On Saturday, several dozen people tailed into the Diamond Mall in Clarkfield, took a second to gaze at the plate glass store- front of the Ink Spot, shuffled through the Friendship Cafe—nodding to the tables they knew—before stopping to mill in the cafe’s back banquet room; jockeying for their chance to pay respect to Lee and Brenda Ohlson following their sale and subsequent retirement from the Ink Spot.
The Ohlsons have run the Ink Spot, one of Clarkfield’s most visible businesses, for the past 22 years and recently sold it to David a Deb Werner from Montevideo.
Brenda runs through the past 22 years with a scrapbook in hand; tracing with her finger frozen moments from her business’s and family’s history; stopping every few moments to receive well wishes from people just entering, or just leaving her retirement open house.
“We started by renting just 10 feet from Leeland Johnson in the mall here,” says Brenda thinking back. She reveals later that the day they started a man walked over to tell them they’d never make it running a printing house in little ol’ Clarkfield. She laughs now at the irony that here they are 22 years later and that man has up and left.
Brenda details the work the print shop has done; work surely seen by everyone in this area; work that sits on people’s counter tops, or in cupboards; work hanging on people’s walls; the valued and treasured work that can be created by simply applying ink to paper.
Books, remembrances, artwork, pamphlets and posters, mailings and forms, “All that’s fit to print” as they say, and then some; that’s what the Ink Spot has produced, though many may not know it. You know those church cook books? The ones from little churches is Clarkfield, Hazel Run, Montevideo, Hector and all places in between? The ones that grandma used and mom borrowed? Those spiral bound books that were paged through more often (and possibly even treasured more faithfully) then the family bible? Yup, the Ink Spot probably made those.
“I’ve just loved it,” says Brenda of printing. “It’s so fun to see something you’ve made. Even something simple like a business form, you look at it, or show somebody ‘I did that’. That’s pretty cool.”
Print may run in the Ohlson’s blood. Brenda started out working in a print shop in Canby and was hooked. And Lee has worked much of his life as a press man. “I think you just have to have a pica mind,” says Brenda conjuring the image of a brain wired specifically to think in terms of printing measurements.
Page 2 of 2 - Brenda details how Lee got a job running his own press at the Tyler Journal. The couple was living in the Twin Cities when they came across an advertisement looking for a print man to run the press in Tyler. Lee had been watching a printer where he worked and told Brenda “I bet I could do that”. The ad stated that interested applicants should call a collect number, but Lee spent his own dime to call down to Tyler. “They said he got the job, because he didn’t call collect says Brenda with a laugh recalling the moment.
Since then both Lee and Brenda have worked for publishers throughout the area, at little newspapers in places like Tyler, Clarkfield and Granite Falls; running presses with manufacturer names like A.B. Dick, Heidelberg, Chief and Cord. Lee, like most old press men, can reproduce the sound that each chugging and banging leviathan of machinery made. He pumps his arm making a rhythmic crashing sound while pointing to a picture of himself standing next to one of the giant machines, “That Chief there, boy... Yeah, that was a noisy one.”
Besides the Ink Spot, Lee also has run the family farm between Clarkfield and Hazel Run. Brenda says he began retiring a couple years ago with the onset of dementia.
The Ohlson’s raised three children while running the Ink Spot: Stacy, Aaron and Taunja, and currently have seven grandchildren.
Brenda calls employees Marcia Brock and Karen Johnson her “Rocks of Gibraltar”, each equally faithful in work and friendship.
For the new owners of the Ink Spot her advice is: “It’s just important to do one copy as it is 1,000. It’s those people who do one copy that keep coming back.” That same statement might explain how the Ohlson’s have been successful running a print shop in a town of just 1,000 people.
“It’s going to be very different,” says Brenda of the Ohlson’s retirement. “I guess we’ll do some traveling. I’m going to read more. And we’re going to spend some more time at the lake...
“Now I guess we can leave things ‘till tomorrow.”