Several years ago, life long native and former owner of the Park Inn, Anne Hornacek, showed me a painting that she bought from my Aunt Ruta, who was selling her house and going to live with a relative in Detroit. It was a rough portrait of a man wearing a stylish wide-brimmed hat. “I bought it because the man looks like my late father,” Anne said.
“That’s Hagbord,” I said.
“Who?” Anne asked surprised.
“Hagbord Ekerold. He and his wife were good friends of my Aunt Ruta and Uncle William.”
“You’re putting me on,” Anne said.
“No,” I insisted. “I knew them.”
We looked at the portrait closely. Sure enough a pale inscription was in the lower right hand corner. It spelled out “Hagbord.”
He was a giant of a man, a Scandinavian who stood about six feet five. His wife, Helen, used to paint. She was most likely the one who had done the portrait. She was also an actress and used to perform at Duke’s Oak, on the west side of Otsego Lake. They were an odd pair, always dressing in clothing that looked more like costumes than clothes appropriate to care for the geese, ducks, goats and other animals they had on their place, which was situated high on County Route 16 overlooking the Donnelly farm. Jim Donnelly recalls that, “Often the ducks and geese would wander down to our place. The Ekerolds would come after them but eventually some of their flock stayed with us.”
When Hagbord was looking for a second- hand car, Aunt Ruta was instrumental in helping him find a faded maroon 1947 Chevrolet convertible. It wasn’t the most practical car, especially in the winter. In warmer weather, when the Scandinavian would take it for a ride he’d wear driving goggles, I guess because his head topped the windshield. Pulling out of the driveway of my aunt’s house on Lake Street with the top down one afternoon, they made some crew, Hagbord with his goggles, Aunt Ruta riding shotgun with her cane in front of her, and Uncle William puffing on his pipe so that his smoke joined with the Chevy’s as they pulled away. Helen wore a scarf that was so long it was sticking out of the closed door and dragging dangerously near the rear wheel.
A year or two later the Ekerolds left their place outside of Schuyler Lake and moved into an old schoolhouse over in Hartwick. They lined the building with shelves wall-to-wall and filled them with books. Uncle William was a scholar and was impressed with some of the classics they had collected. One late autumn day, as we stood in his den, Hagbord lifted a huge gun off the wall. I think he said it was a fifty caliber. It may have been a souvenir from an expedition he was once on, or maybe it was something he had acquired in his extensive travels. He could shoulder the gun as though it were only a 12 gauge. This was quite a feat. At thirteen I could barely point the muzzle above the floor.
The expedition Hagbord told us about was to the North Pole. He was among the men who installed the first radio station up there. I was impressed but a bit skeptical, and said, “Eskimos don’t have radios.”
“It was a strategic installation,” Hagbord explained. “For government and scientific use.”
I guess finding out that there was actually a real person behind the portrait made it more difficult for Anne Hornacek to imagine that it was a likeness of her father. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything because not long after I identified the man in the sketch, she gave it to me and I have it hanging on the wall at our camp. It serves as a great reminder of time spent with my aunt and uncle and of the collection of unusual friends they had.