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Couple preserves, promotes both heritage, history

By Vivian (Makaela) Sazama

Mark and Gloria (Dalager) Markkula of Menahga both always had a strong work ethic. And that work ethic has brought them through some interesting occupational situations over the years --including work encounters with Prince and Carl Pohlad. Now semi retired and in their 53rd year of marriage, the two find themselves involved in various enterprises in Menahga.

“We’ll probably never really retire,” laughed Gloria, “though it is taking us longer to finish projects.”

The Markkula’s love of local and Finnish history brought them both to the Menahga Museum. Both help with the museum, and Gloria has been president of the museum for the last seven years.

“We put in a new furnace and air conditioner and an air exchange system,” said Mark. The couple also helped on a new addition, which houses carriages, a horse-drawn fire wagon, and other items.

One corner has a whole array of antique fishing equipment. “Initially there was only one old boat motor, but we’ve been able to find all the rest of these at auctions, garage sales, etc.” Mark said.

Another area they have increased in is the military. Initially there were only about two uniforms, but they have been able to add a multitude more from donations of families in the area. Mark pointed out a wide-angle black and white photo. “This is my father’s unit right after they got back from Europe in WWI.” he said.

Mark and Gloria Markkula of Menahga stand in front of the statue of St. Urho, who greets visitors at the Menahga Museum. Photo by Vivian Sazama

The photo and the military area means a great deal to Mark. There is a whole section dedicated to the Vietnam war, which will be on display for two years.

“Dave Anderson, the mayor of Sebeka, has been putting together models of aircraft used during each war,” said Mark. “This summer he’s bringing in a whole new display for Vietnam.”

In about 2016, Gloria applied for an in-kind grant to repaint the museum. “It took 87 gallons of paint,” said Mark.

“In-kind means that we had to provide the labor, and a number of volunteers came in. It was a big job! We finally had a guy come in and finish the job. We told him he had to volunteer his time, but we were able to give him a nice tip!” said Gloria.

Another newly acquired item holds special meaning to Gloria. Pointing to a wooden wheelchair she said, “When I was two years old I got polio and spent a month in St. Mary’s Hospital (in Rochester, Minnesota) to learn how to walk all over again. I remember a whole row of these wooden wheelchairs in the big and beautiful marble lobby area lined up against a wall.”

Keeping an eye out at garage sales, etc. they finally found one that was once used by a local resident and which they placed in the doctor’s office portion of the museum.

In 2018 the couple were named King and Queen over the annual St. Urho’s Day event held in Menahga every March. They were able to purchase a statue of St. Urho that the Menahga C&C had built for parades. They had the statue repaired and donated it to the museum. It now greets visitors as they enter the museum.

Growing up

Mark grew up in Meadow Township, born in 1947, one of nine children, six boys, and three girls. He attended Sebeka School in the mid-1960s. Because an older brother had gotten into too much trouble, his parents were very strict about not allowing him to go to school activities during his sophomore and junior years. “I had to stay home,” said Mark. “One time, there was a donkey basketball game that I wanted to go to in the worst way, but I couldn’t leave the house. That did it. I was 17, and I quit school and left home.”

Though he didn’t have a car, he found a ride to the Twin Cities, and the next day got a job installing carpet. “I eventually got a car for $135. I had no liability insurance on it, but eventually I did and that cost me $135 too!” he said.

Gloria was born in 1950 and grew up in Austin, Minnesota. Her family always went to the Twin Lakes Resort near Menahga on vacations. Her grandparents were Walter and Gladys Fuller of Sebeka. Mark’s family also vacationed at Twin Lakes and that is where the two of them met in 1964. The hit it off immediately and began corresponding. It was the start of a lifelong love.

“He hit it off with my dad, and told him we could use some new carpet in our house, and why don’t you come down to Austin,” said Gloria, “and so that way he got to spend some time there.”

“Mark was able to get his GED by taking correspondence classes from LaSalle High School, which was one of the schools where they would give you a diploma from your original school,” said Gloria. While Mark was working installing carpet it was required that he go on to a Vo-Tech for flooring. “It was a three-year program in order to get a Journeyman’s, but I was able to get it done in two years by testing out,” said Mark.

He finished the program in 1967, and then was drafted into the Army. “I was in the 101st Airborne Division in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, part of the “Screaming Eagles”, he said. “The base pay was $78 per month, but I found out that if I went into the Airborne Division it was an additional $65, and that sounded pretty good. I was in the Army for two years and one day. And I was in Vietnam for one year from 1968 until 1969,” he said. “I still had six months of military service left, and I found out that if I stayed in Vietnam another 18 days that the rest of my service time would be waived. But I was in a ‘hot zone,’ and I learned about a Menahga boy who had taken up the offer and he didn’t make it back. I decided to return to the U.S. and serve the remaining six months.”

Mark and Gloria were married in April 1969, two weeks after Mark returned from Vietnam, and Mark was stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas. “I was a motor pool sergeant there,” said Mark.

After completing his service, Mark and Gloria moved to Minneapolis where Mark began work for Lambert’s Floor Covering. “I went for an interview and the Supervisor said I was hired. I told him I could start the next day, but he said, no, wait until Monday. I got there Monday and I found out he had fired eight of the workers and the foreman, and he made me the foreman! There were 65 employees, and me being made foreman over them didn’t sit too well with some of them. When I found out some of them were hiding out in closets to sleep, I told the Supervisor and asked him what I should do. He just told me to tell them that they get three days off, so I did. That’s when some of them got mad. I just told them if they had a problem with it to go talk to the supervisor. I didn’t have a problem with them after that. They nicknamed me Moses because I didn’t take any guff!”

