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Paul Bunyan's cracked palm after fiberglass was poured into it to fix it. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Repairs needed for Akeley’s Paul Bunyan

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BY Sarah smith

At a time when Paul Bunyan turns 30 and should be the toast of the town, he’s up to his battered knees in a custody battle.

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Akeley city officials and the Krotzer family, which donated/sold the statue 30 years ago, are locked in a bruising battle over the repairs.

The mystifying thing is that the battle has raged since Dean Krotzer died Sept. 27, 2011 between two reasonable factions.

They agree on one thing – the statue is a liability hazard and should be fixed.

They disagree on just about everything else, including the cost, Paul’s repairs in perpetuity and whether the statue was donated or sold.

Some of both.

And both agree that his condition is an embarrassment to a town that recently got a $4,500 tourism grant to promote “Paul’s Birthplace” as the city claims to be.

The fledgling years

Dean Krotzer, a Paul Bunyan aficianodo, started tinkering on the fiberglass statue in his garage east of Akeley after the Akeley Civic and Commerce Association agreed to purchase some of the material and the family would donate the rest of the material and labor for free.

Dean Krotzer’s kids played on it, especially daughter Deana, while it was under construction.

Dean Krotzer copyrighted the design. “I wanted him to be mighty, but gentle,” Dean Krotzer said at the time.

The idea of city ownership was hatched during a conversation with Violet Kramer, an assistant cashier and managing officer at the First National branch in Akeley, according to the family.

Krotzer, a woodworker, had a limited knowledge of fiberglass so he enlisted the help of a now-defunct Park Rapids fiberglass company owned by Bob Ennen and Gordy Breun.

The trio decided on fiberglass because it didn’t chip like concrete or crack like wood. But it still needed regular upkeep.

To get the proportions right, the family multiplied Paul’s size by eight times. The boots are more than six feet long.

But Krotzer added a bigger head to get the look just so.

When the C&C found out Bemidji’s Paul Bunyan statue was 25 feet tall, Akeley decided to go bigger. So Paul, on his knees, rose to 30.5 feet. If he was standing, he’d be 68 feet, the Krotzer family maintains.

According to an Enterprise story from the time, 4.5 tons of welded steel was used, covered by metal lath and then the fiberglass. It was estimated at the time that 180 gallons of resin and 350 yards of fiberglass cloth was used.

Krotzer made an outstretched hand to make the statue more inviting. Thousands of children have sat in the hand and posed for family pictures in the last 30 years.

Paul’s beard and hair were made of 6,000 feet of baling twine saturated in fiberglass.

Paul’s bright yellow suspenders are made of a heavy felt belt saturated in resin.

At the time Krotzer said the statue had been appraised at $75,000. Its value would increase over time, Krotzers were told. He was positioned facing southeast so photographers wouldn’t have to stand on busy Highway 34 to photograph him. The city’s Historical Society paid $10,000 for the work. That’s why most folks, including city leaders, consider it as a donation. The $10,000 barely covered the cost of the materials.

But because Krotzer kept the patent, he owns the intellectual property rights. The patent expires 17 years from the date of application, according to 1790 patent law. The 20 years specified in the 1994 Act may not apply because Paul was grandfathered in, in 1984.

It is possible the patent has expired.

When the trouble started

Years ago during of Paul’s repairs, the city inadvertently deleted Dean Krotzer’s signature from the right foot, which the family claims was a violation of the copyright.

“Well we can just put it back,” the city responded. It didn’t happen and Dean passed away.

Over the years the city made numerous repairs to Paul, which Krotzers objected to. When Dean died all hell broke loose.

The two sides stopped communicating with each other after each had lawyered up.

Now they’re fighting about who should make the repairs and how much to spend. The status has been vandalized

The Krotzers estimated $4,500 to repair and repaint. The city claimed it was being gouged.

The city had an auto body company come out over the winter to fix Paul’s outstretched hand and other areas that had developed major cracks.

Tuesday night, Paul’s palm was deeply cracked and will tear the flesh off any little rumps that choose to perch on it for pictures.

Krotzers have threatened to sue the city for subsequent repairs.

Then there’s the merchandising of the statue.

No one has sold T-shirts, postcards or Paul memorabilia for as long as anyone remembers.

“It wasn’t ever really a cash cow,” said nephew Billy Krotzer, who has taken up the cause to fix the statue.

Deana Krotzer remembers old post cards from years back, but honestly doesn’t know where they are sold.

A pleasant freckled woman, Deana Krotzer is walking a tightrope. She’s engaged to marry Kelly VandenEykel, the city’s water superintendent.

The statue is not discussed at the dinner table.

Meanwhile nephew Billy Krotzer is a volunteer fireman on the East Hubbard County Fire Department.

He hears all the local gossip, the snide remarks about fixing the statue, and feels helpless. So does Deana. The remarks cut them to the quick. Dean’s widow doesn’t even want to discuss the statue any more, she’s so distraught over what has happened.

Over at the city, Mayor Jerry Tatro is another reasonable guy. But the fact is, the cash-strapped city does not have $4,500 in this year’s budget for repairs.

“It’s been a schoolyard fight,” Deana said, characterizing the nature of the squabbling now. “They treat us like we are bad people.”

“It’s just one more thing to fight over,” Billy agreed sadly.

Both love the community and both Krotzers have made repairs up until 2011. Their children play in the park where the statue is. Billy is artistic and said he got his love of art from his grandfather, Dean. He’d love the chance to help with the repairs. Deana, who has helped refurbish the statue numerous times, would, too.

Perhaps public donations should pay for the repairs in perpetuity, since Paul really belongs to all of us.

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Sarah Smith
Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.
(218) 732-3364
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