Written By: Beverly Godfrey for the Duluth News Tribune | June 6th 2020 – 4pm.
The Radisson has selected the winner of its 50th anniversary “tell us your stories” contest, and it’s Mary Jo White of Proctor. (Cheers and applause, please.) She’ll be getting a two-night stay at the landmark hotel and a $100 gift card at JJ Astor, the famed spinning restaurant. In an unplanned plot twist, a second-place winner was chosen, too: Leonard Weiss of Knife River, who will receive a one-night stay and $50 gift card.
The winners were chosen by Nancy Kilpo, director of sales and marketing for Radisson Hotel Duluth-Harborview, whom I talked to for a column that ran on May 10. But enough about that. Let’s get on to the stories.
Mary Jo White
As an employee of KDLH-TV, Channel 3, our station, at that time in a fairly new building, was located on the corner of 5th Avenue West and Superior Street. We all watched the ground-breaking and the hotel rise, floor after floor, until completion in 1970. The Radisson hired Channel 3 to produce a half-hour show to introduce the place to our viewing area. I was handed that assignment, and I went on to write and produce a 30-minute tour. The manager, Clark Dohm, really liked the final product, and he invited the entire staff to dinner at the “Top of the Harbor.”
Everything was wonderful until my co-worker across the table became extremely upset because her purse was missing. We looked all over but could not find the purse. Then we all broke into laughter when we realized she didn’t “lose” the purse; she set on the floor by the window. We simply rotated away from it, and it was still there on the floor a few tables back where she left it!
I remember the big blizzard of 1971. Most of the staffers could not get home that night, so our station manager, John LaForge, made arrangements for guest rooms at the Radisson for anyone at the TV station who needed to stay downtown. As luck would have it, I had just produced a TV commercial for Glass Block that very day. This was a fancy nightgown commercial, and I had an entire case of them, which I immediately handed out to the ladies at the station. The funniest part of this whole weather event happened when our friend, Marsh Nelson, went home and packed a bag and came back to the hotel. By 10 that night, the snow had stopped and the streets were clear, but we stayed at the Radisson overnight anyway.
The very last laugh at the Radisson’s Top of the Harbor, now JJ Astor, happened a short time ago. My husband and I and friends were getting ready to leave after dinner when we noticed our server on her hands and knees crawling around on the carpet by our table. She told us she couldn’t find our credit card that we had just handed her. After a long time searching, my husband said it probably fell into the crack that separates the rotating floor. We had to get maintenance to come up, stop the rotation and remove the section of the floor where we thought it could have landed. And there it was, dusty but none the worse for wear.
In March of 2007, March “came in like a lion.” I was working for St. Louis County with offices in the Government Services Center on Second Street West and 4th Avenue. Duluth received three or four major snowfalls and blizzards all in that first week of March, and I had recently moved to Knife River.
It had snowed Sunday night with the promise of much more to come. I had made it to work Monday. Snow was heavy, and the prediction was for a really big blizzard that night. By work day’s end, I was thinking, “I’m not sure I can make it home tonight, let alone be able to work in the morning!”
I recalled that I had received a few free nights at the Radisson, rewards for some purchases or promotions, prizes I had always intended to give to visiting friends. That Monday afternoon, I decided to use them myself.
I was put in a room in mid-level with views of downtown along Superior Street and toward Canal Park. That night, the state of Minnesota closed its local offices for a week, as snow and storms were predicted for extended days, but the county was still open. Soon afterward, the city of Duluth closed all its local offices, but the county was still open!
The next day, the U.S. post office and all federal offices closed, but the county was still open! I was able to walk to work, even though attempts at this became increasingly difficult as the drifts stretched across the now-unshoveled sidewalks, with regular drifts that were frequently over 3 feet high.
Wednesday or Thursday, the county was the only public office still open! Snow was increasing and wind blowing hard, the DTA canceled all bus service — the snowplows themselves were pulled off the streets!
I had used both my free stays for those first two nights, so I paid for the next two nights. I felt blessed to be there. Here I was, safe, comfortable, cozy, a pool downstairs, and a very entertaining view, with a short though challenging walk/slog to work. I recall looking out my room window as snowmobiles raced down Superior Street as the only type of traffic to be seen.
Saturday, I walked to Canal Park. I had lived on Park Point a couple years earlier. As I had heard only in stories from residents, I now observed for myself, in true amazement. Here in front of me, as the stories had portrayed, were some people who were literally leaving their homes from their second-story windows; and in some places, snow had drifted and reached as high as the telephone wires!
My Radisson hotel stay had enabled that adventure, as well as comfort and safety in being able to walk to work each day because “the county was still open”!
I was always amazed by the Radisson hotel! So many times, I wanted to go there in order to eat at the “Top of the Harbor.” But we lived 65 miles from Duluth.