Gloria worked in several positions during this time, and then began working for Weight Watchers in Minneapolis. “I started out as a Weight Watchers leader, then I went to answering phones, and ended up in charge of the Shipping Department,” said Gloria. “I was there for 15 years, during which we had our two children.”

Mark worked at Lambert’s for 21 years. “Then they filed bankruptcy. Some of the designers started calling that they needed help. They said, ‘What do you need, a truck? Anything you need we’ll set you up.’ I told them what I need is intestinal fortitude (guts)! I got together 10 guys, including my son and son-in-law, and formed my own business, Mark’s Carpet, Inc.,” he said. The business operated for 15 years in the Twin Cities before Mark retired, during which the list of customers is quite impressive. “The first job we had was two floors of the Hyatt Regency downtown. We also did golf clubs, etc. We did work for the Cargill’s too. The most expensive piece of carpet we laid down was a 40 by 80 foot handmade in China that was $1,000 per square yard. We needed a semi to haul it. That went into J.E. Capital’s home in Minnetonka which was over 200,000 square feet,” said Mark.

Another notable customer was Carl Pohlad, who owned the Minnesota Twins from 1984 until his death in 2009. He was also on the Minnesota Vikings Board of Directors from 1988 to 1991. At the time of his death, Carl Pohlad was listed as No. 102 on the annual Forbes 400 list with an estimated net worth of $3.6 billion.

“Carl was still going to work downtown when he was 92!” Mark said.

Carl’s son, Bob Pohlad, also owned numerous other companies including Pepsi. Mark did some work for Bob who also had a home in Minnetonka, and had some interesting times working for him.

“One time I was working in their 12 x 18 foot master bath. Bob said he had to leave and told me to just lock the door when I left. Well, they had two German shepherds that were trained to kill that were locked in a room downstairs. I heard some banging noise when I was working. When I got done I went to the top of the stairs to leave and here were these two dogs running up at me. I ran back into the bathroom and locked the door and called Bob to come get the dogs. On Thanksgiving Day that year, Carl, who lived next door and who was 92 at the time, cut across the lawn to Bob’s place. Well, there was only an underground wire fence and those dogs went after Carl. They bit into his leg and he had to get stitches.”

“We did work for Bob Pohlad three times over the years. They changed their carpet about every six years. One time they flew us to their ‘Pepsi House’ on San Juan Island,” said Mark. “We gave them an estimate for the job, and they said don’t worry, we’ll have everything shipped to the island and it’ll all be taken care of,” said Gloria. “There weren’t any commercial hotels on the island at that time, so we had to rent a B&B.”

Probably the most detailed and intensive work they did was for legendary musician, Prince, at his home and in Paisley Park.

“We were there for two weeks, putting zodiac signs and lyrics of his music into the carpet down the hallways,” Mark said.

Menahga’s St. Urho King Mark and Queen Gloria Markkula in about 2016. Contributed photo

“They had to cut out the lyrics and signs out of the carpet and put different colored carpet in,” said Gloria. “It was hard, because we couldn’t tell anyone who we were working for. Prince was getting married to Mai Tai and it was big news in Minneapolis. He ended up using our company van to get to the church, in order to avoid the paparazzi!”

The Markkula’s were invited to the wedding reception in Paisley Park to get back their van. “We didn’t want to go but our kids said we’d better!” laughed Gloria. To prepare for his bride, Prince ordered Mai Tai’s bedroom to be carpeted with the same purple as the ball on his piano, which the Markkula’s took to different carpet wholesale outlets to try and match. “Again, it was hard because we couldn’t tell them who it was for!” said Gloria.

“I walked alongside Prince once,” said Mark. “He was shorter than I am!” he laughed. “One time, I was in his bedroom doing some work and I noticed these four inch heels. I told the caretaker I didn’t know he had a woman staying there. The caretaker said they were Prince’s!”

For their 50th anniversary, Mark and Gloria’s children arranged tours at Paisley Park. “The VIP tour is expensive so they reserved that one for us and regular tours for everyone else,” said Gloria. “When we got there Mark knew more about the place than the tour guide! It was a year after Prince had died and the elevator where he passed had been welded shut.

There was a secret staircase that went down to the basement where Prince had a bunch of classic cars and motorcycles, and the guide hadn’t known that. The second floor was closed where the bedrooms are and where the lyrics are in the carpet in the hallways, and the guide didn’t know about that either!”

In the 1980s, the Markkula’s bought a place with 40 acres near Menahga where they spent many weekends driving go-carts and mini bikes and hunting with their children and eventually their grandchildren. In time they built a year-round home on Blueberry Lake in which they reside today. “We bought a lot with a little old two-bedroom cabin on it which we stayed in for ten years. When chipmunks started meeting us in the living room, I said we’re done!” said Gloria.

“I would come up on weekends building the new house, working until midnight, then head back to Minneapolis and off to work by 8 a.m. the next morning!” said Mark.

Over the years the couple bought rental homes in different towns including Menahga and Sebeka. After retirement they moved permanently to Menahga. Their shared love of history sparked them into buying the building in which currently houses Jan’s Hair Attitude. “That building has a lot of history,” said Mark. “It was a hotel at one time, a bank, a hospital, a TV repair shop, an antique shop, I think and a mortuary.”

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