A family, a town await

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 10, 2007 - 9:59 PM

Lisa Jolstad's husband, Greg, is one of five people still missing in the wreckage in the Mississippi.

MORA, MINN.

Lisa Jolstad's to-do list on Friday was pretty simple: Buy a new vacuum cleaner. Keep a handle on the bee epidemic looming just outside the kitchen door.

And wait for the phone call telling her that Greg was finally coming home.

"My biggest fear is that he's going to be the last one they find, and they're going to give up before they find him," she said of her husband. "He's probably under something. I don't know."

Greg Jolstad, 45, is one of five people still missing in the wreckage left in the Mississippi River by the collapse last week of the I-35W bridge.

Jolstad, a machine operator for Progressive Contractors Inc. (PCI) of St. Michael, Minn., was one of 18 construction workers doing resurfacing work on the bridge and the only one among them who wasn't found after the bridge fell on Aug. 1.

That night PCI President Mike McGray drove Lisa to Minneapolis, where she spent three agonizing days waiting for word at the Holiday Inn Metrodome. Along with the families of other missing victims, she walked out on the 10th Avenue bridge and gazed out at the broken span, jagged and crumpled in the waters below.

"I wanted to feel close to where he was," she said.

Then she returned home to her children, for whom Greg has been stepfather since they were married in 1995: Katie, 19; Kim, 18, and Nick, 17.

The family lives in the countryside north of Mora in a 97-year-old white clapboard farmhouse, where Greg and his siblings were raised.

Lisa, a Michigan native who will turn 44 next week, is a licensed tax assessor who has worked for Kanabec, Mille Lacs and Pine counties and is looking for a new job.

On Friday, she let the dogs outside -- Leo, a 9-year-old springer spaniel, and Otis, a 4-year-old basset hound -- when visitors came by.

She giggled when she recalled how Greg would pet the low-slung Otis and say, "Your lack of tallness is quite puzzling to me."

It was the kind of dry, easygoing humor that won him the nickname "Jolly" among his buddies and won her heart shortly after they first met by chance at the Crow's Nest, a bar and restaurant on nearby Knife Lake.

Their first date, a Vikings game, came two months later; he didn't have his own phone and had to use the pay phone at the Crow's Nest to reach her.

"I wasn't even looking, but I liked him right away," she said.

On Friday, the Crow's Nest sign along Hwy. 65 was wrapped in a large yellow ribbon. All of Mora, it seemed, was missing Greg.

No one else but him

Greg Jolstad had never been long away from Mora. He was born there, raised there, graduated from Mora High School and returned to the area after spending a couple years in the Twin Cities.

Since the age of 18 he had worked construction, a perfect job for a guy who liked to keep his winters free for ice fishing and the Vikings.

"He lived on [Knife Lake] in the winter," Lisa said.

For the past 10 years, Greg had worked for PCI, a company that he considered more a family than a work crew, she said.

She remembers that he had worked on the I-35W bridge at least once before, despite his fear of heights; he had joked about opening a minnow business on the side.

"He never, never told me the bridge swayed," Lisa said. "When I heard that on the news, that was the first time I heard it."

Greg's favorite meal was a triple-decker hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.

On Monday before the bridge collapsed, he called her on his way home from work and asked what she had for dinner. Leftovers, Lisa said.

She could tell he was "bummed," she said, so she started peeling potatoes and prepared the famous triple-decker.

When he got home he did his "doogie bounce," rolling his arms, and drawled, "Honey, you rustle up the best vittles, day after day." It was one of their favorite routines.

On the morning of Aug. 1, Greg kissed Lisa and left the house at 8 a.m. "I'll be late. Love ya, Pud," he said.

He expected that the overlay work on the bridge wouldn't begin until 7 or 8 p.m., when it was cooler.

That evening she got a call from PCI that there had been an accident on the bridge. She tried Greg's cell phone but got no answer, then turned on the TV. By 8:30 p.m., she knew that Greg was the only crew member who was missing.

The support she has since received from the people of Mora, PCI and government officials, she said, has been heartwarming.

The gas station owner held her for five minutes and told her, "We love you, Lisa."

PCI has given her a company vehicle to use and promises to keep sending Greg's paychecks until further arrangements are made.

Both Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak have given her their personal cell-phone numbers and told her to call anytime with concerns.

On Thursday, she returned to Minneapolis with Greg's mother, Dorothy Svendsen of Hinckley, for another briefing and a meeting with some of the Navy divers searching the wreckage. One told her that they're specifically looking for Greg.

She's eager to know what caused the bridge to collapse and thinks it is unfair that some fingers are being pointed at PCI before all the facts are in.

But Lisa Jolstad mostly spends her time now hoping that her husband is found as soon as possible.

"That's all I want," she said. "He was the Frick to my Frack. We belonged together. There was no one else for me but him."

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