Rusty the snowman?


North St. Paul’s 44-foot tall snowman welcomes residents and visitors alike with a smile that stretches 16 feet across its cheerful face. (Kaylin Creason/Review)

The tradition continues. The stucco snowman celebrates the annual Snow Frolics in 2004 with the people of North St. Paul, continuing the tradition of giant snowmen at the festival that began with snow-made structures in the 1950s. (file photo)

It’s hard to find a jersey in that size! The snowman “wears” Bret Hedican’s Carolina Hurricane’s jersey to celebrate “Bret Hedican Day” in 2006 after the North St. Paul native’s Stanley Cup victory. (file photo)

North St. Paul native, two-time Olympian and Stanley Cup victor Bret Hedican and his wife, Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, drive past the snowman during a parade celebrating Hedican’s 2006 Stanley Cup win with the Carolina Hurricanes. (file photo)

Mayor Mike Kuehn is leading the charge to check up on the health of the 40-year-old snowman, which he fears is in danger of toppling over due to rust on its cement base. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

North St. Paul discusses repairs to its snowman statue

Does the North St. Paul snowman need a check-up? Mayor Mike Kuehn thinks so. A few months ago, Kuehn asked the North St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission to look into the “health” of the North St. Paul snowman, which he fears is in danger of toppling over.

“Health” concerns 

The health of the snowman began to weigh on Kuehn a few years ago when he toured the stucco structure’s interior. While inside, he noticed that the cement base that holds the snowman in place had rusted over, apparently from water seeping onto the metal frame.  Fearing that damage to the structural integrity could lead to a “roly-poly” snowman - emphasis on “roll” - Kuehn asked the North St. Paul Parks and Recreation Commission to back a professional evaluation of the structure. He doesn’t want to see the snowman roll into Oakdale, he adds, and hopes an evaluation will give city leaders a sense of what might to be done to maintain the snowman and how much it will cost.

On May 20, the city council accepted the commission’s recommendation that the city hire a structural expert to assess the snowman within the next few months. City staff are currently cleaning the floor inside the structure of the fallen plaster, dust, dirt and rust pieces that have collected for over 40 years, in order to make the snowman’s cement base more visible for its “check-up.” 

The life of the snowman

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the snowman needs some TLC. In its 40-year lifespan, the interior of the snowman has never been repaired, public works director Scott Duddeck says. Chips, cracks and other obvious damage to the snowman’s stucco shell have been mended, but it wasn’t until recently that any thought was given to evaluating the structural integrity of the 20-ton statue.

In 2007, the Minnesota Department of Transportation shelled out $20,000 to make sure shifting soil didn’t cause the snowman to collapse during the Highway 36 reconstruction project. It was perhaps the first measure taken to ensure the snowman’s stability since its construction. The snowman was intended to be permanent, but it wasn’t designed by structural engineers or professional sculptors. Instead, the snowman was designed by one local businessman with a vision. 

Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, residents of North St. Paul would build giant snowmen out of real snow every year for the Snow Frolics, an annual celebration of winter. When lean snowfalls in the late 1960s threatened the city’s tradition, resident and local businessmen Lloyd Koesling came up with a permanent solution.

In 1969, Koesling made a trip to Disneyland with his family. Fascinated by the statues that adorned the park, he was inspired to create a similar icon to represent North St. Paul. He designed the snowman, and enlisted the city’s support. The local Jaycees helped him build it.  Construction on the snowman began in 1972. The city provided the land and paid for the building materials, and volunteers, including Koesling, put the structure together over the course of three summers. It was completed in 1974. At the time it was built, the snowman cost $2,000. The snowman originally overlooked the southeast corner of East Seventh Avenue and Margaret Street - near where the K&J Catering patio now is located. In 1990, it was moved to a more visible spot on the southeast corner of Highway 36 and Margaret Street, where it currently sits.

Recent repairs

The last time the city of North St. Paul retouched the snowman was in 2006, Duddeck says. That August, the city painted a hockey jersey on the snowman’s chest to celebrate “Bret Hedican Day” after former North St. Paul resident Bret Hedican won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes. A few years before that, the snowman bore a more somber adornment. On March 2, 2002, the snowman wore a black band on its arm to honor the death of its designer. As part of their discussion on the snowman, the parks and rec commissioners suggested installing a plaque near the statue’s base describing Koesling’s accomplishment.

The 44-foot, 20-ton snowman, which is thought to be the world’s largest stucco snowman, is a roadside attraction. Mayor Kuehn regularly sees tourists parked on the side of the road, taking photos with the smiling snowman. “You’ll look and see a license plate from California or Georgia (parked by it),” he says. “It does attract people, and it’s something that’s important to the city.”

The popular icon even draws a crowd on Facebook. The snowman’s fan-made Facebook page has over 10,000 likes. The tongue-in-cheek page features humorous “comments” from the snowman about everything from the weather to the Twins to its friendly rivalry with Whitey (the Chevrolet polar bear statue in White Bear Lake).

The snowman became the official city logo of North St. Paul in 1972. “It’s important to the image of our community,” Kuehn says. “We want to be able to preserve it for a long time to come.”  

Kaylin Creason can be reached at staffwriter@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7825.

 

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