Without fail, Ted Smebakken reported to each yearly Canadian fishing trip with his former news colleagues sporting gear he gleaned from rickety old tackle boxes found at estate sales.
“A rod that had been broken somewhere, a reel that worked part of the time,” said Dave Nimmer, one of Smebakken’s former Minneapolis Star colleagues. “Whenever we gave him a new piece of gear, he somehow lost it and came back the next year with another piece of junk.”
Yet Smebakken, who opened and ran Peter’s Oldies but Goodies in St. Paul since 1989, still found luck on the water, even pulling in a walleye on his line after his pole snapped one year.
Theodore Bryan Smebakken, 81, died June 23, two days after suffering a heart attack after a Father’s Day outing to a Twins game. A political reporter and editor for the Minneapolis Star in the 1960s, Smebakken was Gov. Wendell Anderson’s press secretary from 1971 to 1976 and later led the Metropolitan Council’s public information office.
Bryan Smebakken, one of Ted’s four children, called his father “an old-school journalist” and believes Anderson asked him to be press secretary based on his reputation as an accurate reporter. Jim Shoop, who covered the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago with Smebakken, said Smebakken’s liberal politics never seeped into his reporting but did emerge while out on a lake or at lunch.
“That’s where you could get him to talk,” Shoop said. “When we got into conversations, he was for the underdog: the poor and the people who didn’t have much.”
Talk was also in steady supply at the secondhand shop, where conversations sprouted about sports, fishing, politics and everyday life.
One of seven children, Smebakken grew up with modest means in a family that moved around before settling on the prairie in South Dakota. After graduating from public school in Hot Springs, S.D., he came to Minnesota to attend Carleton College, where he captained the school’s undefeated football team in 1955 and met the woman he would marry, Susan Kennedy. After serving in the U.S. Army until 1957, he began a newspaper career that first took him to Minot, N.D., before he came back to Minneapolis to work for the then-Minneapolis Star, reporting and later serving as assistant city editor.
Not long after he left the Metropolitan Council, Smebakken grew tired of working for anyone but himself, Bryan Smebakken said. So Smebakken bought an antique inventory at auction in New England and hauled the goods back to Minnesota and started selling the goods in St. Paul. In 1991, he settled on a storefront on the corner of Selby and Fairview avenues, where Peter’s Oldies But Goodies grew into a neighborhood business.
“He didn’t get rich, but he did keep it up and running,” Bryan Smebakken said. “I think it’s just because he worked hard at it. He got up every day and worked his business.”
He said his dad would keep a box of free items handy to give to children at the store.
The store was named for another son, Peter, who along with daughter Nansi, preceded Smebakken in death. Smebakken’s former wife, Susan, died in 1996. Survivors include sons Bryan and Andrew and siblings Clay, Sharon, Joy, Bruce and Lessi.
A graveside service for family and close friends will take place July 18 at Stillwater’s Fairview Cemetery, and a celebration of Smebakken’s life will follow at 4 p.m. at Cahoots, 1562 Selby Av., Smebakken’s favorite coffee bar.