Merritt Bartlett knew that the young man’s name was George. He knew that George was a student at the University of Minnesota, that he was a good skier and that he had a girlfriend who lived in North Oaks.
He knew that George was drafted to Vietnam in 1968.
What 80-year-old Bartlett didn’t know until recently was what happened exactly to “Skip,” as friends called him.
Nor that after so many decades he would tear up recounting his serendipitous and, ultimately, satisfying effort to bring closure to a family who, it turns out, lives just miles from Bartlett’s home in Roseville.
It all began in Dinkytown, in 1967, with a classic Ansel Adams print.
“He skied with us,” Bartlett recalled earlier this week, taking in late-afternoon sun in his lushly landscaped back yard, courtesy of his gardener wife, Marilyn.
Back then, he and Marilyn owned a little ski and scuba shop near the U. Skip, who worked nearby, stopped in often.
“Skip would have a Coke and sit on our stairs and BS, I guess,” Bartlett said.
He remembers Skip as an All-American kid, “soft-spoken, well-educated, with a droll sense of humor.”
In the fall of 1967, Skip came into Bartlett’s shop carrying a signed and stamped Ansel Adams print, titled “Mount Moran, Autumn.” The photo features the majestic Grand Teton, with snow tucked into its pockets.
“It wasn’t cheap, even in those days,” Bartlett said. He doesn’t know how much Skip paid for it, but guesses it was a lot for a college kid.
“Will you store this for me?” he asked Bartlett, who said of course he would. “And then,” Bartlett said, “he left.”
Before tucking the piece away, Bartlett attached a note to the back: “Left this print in Bart’s Cafe while he was gone.”
In March 1968, Marilyn, who is retired from 3M, came across the print behind a door. She bought a mat and frame as a surprise for Skip when he returned. But he never did.
Still Bartlett held on, year after year after year. When the couple moved to Prospect Park, the print came, too. When they moved to Roseville, they packed it.
“Just in case,” Bartlett said.
Every 10 or 12 years, Bartlett made an attempt to track down the owner, but he had so little to go on in the years before the Internet. Calls to Washington, D.C., led nowhere. Nor did anything come of a “thankless” search of 20,000 U student names.
A year ago, finding Skip became all-consuming.