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With long roots, Odalens stay in El Paso spotlight

EL PASO--It's not like Bud and Marion Odalen have never had moments of notoriety as long-time El Paso residents.

The 1942 Spring Valley flood occurred on their wedding day. The couple, in their 80s and still active, remembered Wednesday how they couldn't get away from the then-Rush River church for a honeymoon in Red Wing and ended up spending the night at his sister's, the Bjornson farm.

"Some of our guests couldn't come," Odalen said about getting through the high water covering many buildings' first floors. "We had to use candles...there were no lights."

He said he first met his future wife at the El Paso Bar, established in the mid-1930s by her father, Bill Steiner. Both recalled how the business was originally contained in what today constitutes a small part of the premises. Even now, owner Phil Huggett stocks their favorite beer, Schmidt, behind the counter in their honor.

His father, Amund, achieved some recognition, too, writing the West El Paso news as a correspondent for area publications.

The Odalens don't crave this kind of attention, it just seems to follow them. Their latest step into the spotlight will occur on Sunday, Aug. 20, when they'll serve as grand marshals for the El Paso Days parade. The pair was modest about the honor last week.

"We don't even know if we have to walk (in the parade)," he said.

They were assured the late Howard Iverson's convertible will be available to give them transportation in the parade. Since it was begun in the mid-1980s, they've only missed the celebration once, last year due to Mrs. Odalen being ill.

Odalen is used to walking around El Paso, having regularly made the trek from the family farm to the former local one-room school as a youth, he said. The schoolhouse was populated by up to 40 students and Richard Hines was one of his most memorable teachers when he was an eighth grader.

"We used to play ball on the field there," he said after being asked for his favorite school subject: recess.

While growing up, he helped around the 120-acre farm, milking 12 cows, putting loose hay in the barn and doing other chores, he said. He recalled how area farmers brought their grain to Jones Mill (to which this year's celebration is dedicated) and had feed for their cattle ground there. He also thought back to when ice was cut from behind the nearby dam, sometimes using a crosscut saw, lifting the blocks with tongs and packing them in sawdust for iceboxes in area homes.

After they married, the Odalens farmed locally for several years before moving to New Richmond in 1946, he said. He worked with the mixers at the Doboy plant plus at the former Maple Island creamery. Upon returning to El Paso in 1949, he spent 38 years employed by the Ellsworth Co-op Creamery, mostly in the lab.

From 1949-'56, the couple lived in a house across the road from Adolph's Log Cabin, he said. They raised four children, including two sons, Ronald and Bill, now of Mendota Heights, Minn., and Bergenfield, N.J., respectively, and two daughters, Bonnie, who lives in River Falls, and the late Ellie, who died of cancer in 2000. They have 14 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Odalen said she's worked at the former Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service office in Ellsworth, at McMillan's in Woodville and at Mark Anderson Associates in Spring Valley over the years. Her husband joined her at Anderson's for awhile and both still do assembly jobs from there at home.

They enjoy traveling and babysitting for their family.