Opera Hall crowd entertained by woodcarver's witty stories
Another large crowd gathered last Thursday in the Opera Hall above the Minneota Public Library in the former Big Store building for an entertaining talk by woodcarver and writer Jerry Ness.
Ness, a former longtime track coach for Atwater and later Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City High School, was introduced to the audience by his sister, Judy Hagen.
Ness has worn many hats over the years, including teacher, coach, taxidermist, wood carver, writer and storyteller.
Carving bodies for birds and fish led to his woodcarving prowess. He basswood carving include various Norwegian caricatures and, more recently, cowboy figures. Many of his Norwegian figures are based on relatives or people he had met growing up in Pelican Rapids.
Ness and his wife, Geraldine, now live in Nome, ND.
"It's peaceful there," he said. "Laura Ingalls Wilder would be proud where we live out in a prairie. When it's nice outside, I sit against a big tree and carve."
As Ness would introduce each 6-8 inch Norwegian carving, he would reveal the name he picked out and then tell a little story about each one.
Often, the story brought laughter from the audience. Sometimes, though, reminiscing about his past through one of his carvings would cause him to become emotional and require a momentary pause before he could continue. One of those times was when he was referring to a pair of carvings that were in honor of his uncles. Another was when speaking about a figure that represented his father.
"My dad used to tell stories all the time," said Ness. "And our neighbors would tell stories. That's why I tell stories. I don't want to stop the cycle of letting stories disappear."
Ness urged those in attendance to write down a particular story they find compelling to as to preserve it for prosperity.
Ness then pulled out a carving of a golfer named Marvin who he said was dedicated to his brother-in-law Ralph Hagen, a former golf coach at Minneota.
"Marvin knows that proper dress, from his argyle patterns to his knickers, is important to his game," Ness noted before continuing with a witty story about the golf addict.
While most wood carvers have a large assortment of various-sized knives, Ness possesses just three.
"And I only use one most the time," he noted.
Ness also noted that he has been an avid hunter and fisherman most of his life.
"I told my wife that days spent hunting and fishing are not subtracted from your life expectancy," he joked. "So, if you hunt and fish all the time you will live forever."