North St. Paul's 44-foot, 20-ton snowman is showing its age

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 1, 2014 - 11:34 PM
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Keeper of the key: “He’s a big deal around here,” said St. Paul Fire Chief Scott Duddeck as he inspected the interior of the snowman. “People from all over just want to stop and touch him.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Like a lot of folks hitting the north side of 40, the big guy who stands out at Hwy. 36 and Margaret Street ain’t what he used to be.

With creaky bones, flaky skin and insides that always seem damp and chilled, he’s beginning to cause more than a little worry among folks in the city of North St. Paul, who’ve come to take his ever-present smile and welcoming personality for granted.

In short, it’s about time to fix what ails the snowman, the iconic symbol of the city ever since it went up in 1974.

The mayor says so. “It’s been in the back of my mind for a while,” Mayor Mike Kuehn said. “I think people in this town would be really disappointed if the snowman was no longer there.”

The fire chief thinks so, too. “He’s a big deal around here,” said Chief Scott Duddeck. “People from all over just want to stop and touch him.”

Even Stacey Hodroff, the new manager of a Holiday store a snowball’s throw away knows what the 44-foot-tall icon means to the city of 11,500 residents — and she doesn’t even live in North St. Paul.

“There would be a major uprising if they didn’t fix him and he went away,” she said. “Everyone knows what you’re talking about when you say ‘the snowman.’ ”

But getting a giant snowman into shape takes a little more than logging miles on a treadmill and eating healthy snacks.

The 20-ton snowman was built for the now-quaint sum of $2,000 and designed by the late Lloyd Koesling, who wished to create a lasting image for his town. But a restoration could prove costly. Metal bars that make up its frame are rusting and eroding; stucco has deteriorated in spots. Moisture threatens the stability of its metal footings.

Kuehn expects the Public Works Department to conduct a cost analysis in the next couple of months. But with a total city operating budget of about $6 million a year, a volunteer fire department and a commercial district that’s lost business to the big-box stores, North St. Paul isn’t exactly awash in snowman restoration funds.

“We don’t even know what’s needed,” Duddeck said.

Said Kuehn: “Once we get a cost estimate, we’d like to pursue funding in some way — maybe a historic designation. Or maybe grants or some other funds might be available.”

Across Margaret Street, the front windows at the Thorsen, Breidinger & Novak accounting firm offer an unobstructed view of the big fella’s, um, trap door. “We get a front-row seat to his backside,” Scott Thorsen chuckled.

The snowman was moved from downtown to its current location in 1990 to catch the attention of drivers on Hwy. 36. Thorsen, who serves on the City Council, said he expects that city leaders will do whatever it takes to preserve a symbol that is used on banners, street signs and storefronts all over town.

“Even if they have to say we’ve got to tear it down,” Thorsen said, “we’d rebuild it.”

James Walsh • 651-925-5041

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