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Couleur’s collections

Mention George Couleur and pretty much everyone in Kandiyohi County knows who you’re talking about. He’s basically a household name because of his involvement in the community for the past umpteen years and the special jobs he has held, from working as a meat cutter to driving school bus to serving as the county’s water safety deputy — and at one point, all of them at the same time.     Couleur’s home, located just west of New London, reflects his many interests through some unique collections that are very meaningful to him.     One collection is a number of anchors he’s collected over the years, anchors he found while diving.     “I’ve done quite a bit of diving and one of the anchors I got is about four feet tall and came out of Green Lake.”     He said it’s a forged anchor and he was told by Laurel Fredeen from Green Lake Trailer Works that the anchor had to be from the 1800s. Couleur recovered most of his anchors in the 1960s. Right now George has some of them displayed in the corner of his yard. He’s lived at his present residence about two years and prior to that lived on Green Lake where he also had his collection mounted in his yard. He is very proud of his anchors and has dedicated them to his two late wives.      “I wouldn’t let those go.” Couleur said noting when he retired he tied up the anchor, tied up the rope to the dock and moved on. “I have that anchor and rope right here at my house.”     Describing himself as ‘a nut for sailing,’ 83-year-old Couleur also has a collection of models of ships from all over the world, plus paintings of some famous ships. There are many different models and paintings. Some are old whaling ships. One is of the USS Constitution, a very powerful war ship and another is the Blue Nose.     A couple of his models are mounted on the fireplace mantle along with a painting of an old sailing ship that’s at least 100 years old.     Couleur also has three or four Hobie cats and when he retired as water safety officer a few years ago they gave him a little model of his old patrol boat with the number 333 which was his badge number. Needless-to-say he’s pretty proud of that.     Couleur has about 21 different models of ships, some big, some medium, some small.     “Whenever there are ships and I see some I like that are different I’ll grab them.” He has models from Alaska, Hawaii, Sweden, Norway, Arizona, Texas and Florida to name a few. “I’ve always kind of made it a point to look for ships.”     Couleur used to have a 1969 16-foot Hobie Cat sailboat that he purchased in 1979. He sold it about three years ago to a man working as a lifeguard at a camp up north and that boat is still being used today.     “The only thing I ever busted on it was a rudder going over Hultgren’s Bar.” Couleur said he had a lot of good times on that sailboat.     He also has small statutes of old sailors, a few examples including one that’s fixing a net, one that’s pulling up the sail and the mast, one with spears and one that’s teaching a young kid how to tie knots. Some of the statues are made of wood and others out of copper or metal.     Couleur also has a collection of swords that were given to him. “Those are the real swords and some go back to World War One and before.” He has them displayed on a wall in his home. “I kind of like these,” he said.     One sword has writing on it and he believes its from Guatemala. He also has a couple of old daggers displayed with the ships on the fireplace mantel. “They’re special to me. They’re kind of a dagger and brass knuckles combination and they’re the real thing. They’re from World War I, too.”     Couleur also has albums filled with photos and articles written about his many exploits. In looking back over 83 years of his life, Couleur describes it as “real interesting.” He was born during the depression days in Chicago. They had absolutely nothing, he said, and when the Rotary Club brought them clothes they thought Santa Claus had come. He remembers carrying ice for the old ice refrigerator, horse drawn garbage and milk wagons, and the Good Humor man who would go down the street selling ice cream bars.     Couleur began his meat cutting career while he was still in high school and continued that career in the service after he was drafted. He also met his first wife, Merlaine Peterson of Sunburg, at a dance in McCook, Nebraska where the troop train stopped. It was love at first sight and in 1946 they were married at the West Norway Lake Church of rural Sunburg. He recalls his buddies from Chicago coming for the wedding and shooting off a 45 as they were going through Sunburg. He said the residents there must have thought she was marrying Al Capone.     They were married for 31 years before she died of cancer. Two years later Couleur married Phyllis Gutormson, who died of cancer nine years later.     After the service Couleur worked for several meat companies as a butcher, the last one being at the Willmar State Hospital where he spent over 36 years. That was back when the hospital was self-sufficient where they raised hogs and cattle and did their own butchering, smoked their own bacon and hams, and grew their own vegetables.     In 1959 Couleur began his career as water safety officer. Harvey Spaulding was the sheriff at that time, the legislature had appropriated money for water safety, and Spaulding offered the job to Couleur who said yes right away.     He said his first uniform was his old “Wonder Bread uniform,” the old Eisenhower Jacket. “He (Spaulding) threw me a badge and told me to go to work.”     Over the years as water safety officer, Couleur was in on a lot of drowning, and saved several people by giving them CPR. A couple of them he feels really honored to have been able to save. One was a little guy who fell off the dock. He wasn’t breathing and there was no heartbeat, but Couleur managed to save him. About four years ago a young man tapped him on the shoulder and asked if Couleur remembered him. When Couleur said ‘no,’ the young man told him he wouldn’t be alive today if it hadn’t been for Couleur.     Life saving techniques have changed a lot over the years, Couleur said noting they’ve gone from back pressure arm lifts, to mouth to mouth to CPR with compressions, to just compressions. He taught CPR at the state hospital and to the lifeguards. He’s also taught lessons on how to swim if you fall over wearing a full snowmobile suit complete with boots, gloves and a helmet, to how to float in waders if you fall in.     Probably the only disappointment in Couleur’s water safety career is not finding the L19 Birddog plane that crashed in Green Lake in 1958.     “I put lots of hours into searching for that plane. Whenever I had a chance I’d be out dragging the lake. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he said.           Forty-six years after that plane went down a couple guys were out fishing. The fishing wasn’t too good so they dropped a camera down and there was the plane.     Couleur had been hoping all along to find that plane but it just wasn’t to be. He said the plane was brought up, plans were made to build a tourism information center in Spicer with the plane to be housed in that center but that didn’t come about. They stored the plane until they ran out of money and at that point sold it to a pilot in Litchfield who plans to put the plane back together and put it back in the air again. Couleur is waiting for that day.     George’s career also included 44 years of driving school bus, much of this time he had two other jobs going. He’d get up at 3 a.m. every morning, go to work at the state hospital, then at noon began his work as water safety patrol officer, then drove school bus in the afternoon.     During his career as water safety officer he had three diving towers made, but they’ve all disappeared over the years — the one on Saulsbury Beach in Spicer hitting the dust last summer.     “Hundreds of thousands of kids learned how to swim and dive off those towers. But with the changing times and the insurance it got to the point where the county took the towers out.”     Now that Couleur is retired he doesn’t get up quite so early and he doesn’t put in 80 to 90 hours a week. He actually sleeps in until 5 a.m. and between then and 10:30 at night he keeps busy what whatever comes up.          “I keep busy and I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said. “I always loved what I was doing. It wasn’t work. Time meant nothing. If you had something to do you done it.”

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