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'Can Man' shares local history

If anyone knows the history of Kelliher, that would be Danny Leach.

Leach was born in 1945 and raised in the Kelliher area. He is known by most people in Kelliher as "Dan the Can Man" because he has collected truckloads of aluminum cans over the years to support the community center, and area festivals.

He hails from English, Swedish and Norwegian decent. His parents met in St. James just south of Minneapolis and moved up here in a covered wagon.

Leach is somewhat of a local history buff and can tell you many details about the Kelliher area.

"The lumberjacks, they came over here from Thief River in '48," he said. "and built houses with their wives. There were four gas stations and four grocery stores, a printing shop, laundry mat and a couple of cafes. There was also a show hall, a barber shop and a bank."

Leach explained that there were two banks in town at one time and a land office.

"There was two hotels in town as well as a bowling alley and my folks were telling me that there used to be 17 saloons in this town but I don't remember them," he said with a laugh.

"That was a long time ago. Where did they put them all? That is a good question," he said. "There was also a shoe repair shop, a stable, an electric plant, a train that delivered meat and a doctor."

Leach's notoriety began when he started selling buttons to support the Kelliher/Waskish Wild Rice Festival.

"It started in 1972 and it ended in 1997 -- 25 years," he said. "Dick Florhaug got me involved and he wanted me to sell buttons and that was in 1982. There was a competition going on in '83 -- me and Bonnie Mostad --and she won! We both sold over 800 buttons though," he said.

Leach has 14 plaques with his name on them for selling the most buttons.

"Then I crushed aluminum cans for 15 years and nine months," he said. "First I did that for the community center. I had a load every two weeks and I had volunteers to take them down to Bemidji and they came back with a little over $100 each time. Isn't that great? And it was over a million cans in that length of time!" he said with a smile.

He worked at two stations for his brother, Rod Leach, for Darrell Stomberg and also worked with his father.

"Dad used to come in and ask Rod if he could borrow me and I would go with him sweeping the streets and gutters of town. That was the hardest job," he said.

He also worked for Richard Skoe at two gas stations.

"At that time I was pumping gas, waiting on the customers and was parts man," he said. "Now you have to pump your own gas! Things sure have changed since back then."

"Dad and I went to two different movies at the show hall," he said. "We went out Friday night and then again on Saturday night. Dad always had popcorn but I didn't," he said with a laugh.

Something else that Leach was involved in was winter "waterskiing."

"I wasn't involved in it but my sister, Gail, was. I used to take the snow off the top of the lake but there are hardly any kids that do that anymore," he said. "

Now the kids jump on snowmobiles."

Leach said he also enjoys scrapbooking, which he began doing back in the early 1960s and just began his seventh scrap book recently.

When it comes to local history, Leach can recall when the churches were built and when they were added on to, right down to the year when each was started and when they were finished. He also has, in his books, the minister or priest from every church in Kelliher.

He collected postage stamps and post cards from back then and can tell you who was postmaster, who the mayors were -- if it is local history, Leach can tell you about it.

When it comes to gas prices, he can give you the highest and lowest prices.

"The lowest I ever saw was 19.9¢ a gallon back when I was going to school, back when I was probably in the fifth or sixth grade, maybe early '50s and the highest I saw in Kelliher was $3.28 a gallon. That's the highest I ever saw," he said.

The unveiling of Leach's photo will be at the VFW breakfast at the Kelliher Community Center June 12 at 10 a.m.