The WDSM radio announced Elvis was coming to Duluth in April 1977. They were going to be giving away concert tickets and a free night at the Radisson. But you had to identify certain words in a variety of songs. It would only be one, two or three words. I think it was about 20 songs. I was excited, as I was crazy about Elvis. I bought all his records and played them often. I had purchased tickets for the show already.
We had about a week before the contest ended. I kept listening to see if they had a winner. I was surprised one day when the disc jockey called me to tell me I was a winner! (I believe it was Tim Michaels.) I had guessed correctly every song but one. It was from “Promised Land.” Nobody else had guessed more. He then asked me if I had worked with the other winner, or if I knew her. Turns out, we went to high school together. But we never worked on the contest together.
I thought we might get back-stage passes, but no such luck. But it was a great concert! I wanted to eat at the hotel, but my husband wanted to go to Club Saratoga! No food there.
When we got back to the hotel, I watched every elevator to see if Elvis would appear. We ended up eating pizza. I found out later, Elvis ate at the hotel at a restaurant I wanted to eat at. Everyone there got to meet him. I never forgave my husband for that!
Richard and Winnie Anderson
My husband, Richard H. Anderson of Esko, celebrated his 86th birthday on May 31. He takes much pride as a journeyman carpenter who was employed by Al Hedenberg and Co. during the construction of the Radisson. He layed out all of the floors and installed most of the windows. His favorite memory is that he helped put up the very first lighted Christmas tree on the roof.
We have shared this beautiful hotel and restaurant with family and many out-of-town guests. Our youngest son, Brad, proposed to his wife, Jodi, on July 2, 1990, at the top of the Radisson.
The rotation of your restaurant with the spectacular view of Duluth is special when we traditionally celebrate Richard’s birthday there. We truly love the memories of this landmark in Duluth!
Back in 1990, our son was activated with the National Guard, and this was new for the guard at that time. They were sent to Wisconsin to prepare to be shipped off. Our son worked at the Radisson and had just learned he was going to have his first child while he was gone.
When, as a family, we went to Wisconsin to see him off, along with our nephew and many dear friends, the Radisson gave us some free rooms and many discounted ones. The kindness shown to our family was beyond belief. Fast-forward 15 years, and his daughter was moving with her mom to the Twin Cities and leaving her dear friends at a pivotal time for her due to a new job opportunity for her stepdad.
We threw her a combination birthday and going away party, and I decided to take her and her girlfriends to the Radisson presidential suite to have a final pajama party. Again, the Radisson made this event very special! Then a few years ago, I had a very special friend who was dying of cancer, and the only wish she had was to go to the top of the Radisson and have a fancy dinner with 10 friends. Again, the Radisson made this very special; we arrived with her in a limo, and she was treated like a queen. So this place has always held a special place in my heart. I thank you for the memories!
I worked at the Radisson from 1975-1980 as a busboy and room service attendant, including while I was a senior in high school. I also was a bartender at the Whaleback, Top of the Harbor, and party bars.
I brought Elvis Presley most of his meals when he came both times. The first time he came, the entire entourage stayed on the 12th floor. I brought them beer by the case, and when I would come back with a new case, the entire used case was full of empty bottles.
The security (Duluth P.D.) had the doors tied shut with broom handles and ropes. I had a weapon drawn on me by Officer Bob Larson when I came up the stairs trying to get to Elvis’ room with food.
There is a picture of me, Elvis and Miss Tennessee on the service elevator when they arrived at 2-3 a.m. We had a conversation about Duluth, how cold it was, how beautiful the city looked flying in, etc. He asked me if there was any place that I could get him a banana split, and I said yes, Bridgeman’s downtown was still open. I personally brought him two of them.
The waitresses who knew I was bringing him food wrote notes on his sugar and creamer packets that they loved him and wanted to meet him. I found them and removed them. They asked if they could hide on the cart under the table cloth. I had to say no. They were very, very persistent. I had to say no for fear of losing my job.
One of them was the person who claims to have his mattress. I can neither confirm nor deny that claim.
The second trip, Elvis asked for me by name to deliver his food. When he saw me, he said, “Hello, Mr. Allan, come in.” I was shocked that he would remember my name. (He probably didn’t remember my name and was told by somebody.) I still like to think from his sincerity in his voice that he had remembered me.
I believe the enclosed picture of one of his meals was the second trip. Presidential suite 1515, as we called it back then. We spoke for probably 15-20 minutes . Very nice conversation about why he came back. He loved the cityscape of Duluth and the lake. He loved the fans, he said.
My wood shop teacher at Denfeld, Mr. Nyholm, told me that his wife would love to see Elvis. I told them when Elvis would be arriving and to be by the service elevator. I believe they were able to see him when I was on the elevator with Elvis.
Beverly Godfrey is features editor of the News Tribune. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.