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Davis a former postmaster, fire chief, justice of the peace

Joan and Duane Davis are enjoying a slower pace in retirement.1 / 7
The post office once served 600 people, but has grown to 1,500 today.2 / 7
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Duane Davis was a postmaster in Verndale, among other things.4 / 7
"Peeping" chicks were a necessary nuisance.5 / 7
Davis spent 34 years as a fireman, 17 of them as the fire chief.6 / 7
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In an urban landscape the size of Verndale, it is not unusual to find a competent person wearing more than one hat, like Duane (Butch) Davis, who wore three. He was the post master, fire chief, and justice of peace.

Duane was born to Everett and Sarah Davis in 1932 on a farm near Wadena. Aside from farming, Everett was a meat cutter. Working with him taught his son the trade also.

Duane's first job was cutting meat in a market in Park Rapids. He worked there a year, then he was called home to help in his father's shop in Verndale. After a stint in the Army, Duane cut meat in the Crosby-Ironton area.

In 1956, Duane followed Floyd Lepper as the post master in Verndale, a position he still held 39 years later when he retired. Records show Duane never, in all those years, took a single day off. He and Joan Harrison were married in September 1950.

Some 600-plus patrons enjoyed postal service then, while today more than 1,500 get their mail in Verndale. One thing that has not changed is that a post office must be open each and every single work day, no matter what.

It was not unusual for Duane to get 70-pound sacks of feed that had to be moved, big tires, or have to keep track of a tiny package that held a wedding ring. Rural post masters dreaded spring. That's when farm wives ordered baby chicks, universally unhappy little critters bent on peeping their heads off.

While his wife was ordering chicks, the farmer sent for bees. Duane recalled that when he opened the post office door in the morning he could hear them buzzin', with usually a couple who got loose flyin' around the crates. He didn't look forward to catalog time either, but at least they were quiet and stayed put.

Filling hours not claimed by his job posed no problem for Duane. Becoming a fireman took care of that, what with always something to do down at the station, whether there was a fire or not.

Duane was a fireman 34 years, the last 17 as its chief. The biggest blaze they fought was the Great Northern Hotel fire in Staples.

Arson? There may have been some, but it wasn't a fireman's job to deal with it.

They knew of one time for sure. That time the guy sloshing gasoline around got his pants on fire. He got burned real bad. Did the guy who set himself on fire die? Nope, he didn't hear if he did, either.

Duane said there is one thing he can claim for sure. The Verndale fire department was in better shape he left it than the way he found it. When he came on board the supply closet consisted of three pairs of huge boots and three slickers. That was it, folks. Honest.

You should have heard the guys howl when Duane's house, the fire chief's house, caught on fire. Wires shorting out were soon extinguished.

The Verndale Fire Department was the first one in the county to get Emergency Medical Technician training as well as the first Jaws of Life equipment. Duane said, "Now medical calls for the fire department exceed fighting fires."

Those were not relaxing times for Joan, who was home with their eight children. She knew the dangers in fighting fires was one of the highest risk jobs on the list. Her husband was a people person, he liked to help, so what could she do? They have 20 grandchildren.

Serving as the justice of peace was dealing with people often in a situation of their own making. Duane soon learned the cure for a mouthy belligerent drunk was throwing him in jail for the night. He could scarcely recognize the pathetic, subdued creature who crept to him in the morning.

Since many times the services of a justice of peace are called for at night, the Davis' back entry often doubled as court room. He never knew what to expect other than each one would try him to the limit.

There was the frantic mother of an errant son who argued furiously that her son's arrest wasn't legal because the officer wasn't wearing a hat. If the officer had been wearing a hat the boy would have seen the cop, he would have been more careful, wouldn't have done what he did, now would he?

Duane knew that marrying couples was part and parcel of a peace officer's job. But he refused, he absolutely said a resounding "No!" Not after having all three of the couples he'd married soon after finding their way to divorce courts. The very thought of marrying others made him feel sick he felt so bad. Let 'em go to a preacher.

One night an officer stopped a car he said was speeding on U.S. Highway 10, now wouldn't you just know it? When the driver didn't agree with him, the officer asked him to step out of the car. The guy filled the car door and kept going up and up.

Duane said: "Well, when he was brought to me, I leaned on him a little bit, talked kind of tough-like, you know. I wanted to show him he wasn't boss in Verndale." The guy's name was Carl Eller, professional football player for the Minnesota Vikings.

Duane not only got along well with people, but enjoyed what he was doing. When Verndale's centennial year came up in 1967, it seemed to Duane that the town should have some kind of a celebration, so he dreamed up "Straw Hat And Sun Bonnet Days." It became so popular they have had one every summer since. Parade chairman was another one of his jobs for years.

While Duane's plate has been full, he still found time to belong to the National Guard Unit in Wadena for 22 years as well as working up to company commander. He came on board when the unit was first formed in Wadena and the Armory was built.

Life for the Davises has slowed down to a pace that suits them better. They keep up a roomy house and yard. A sign near the front door hints at what else they do with their time. It warns, "ANY CHILD LEFT HERE WILL BE SPOILED WHILE YOU WAIT."