. (Celeste Edenloff /  Echo Press)
At about 7:30 a.m. six days a week, a group of guys, who all live in the Alexandria Lakes Area, meet at Big Ole and walk the Central Lakes Trail. Pictured, from left, are Tom Obert, Roger Johnson, Mike Bump, Rich Beltz, Harvey Kranzler and Bob Annen. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)

Ranging in age from 68 to 82, with all of them living in the Alexandria lakes area, The Fat Boys Walking Club includes:

  • Bob Annen, 82, worked as vice president at Honeywell.

  • Mike Bump, 81, worked in meat sales and also former owner of Bump’s Restaurant in Glencoe.

  • Paul Fieldhammer, 77, worked in medical supplies.

  • Ken Howell, 75, worked in medical supplies (but not with Fieldhammer).

  • Tom Obert, 73, worked for the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.

  • Harvey Kranzler,72, worked as a social studies/history teacher, retiring from Alexandria District 206.

  • Roger Johnson, 71, worked as a public school educator, retiring from Alexandria District 206.

  • Tom Mulder, 70, is an investment advisor.

  • Rich Beltz, 68, works in farm management as a farm broker.

Interestingly, none of them go by their real names. Each of them has been given a nickname.

Annen is known as Weakie because he once said his golf swing was weak. Bump is fittingly called The Bumpster, while Kranzler is called The Harvster. Johnson is known as Coach, because well, he was a coach. Howell, who is on the tall side, is referred to as The Crane, while Mulder, who sings, goes by The Boy Tenor. Obert is Cub Reporter, Beltz goes by Sleepy Eye and Fieldhammer is known as Rock.

If you were to tag along with the group, you would hear conversations ranging from food to politics or sports to weather or health and everything in between. Regardless of the topic, the one thing you will always hear is laughter.

So, just how did this group get started walking, Obert, the cub reporter, explained.

He said his mom lived next to Annen and that the two of them met back in 2001. At first, it was just the two of them walking. They would meet at Big Ole and walk for two or so hours at a time. Obert further explained, however, that walking outside for that long of time became a challenge because they are old men with weak bladders. And most often if they had to relieve themselves, it was always when a group of “old ladies on bikes” would go whizzing by.

A couple of the guys standing around Obert tossed out some jokes about binoculars and magnifying glasses as the rest erupted with laughter. Obert then explained that the YMCA opened in Alexandria and an indoor facility with restrooms seemed to be a better fit. He also mentioned that mall walking was the way to go once the weather forced them inside before the Y opened.

As the sun was rising over Lake Agnes near Big Ole Park, six of the nine members of "The Fat Boys Walking Club" walk along the Central Lakes Trail. Some members of the group have been walking together for more than 15 years. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)
As the sun was rising over Lake Agnes near Big Ole Park, six of the nine members of "The Fat Boys Walking Club" walk along the Central Lakes Trail. Some members of the group have been walking together for more than 15 years. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)

Back in 2005, before the full Fat Boys Walking Club, Obert and Annen were inspired by a story about a woman who walked Minneapolis. They decided to walk all the streets within the city limits of Alexandria. By the way, Obert quipped that Annen doesn’t really fit the “fat boy” title anymore as all the walking he’s done paid off and he’s lost 60 pounds.

During that walk, they found out that Alexandria, at that time, had 94 miles of streets. They started their quest April 13, 2005, and finished on May 5, 2005, by walking for an hour and a half to three hours each day. This equaled about five to 10 miles each day. They walked a total of 19 days with a day or two off for what Obert said was “good behavior.”

In all, they guesstimated that they actually walked more than 130 miles as by necessity, they often had to cover the same street more than once to get to the next unwalked street or for return trips on dead end streets.

As time went on and the two of them continued their walking at the YMCA, other guys started joining in on their walks. Many times, they would walk at least 30 laps and some of them, Annen said, would work out on the machines.

One of the guys started laughing and said they most often would just lean on the machines and keep up the chit-chat. And then eventually, they would leave so they could go have coffee.

Obert, as well as the other guys, continued laughing, when he shared a story about their time at the fitness facility. He said the walking track is on the second level and parts of it open up into the lobby where everyone walks in. Well, with some of the guys hard of hearing, their voices weren’t always the quietest and so often people would note that they knew the “Fat Boys” were there as soon as they walked into the facility because they could hear them chatting and laughing up a storm.

Although the group is made up of all guys, Obert shared that they do have one honorary member, who they of course nicknamed. “The Professor,” otherwise known as Christine Hollermann, who teaches at the Alexandria Technical and Community College, used to walk with them at the Y.

Obert said, however, that due to COVID-19 and the closing of the YMCA earlier this year, the group no longer walks there. Even though the facility is reopened, the guys have continued their daily walks outside on the Central Lakes Trail.

As for when the weather gets too cold, the guys said they are leaning toward going back to being mall walkers. But added that they weren’t sure.

For now, they are enjoying their time on the trail – talking, laughing and ultimately, trying to stay healthy.

Six of the nine members of "The Fat Boys Walking Club" head out on the Central Lakes Trail near Big Ole around 7:30 a.m.  Wednesday, Sept.  2. The group, although not all the members, walk six days a week.  (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)
Six of the nine members of "The Fat Boys Walking Club" head out on the Central Lakes Trail near Big Ole around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2. The group, although not all the members, walk six days a week. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)