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‘Incredible ride’ coming to an end

Tina & Lena celebrate with free party for the public

Tina Torkelson (right), also known as Ann Edwards, and Lena Olsen (left), also known as Annette Watkin, having fun at the fair after one of their many shows. The dynamic duo will put on their last show on Aug. 30. Contributed photo

Tina Torkelson (right), also known as Ann Edwards, and Lena Olsen (left), also known as Annette Watkin, having fun at the fair after one of their many shows. The dynamic duo will put on their last show on Aug. 30. Contributed photo

Tina & Lena are throwing a free party….and everyone is invited. Tina Torkelson, a.k.a. Sue Edwards, and Lena Olsen, also known as Annette Watkin, are hanging up their vintage hats after more than 30 years of entertaining audiences all over the United States…and they want to say “Thanks for the memories…and for the ride.”

The Last HurraHa-Ha! party will be held at the Alexandria Area H.S. Performing Arts Center in Alexandria on Sunday, Aug. 30. Doors will open at 2 p.m., with parking and entrance on the north side only. The auditorium holds 1,013 seats, and Lena says, “All 1,013 seats are free!”

This “personal invitation” is extended to all of Tina & Lena’s old and new friends. They invite all attending to bring a donation of goods or cash for the Douglas County Food Shelf or cash donations for Glacial Ridge Hospice in Glenwood. Donations are appreciated but not required. Tina & Lena will celebrate “An incredible ride. With that ride we have always known that the recipe for happy days is to count your blesSINGS…”

At the Last HurraHa-Ha Tina & Lena will keep guests in stitches with a performance beginning at 3 p.m., highlighting their mix of Minnesota humor, creative play on words and songs, and audience “precipitation” that has kept people laughing since they first put on those classy ‘40s & ‘50s hats and dresses. Through the years they have always celebrated the simple things of everyday Midwest life, most importantly, family, friends and community. Immediately following Tina & Lena’s performance, everyone is invited to a free hors d’oeuvres reception from 5 – 7 at the Broadway Ballroom, 115 30th Avenue East in Alexandria. The Last HurraHa-Ha! party is their way of saying, “thank you.”

Tina & Lena knew they had hit the big time when they made the front page of their hometown Canby News in 2007. Lena’s newspaper clipping, sent by her mom and dad, clearly states the sentiment: “Made front page of Canby News – must have been good. Make us proud. Love M & D (Mom and Dad).”

Through the years they have been featured in Minnesota periodicals, regional magazines and state wide newspapers. Their brand of humor and their footprints of time have been left as audiences laughed through their antics, smiled at their good, clean humor, and sighed or shed a tear while listening to sentimental and inspirational songs.

How’d it all start?

Ann and Annette even performed together on stage in high school plays, as seen here. The two were in band and choir together and both loved music and theater. Contributed photo

Ann and Annette even performed together on stage in high school plays, as seen here. The two were in band and choir together and both loved music and theater. Contributed photo

The duo met back in the ‘60s, in algebra class, on the first day of school in Canby, Minn., when Sue Ingvalson was the new kid on the block. Annette (Nanny, as Sue so fondly called her) Olsen was the first to welcome her with open arms. They performed together in high school plays, and both were in choir and band. They went to church and confirmation together. Both loved music and theater. Although they went their separate ways after graduation in 1969, their bond would never be broken.

Fast forward to 1984 when both ladies were living in the Alexandria area. Both women were experienced as music teachers, and Sue was also working in radio and advertising. Annette, while teaching in Osakis, was asked by Superintendent LeRoy Mackove, who was a Shriner, to come up with an idea to entertain at the Shriner’s gathering to be held at the Colonial Club. Annette called her good friend Sue. The idea to dress up as retired school teachers launched “the act” because, they laughingly say, “Tina doesn’t have any class, and Lena doesn’t have any principals…” One show led to another.

In the mid-’90s the Minnesota act turned into a full-time career. The duo emphasized life in Minnesota, not necessarily Scandinavian, but instead, spreading the good word about living in our favorite state. Tina & Lena were “ambassador-esses” so to speak. Tina & Lena’s special knack of speaking Minne-snow-tan took off. Material for their shows, from a woman’s perspective of deer camp to their mosquito dance, only to name a few, have been endless. With Sue on her 12-string guitar or banjo, and Annette on her various instruments from washtub-pogo-stick-pie-pan-mop-fly-swatter bass guitar, to tambourine, keyboard and antique portable pump organ, Tina & Lena are celebrating people.

Annette and Sue wrote all of their own material and booked most of their own shows. They customized each show for each audience. They connected with the people even before they stepped on the stage. “As soon as I put those glasses on, Tina came alive,” Sue explained. The strong characters of Tina & Lena took over. “Tina is the practical, common-sense one. She tells stories, loves to embellish, and loves to analyze things, (Men are from earth, women are from earth. Deal with it)” Sue explained. “She’s a bit more worldly than Lena.” She is clever and witty, and Lena always says, “She’s the funny one!”

Lena, as described by her alter-ego Annette, “is more flamboyant and a bit ditzy. (Men are from Menards. Women are from Macy’s. Deal with it.). She’s a see-all, tell-all…with a crazy-fun, free-spirit attitude. She kicks up her heels A LOT.” Tina always says, “She’s the funny one!”

