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Bob Lind, Published January 20 2013

Lind: Radio man from Hawley was pioneer, prankster

According to what is printed on this picture, you might think there once were coffee plantations at Hawley, Minn., and Twin Valley, Minn. Well, not exactly.

Mavis Askland, Fargo, found this old photo and asked Neighbors about it.

Neighbors sent her inquiry to the Hawley Library. Librarian Joy Becker passed it on to Kay Syvrud, Hawley, who in turn found information about this in the book “Journey Back to Hawley,” written by the late Bob Brekken.

The photo, Bob wrote, is of a musical group that performed on KVOX Radio, Moorhead, as part of a program sponsored by Peterson Brothers store in Hawley operated by Axel and Magnus Peterson.

The Hawley store operated from 1903 to 1968. A branch store in Twin Valley operated for several years, but closed in 1941.

Axel was the head of the operation – and the man who once was crowned Coffee King.

Sweden to Hawley

Axel, born in Sweden in 1870, was 6 weeks old when his parents immigrated to Wisconsin, then settled near Lake Park, Minn., in 1871.

He moved to Hawley in 1892 and got a job in a general store in the building he’d later buy for his and his brother’s own business.

Axel held other retail jobs before he and Magnus started Peterson Brothers store, selling men’s and women’s clothing, furniture and other items and also had a potato shipping business.

And for sure, Axel sold coffee. He had coffee beans shipped in, ground them and sold the coffee under the Peterson name.

In 1939, Fairway Foods crowned him Coffee King because he sold more coffee than any other dealer in Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

Strange couple

Axel’s radio program began over KVOX in 1937 on the first night the station went on the air. The program featured talent from the Minnesota towns of Ulen, Hitterdal, Lake Park and Hawley.

He promoted his business in other ways, too, such as having auction sales every Saturday and holding coffee-drinking contests.

And he was a prankster.

One winter day a couple showed up at a Hawley pond to skate. The man was short and the woman, wearing a hood and scarf which covered her face, was very large.

Eventually it was discovered that the man was a local bank employee and the “woman” was Axel.

Another time, Axel went to a masquerade dance disguised as a woman, using pillows under his clothes to make “her” look obese.

Axel married Lena Grue in 1895. They had six children and two grandchildren.

In 1941, Axel was in a car accident during a winter storm and became badly exposed to the weather. He died of a stroke, at age 70, a week later.

So Hawley lost a pioneer businessman and one of its biggest boosters. If anyone criticized the town, he’d ask, “Where could you find a better place to live than Hawley?”

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com