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Detroit Lakes man's roots run deep

Richard Blanding and his toy poodle Mikey relax in the living room of his apartment at The Madison in Detroit Lakes. "He's a real comfort," Blanding says of Mikey. Blanding will celebrate his 90th birthday on Thursday, Jan. 21. (Vicki Gerdes/DL Newspapers)

Norby's Department Store celebrated its 100th anniversary in Detroit Lakes just a few years ago.

But what many people may not remember is that before there was a Norby's, there was a Blanding's.

"We were the Wal-Mart of early Detroit Lakes," says Richard Blanding, whose grandfather Arthur established the Blanding Department Store in 1887.

"My dad was born in a house where the library is now," Richard says, adding that the house he grew up in on Park Street was just demolished a few weeks ago to make room for the expansion of St. Mary's Innovis Health.

"So my roots in this community are pretty deep," he adds.

In 1914, Arthur Blanding passed on management of Blanding's to his sons, Henry (Richard's father) and Charles, and Richard began working at the store when he was a young lad of 15.

"I started in the grocery department, in the summertime," he says.

While growing up in DL, Richard sometimes served as a caddy at the Detroit Country Club.

"The Blanding store bought the first two shares of the DCC," he says. "I caddied in the first Pine to Palm (golf tournament)."

Richard and his wife, Bairn, were married for 65 years, until her death in April of last year.

"We met at the University of Minnesota," he says.

After a four-year stint in the U.S. Army, Richard moved back to the lakes area.

"I said to my wife, 'I'm sure if I moved to a bigger town I could make more money,'" he recalls. But he loved Detroit Lakes so much that he knew the family would be spending all of their vacations there anyway.

"So I stayed here," he says. "I feel I'm a very lucky man because I grew up in such a nice town. We had good schools, we had a hospital, lakes and rivers... it was a good place to grow up."

It was also a good place for Richard and Bairn to raise their three daughters, Georganne, Barbara and Carol, though they have since scattered to other communities.

"We had a good life together," he says.

Richard continued to work at the family store until Blanding's ceased operations and its assets were liquidated, in 1979.

"Then I retired," he says. "We had a good store -- our motto was, 'Do all your shopping under one roof. We had everything ... hardware and groceries, men's and women's clothing, shoes and furniture."

In his spare time, Richard enjoyed hobbies such as hunting and fishing; his wife was an avid collector of dolls and dollhouses, as well as other memorabilia.

Together, the couple spent a lot of time playing tennis and canoeing on the rivers of Becker County, both with their children and without.

"We liked to canoe," he says. After retirement, they enjoyed traveling.

"We spent a lot of winters in Florida, Texas and Arizona," he says.

Today, Richard adds, his lifestyle is a little more sedentary; his favorite pursuits include reading, spending time on the computer and going to morning coffee at the Main Street Restaurant.

"Getting old has its price," says Richard, who will celebrate his 90th birthday next Thursday, Jan. 21.

He also continues to be involved in the Noon Rotary Club, where he has served as president.

"Rotary has been important to our family," he says, noting that he and his brother had both served as president of the club, as their father did before them. "Dad was the second president of the club, and I had two uncles who were charter members.

Though he still has a home in town and a cabin on Rock Lake, Richard now lives at The Madison with his toy poodle, Mikey, whom he claims he is teaching to speak Norwegian.

"I'm trying to get him to say 'Woof Da,' but I've only gotten a 'woof' so far," he jokes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454