Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

2019 Grand Marshal announced

 

Lois Johnson

Walter Lower II

Walter Lower II has been named the 2019 Grand Marshal of the Fourth of July parade by the Moose Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber President Tia Grutkoski reported at a meeting of the chamber board on June 13 that Lower had been asked to be grand marshal many times over the years but didn't accept the honor until this year, which is also the 100th anniversary of Lake Theater, which he owns.

The honor is well deserved.

Lower was born in Moose Lake 88 years ago and has lived in the community all of his life except while he was in college. His family roots are also in the community. He is the third generation to conduct business in this small town.

His sons and grandchildren are following in his footsteps, making five generations of the family bringing entertainment to the people of the area.

Lower's grandfather, H. K. Lower, owned the livery stable in town in the early 1900s, where he sold horses that were brought in from Montana, said Lower.

"When he sold a horse, it was tradition to take a buyer for a drink," he told this reporter on an earlier occasion. "He decided that he might as well own the saloon.

"He had more businesses than you can ever imagine," said Lower. "When the movie theater burned in the fire and the owner wouldn't rebuild, he started one himself. That was the Strand Theater on Fourth Street.

"Over the years, he owned the saloon, a pop bottling plant, made Norwegian row boats, lawn furniture, and he had a garage when more and more cars were coming in. He also owned the Lower Restaurant.

"The restaurant advertised meals for 15 cents. I can't imagine what you would get for 15 cents."

Lower's father, Walter Senior, was also in business in Moose Lake, taking over the theater and rebuilding it in its present location on Elm Avenue.

Lower grew up and graduated from Moose Lake High School in 1949. He went on to Macalester College and then the University of Minnesota, majoring in business.

"During my last quarter in college, my father died (1953)," he said. "I had to come home to straighten things out. It was never my plan to be here but there was always some major disaster, always some trouble. There were breakdowns or an employee left. It was always something."

Lower said that he did manage to graduate from college but he had to remain in town to operate the theater, not knowing that it would become a lifelong occupation.

But Lower also had another occupation. He was a long-time employee of the First National Bank, where he worked in banking and insurance until he retired.

Lower married his wife, Pat, in 1963, and the couple had three sons: Jeff, Jon and Walter III.

The Lower family owned and operated a drive-in theater north of Moose Lake for about 25 years during the summer, Lower said.

"It was a lot of work," he added. "People would steal and break everything that they could think of."

The theater was closed when the owners of a gravel pit next door wanted to expand.

In 1969, Lower, Floyd Clark, and two others started Agate Days. This year is the 50th Annual Agate Days in Moose Lake.

"Floyd and I would have coffee and think about what we could do to promote the place," Lower recalled. "We came up with Agate Days. Floyd was an agate hound and a member of the Carlton County Gem and Mineral Club.

"I stole the idea of the agate stampede from Wickenburg, Arizona. It was a gold mining town, and people could dive into a pile of gravel to find gold."

Lower's idea for the stampede didn't find favor with some of the other businesspeople.

"Some of the merchants hated it," he said. "They didn't like it but we had it anyway. One of the city managers didn't like it either. He said that it was hard on the street but we kept having it anyway."

Another community watched the event draw the crowds that came to Agate Days.

"Cloquet always wanted it," said Lower. "They wanted to alternate it each year with Moose Lake. We said no. If they got it, it would always be in Cloquet."

Lower misses his fellow businesspeople and the way that the town used to be. He spoke about Saturday nights, when all of the stores were open. People used to come to town to shop and then come to see a movie.

"I think about the old merchants," he said. "Harold Lumby had a hardware store, and Petersons had the drug store. The co-op store was big. Those are all gone now."

Lower can often be seen in town during the day, riding his bicycle. He suffered a terrible fall down the basement stairs of the theater a couple of years ago but has recovered enough to resume normal life.

"My back still hurts in places," he said. "When I wake up in the morning, I have to get out of the house and get moving."

And Lower still sells tickets for movies at the theater. He remains active in the operation and maintenance of the theater, along with his son, Walter III.

 

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