Column: 'Orville Wee Story' would be great on the big screen

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note : Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Oct. 8, 2005.

WORTHINGTON - I will see you at the movies.

Ken Burns is making a documentary movie of the American homefront during World War II. He had film crews this summer at Luverne, which is one of the locales. The last week of August, there were filmmakers at Arnolds Park. Arnolds Park and the amusement park will be backdrops for another, upcoming movie. Earlier in the summer, Garrison Keillor brought film stars to the Fitzgerald Theater at St. Paul for “Prairie Home Companion -- The Motion Picture.”

Someone said, “Maybe we should make a movie.” I said, “I don’t think we have anything to make a movie about.” Now I think we do.

I spent part of an afternoon at The Meadows, talking with Orville Wee. Orville Wee’s stories would make a great film.


Consider this for a tickling scene: Orville entered the army in June 1942. He advanced quickly through the ranks; he was soon a bucksergeant. At that time, all U.S. Army nurses were women and all were commissioned officers -- 2nd lieutenants, 1st lieutenants, captains.

Sgt. Wee drew the assignment of teaching nurses/officers to march. Close order drill. “Left face! Right face! Forward, march! To the rear, march!” Every morning, Orville marched his troop of nurses to the drill ground and put them through their marching paces.

For a movie scene with dramatic tension, consider the gray afternoon in the early years of the Great Depression. Orville was at Litchfield, hitchhiking to Dawson. A car went by with a man driving and with another man in the back seat. The car stopped and backed up. Orville got in the front seat. They were heading for Willmar.

Orville turned toward the back. “Don’t look back there!” the driver barked. Orville started to explain what he was doing. “Shut up!” said the driver. The trio drove into Willmar and dropped Orville off at an alley.

He started down the sidewalk, past a filling station where he saw everyone with their hands in the air. It turned out the men in the car were notorious brothers of that era who held up a string of filling stations. The brothers believed officers were watching for cars with two men, so they picked up the hitchhiker to make a crew of three. “They carried guns,” Orville reflects.

A more cheerful memory is from Turkey Day 1966, when Orville was president of Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce. It befell him to sit on the speaker’s platform near the curb in front of the red brick, 1894 courthouse. Sen. Robert Kennedy was on Orville’s right side, and Sen. Walter Mondale was on his left.

“I’m sure Kennedy saw nothing of the parade,” Orville remembers. “There was a crowd that never quit -- people pushing close to get Kennedy’s autograph.”

Orville and Walter watched the parade -- Orville was manager of the Watland Implement enterprise on Oxford Street, and Walter was representing Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. The two had a great deal to talk about. Both are sons of pastors, both are native Minnesotans, both have roots in small towns, both were achievers in their fields.


Orville remembers, “I wondered how we ever would get Kennedy out of there -- get him through that crowd. They made arrangements to get him in the courthouse. They brought a motorcade to a back door and away he went.”

Orville, eldest among three brothers and a sister, remembers the parsonage at Dawson, his boyhood home.

“The congregation provided the parsonage. But my father went 17 months with no check, no pay. People of the congregation brought chickens, and canned meat. We had an ice box.”

After graduation, Orville worked with a highway construction crew and then helped to build the Adams County courthouse at Hettinger, N.D. By this date, Orville’s younger brother had enrolled at St. Olaf College, Northfield.

“I decided that was a wise choice,” Orville said. He went to Northfield and became a classmate of his brother, earning majors in economics and biology.

Orville became one of 16 young men selling “Pictorial Review,” door to door in Minneapolis and Duluth, living in 75-cent hotel rooms. He became a World War II officer in the Philippines with the Medical Administration Corps. There are 43 other stories. I tell you, the Orville Wee saga would be a fine movie. Stop by one afternoon and visit with him.

Orville Wee died July 7, 2009, in Worthington.


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