Aug. 7, 2006
LP resident shares his love of animals, outdoors
By Ivan Raconteur
The kennels are gone now, and the yard is quiet, but the presence of the dogs that have been such a big part of Don Splettstazer’s life can still be felt.
His Lester Prairie home is filled with photos and mementos of the animals and the hunting trips that have brought him so much joy.
At 84, Splettstazer said this is the first time in his life that he has not had dogs, but while his yard may be empty, his life is far from it.
His sparkling eyes and easy smile radiate the warmth and humor that have made him a popular member of the community for decades.
Splettstazer was born and raised in Lester Prairie, and graduated from Lester Prairie High School in 1940.
After graduation, he went to Dunwoody Institute to learn welding, and then went to work in the Butler Shipyard in Superior, Wis.
It was there that he met his wife, Helene.
“That was one of the best things I have done in my life,” he commented.
They were married in 1944, and 62 years later, they are still together.
Splettstazer joined the Marines, and spent 18 months assigned to the headquarters division stationed in Oahu, Hawaii.
After leaving the marines, Splettstazer returned to Lester Prairie and purchased a concrete block company.
He employed 12 people, and when he sold the company in 1972, some of the employees who started with the company when he bought it were still with him.
Over the years, he served on the Lester Prairie Fire Department, the city council, the school board, and the church board at St. Paul’s Lutheran church.
Apart from his community involvement, Splettstazer’s passions have included dogs, hunting and the outdoors.
“I have always been an ardent hunter,” he said.
He always had dogs, but after he sold the block company, he devoted more of his time to breeding Brittany spaniels, and kept as many as 30 dogs at a time.
“Dogs have been a great part of my life,” he commented.
One of the more unusual chapters in his life came during the early 1970s, and involved his sled dog team.
Instead of building a team of traditional sled dogs, Splettstazer had a team that consisted of six Brittanys, and one coon hound, and his lead dog was a yellow Lab.
He remembers sledding along the Crow River, with no sound but the shush of the runners on the snow.
Splettstazer has hunted all sorts of animals, from the Florida Keys to the wheat fields of Canada. He has gone on fishing expeditions from the back country of Alaska to Isle Royal on Lake Superior.
For 29 years, he and nine other hunters made a regular trip to Canada to hunt geese.
“It was a ritual. Nothing else interfered. He always celebrated his birthday there,” Helene commented.
“A lot of those guys are gone now,” Splettstazer said.
The hunting and the dog breeding took him many places, and he has fond memories of the many people he met in his travels.
Splettstazer has given generations of young people their first experiences with hunting and the outdoors.
Raccoon hunting was especially popular.
“I did my best to pass on whatever wisdom I could,” he said.
He also helped to get the Lester Prairie Sportsman’s Club started, and for many years, was involved in the Gopher Campfire Club in Hutchinson.
Every fall for 30 years, Splettstazer cooked maple syrup at his home.
“Every day after school, kids would come over to help out,” he remembered.
They helped in any way that they could.
Helene always prepared treats for the workers, and when the work was done, Splettstazer would send his helpers home with a quart of the maple syrup that they had helped produce.
Some of his helpers called him “sourdough Don,” because he cooked up a sourdough pancake feed every year.
The Splettstazers have two daughters of their own.
Daughter Carol (Calvin) Kuhlman lives in Jonathan, and daughter Mary (Kevin) Lawrence, lives in Circle Pines. Mary shares one of Splettstazer’s other passions; horses.
Splettstazer was a member of the Wright County Drill Team, and showed horses at the state fair.
“Mary is horse-crazy,” he commented.
“It is in her genes, she can’t help it,” Helene commented.
Splettstazer has accumulated a wealth of knowledge, not just about hunting, but about the history of Lester Prairie.
His father, Jack, was also a coon hunter, and for a time, served as town marshall in Lester Prairie.
Splettstazer said that there were times when a resident might have too many drinks on a Saturday night at one of the local saloons, as they were called then. When that happened, his father would lock them up in the town jail to sober up.
When Splettstazer was 10 or 12 years old, he had the job of stopping by the jail to let the prisoner out on Sunday mornings on his way to church.
The Splettstazers still keep busy with a variety of activities. One recent afternoon found them canning a batch of pickles.
Helene cleaned the top layer of soil off of the cucumbers in her washing machine, and Don’s job was to scrub the pickles before they were transfered to the jars with dill, garlic, and onions.
There is always something to do, and boredom is not a word one is likely to hear in the Splettstazer household.
Splettstazer has seen a lot in his 84 years, and he is thankful for those who have helped him along the way.
“The plant was good to me, and the City of Lester Prairie has been good to me. We are fortunate to have been able to do all of the things we have done,” he said.
Some of his friends are gone, and some of his favorite activities may be behind him, but in his stories and in his laugh, the spirit that has carried him through a life lived to the fullest is as strong as ever.