Tina & Lena have found a balance in their act that compliments the personalities of both women. They’ve always been their own managers. Whoever took a call or the email for a performance was in charge of planning which jokes and songs would be done for each individual show, including holiday shows.

Where have they been?

Tina and Lena (Ann and Annette) have been entertaining since 1984. The duo met in the 1960s in algebra class in Canby. Contributed photo

Tina and Lena (Ann and Annette) have been entertaining since 1984. The duo met in the 1960s in algebra class in Canby. Contributed photo

Tina & Lena have performed for thousands of people. “I think the 1995 Cenex National Convention in Minneapolis was our big break,” Sue said. “The phones just exploded after that. In one month we did 25 shows.” They’ve been from Washington state to Pennsylvania, from Nebraska to Oklahoma and Arizona, from Florida to Manitoba. They’ve performed for pork producers, farmer’s co-ops and Farmfest, and the Minnesota State Fair numerous times. They’ve done county fairs and performed for Nokia. They’ve entertained car clubs, newspaper associations and service organization conventions. They’ve played for annual association meetings of funeral directors and medical associations. Tina & Lena keep them all laughing, good clean humor and harmony. “Our first ‘long-distance’ trip was to St. Cloud in the late ‘80s. We didn’t even have our own sound system until a few years later,” Lena laughed.

“We’ve flown in a small plane with no heat from International Falls when the temperature was 18 below zero on the ground. We drove past ice-broken telephone poles in the 1997 Blizzard-of-the-Century, so bad that we were finally stranded in Devil’s Lake, trying to get to Rugby, N.D. We were stranded for three days.” Sue and Annette reminisced. “We were flying on New Year’s Eve, at midnight, from 1999 to 2000, during the big Y2K thing,” Sue laughed. Annette added, “Flying from Grand Forks, N.D., in a twin-engine Seneca, when it had been predicted that all the towns would go black because of the Y2K thing. We had special lights ready for us, if needed, at Alexandria’s airport. After performing in Grand Forks we rang in the Millennium with a show at 3 a.m. at Carlos Creek Winery.”

Tina & Lena laugh now about their adventures and the absurdity of them all.

“We performed at the Silver Legacy for the National Agriculture Aviators (spray pilots) convention in Reno, Nev. We laughed at the thought of what it might be like if a big limo picked us up. And there it was…a big limo picking us up.” The memories flow as the ladies talk. They’ve saved all of their calendars, and each audience holds fond memories.

“We always did our research before every show. We thrived on creativity and customization of each show,” Lena said. “It all starts with audience ‘precipitation,’ finding people we can pull once we get into our act,” Tina added. Both agreed, celebrity look-alikes are in every audience.

“Every show was about the people in the audience. It wasn’t about us,” Tina emphasized. “It was magical to find people who played along. They didn’t know we were about to pick them. Before we step on stage we are connecting with them. We sit with them in the audience, just like one of them, before being introduced as the evening’s act.”

Duck Dynasty look-alikes have been the most recent trend. Duck Dynasty celebrities have been asked to quack the Happy Birthday song to a lucky audience member. “We’d look for the classiest ladies in the audience for Desperate Housewives…and when the Dixie Chicks were big, well…hands-down, we worked that into the act. We’ve found Barbara Bush, and we’ve found the Golden Girls. We met Garrison Keillor and found out that we were smarter than him because we knew who he was, but he didn’t know who we were.” The duo continued, “We’ve found Minnie and Pearl, pulling two ladies from the audience, and of course, Larry the Cable Guy is in every crowd. We used fishing and hunting bits and Victoria’s Secret secrets (there are three types of bras: the Catholic bra, which supports the masses. The Salvation Army bra that upholds the downfallen and the Lutheran bra that makes mountains out of molehills.)”

They’ve turned old tunes into their own parodies to fit each crowd. Tina & Lena’s creative juices flow during car rides and over coffee. They’ve written their own lyrics to songs like, Back to School is Here Again to the tune of Happy Days are Here Again…Roll Out the Lefse to the tune of Roll Out the Barrel (as Lena plays her washtub-rolling pin-scrub brush-toilet plunger instrument)…Happy Tails (pet humor) to the tune of the Roy Rogers’/Dale Evans Happy Trails to You…a Minnesota song about people, places and attractions, to the tune of Green Acres…..Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy…and much more.

A drive down I-94 in Wisconsin, on their way to their first appearance at the World Dairy Expo, brought a song to life…about cows, It’s a Cow’s World celebrating guernsey’s and brown Swiss and holsteins…to the tune of Disney’s It’s a Small World. Well, you get the picture. The list goes on. These women are craz-ee creative!

“Those who laugh at themselves will never cease to be amused,” Tina & Lena chimed. The memories are endless and the jokes will continue. In the works now, “I’m looking for my keys, well, they couldn’t have gone far…and I think I’m supposed to be somewhere…but I can’t remember where…”

Time to move on…

Tina & Lena have had quite a ride, and now they will hang up their hats. They hang those vintage hats up with a sentimental song:

I want to sit on my front porch…

live a simple life…

I want to wake up in the morning

to these fields of gold…

Take a long walk down the gravel road….watch my garden grow… live a simple life.

I want to take a blanket down to the creek…

let the water sing me to sleep.

Watch my grandkids grow…

know that I’ll always have someone to hold.

Spend my days in sweet sunshine…

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