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Doing his duty: 96-year-old John O’Boyle never misses a chance to vote

John O’Boyle, a 96-year-old veteran and former Bemidji City Councilor, votes on Tuesday with help from family friend Patrick Lochwood at Bemidji City Park. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 3
Patrick Lochwood pushes 96-year-old John O’Boyle in to vote on Tuesday at Bemidji City Park. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 3
John O’Boyle receives his “I Voted” sticker from Linda Lemmer on Tuesday at Bemidji City Park. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 3

BEMIDJI -- Coat, hat, wheelchair -- John O’Boyle is ready.

As longtime family friend Patrick Lochwood helped, the World War II veteran, professor emeritus of Spanish at Bemidji State University, and staunch Democrat headed to a warming house next to the Bemidji Curling Club to vote.

Lochwood held up O’Boyle’s ballot and asked him about each race in order, occasionally shining a small flashlight to help the 96-year-old read the candidates’ names.

O’Boyle has been voting straight-ticket Democrat since the early 1950s, he said, and hasn’t missed a chance to vote in a state, federal, or local election since.

John O’Boyle receives his “I Voted” sticker from Linda Lemmer on Tuesday at Bemidji City Park. (Jillian Gandsey photo)And this might be the last ballot he casts. O’Boyle’s health isn’t very good, he said, and he acknowledged that 2018 would probably be his last election cycle.

“I'm in the last mile,” O’Boyle said. “I'm 96...I'm not going to sprout wings, I know that...I'm glad I could vote at the end.”

O’Boyle fought in Europe in World War II -- Lochwood picked him out in a photo of Allied troops marching in front of the Arc de Triomphe in 1944 -- and was shot in both legs fighting on the Siegfried Line. He was named a Chevalier in the French Legion on Honour in 2013 in a ceremony in Bemidji. The Department of Veterans Affairs pays for O’Boyle’s Neilson Place apartment, he said.

After the war, O’Boyle studied for his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees and met his first wife in Mexico on the GI Bill. He bounced around a few public school systems -- New Mexico, California, Wisconsin -- after that before moving to Bemidji in 1968 to teach Spanish at BSU. He’s been politically active here ever since, volunteering for the Beltrami County DFL and serving on the Bemidji City Council and the local planning commission.

“Anything liberal that I proposed was dead,” O’Boyle joked.

In a country where many citizens only vote in presidential elections, if even then, why has it been so important for O’Boyle to vote as often as he has?

“Duty, I guess. Civics,” O’Boyle said. “I feel that I owe quite a bit to the country because of the benefits I get.”

After O’Boyle slipped his ballot into the counting machine on Tuesday, he and Lochwood retired to Sparkling Waters restaurant, where O’Boyle is something of a regular. He ordered a glass of cabernet sauvignon and ribbed the bar staff for only pouring it about a third full.

A waitress there asked how he’s been.

“Lemme check,” O’Boyle said. He whipped out his arm and paused for a moment to press his fingers against his wrist.

“Still pumping,” Lochwood said with a laugh.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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