Minnesota Nice

North Dakota Even Nicer


Jack Quinn, from the PCH Prize Patrol, Trying To Tell a Farmer (Looking for a needle – in a haystack) That He’s Won the Sweepstakes!

Travel Log for Sean Brennan & Jack Quinn

Part of the PCH Prize Patrol

May 13 – 15, 2008

A documentary on the DVD of the movie Fargo is entitled, “Minnesota Nice” and you quickly find out why as you meet people throughout the state.  From a waitress at T.G.I. Friday’s in the airport in Minneapolis to the guys who helped us find the way to the Sappi Paper Plant in Cloquet, Minnesota, people were very generous in their spirit and in their time and it made the trip a quite memorable one. 


Minnesota is known as the Land Of 10,000 Lakes (perhaps you’ve heard of the butter by a similar name) and it’s amazing how many lakes you see across the state as you drive from north to south and east to west as we did.  Just as there are (actually over) 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, I feel like we have just as many stories to share from my short 4-day trip to the area. 


Moose Lake, Minnesota

On Tuesday we arrived at the Moose Lake Florists in Moose Lake, Minnesota to pick up the flowers we had ordered and to have our Publishers Clearing House balloons blown up.  Jack had told the owner that we were coming from Publishers Clearing House in New York to pick up the flowers on Tuesday but he had a feeling she didn’t believe him.


When we pulled up in the Prize Patrol van and walked in her shop with our jackets on and smiles firmly in place, she was shocked.  She had prepared the flowers just in case, but said that she still didn’t believe it until she saw the whites of our eyes.  The florist shops we used doubled as media rendezvous points as well, an easy place we could inform the local media to meet us before heading to the still unannounced winner’s home nearby. 


None of the Duluth-area media were able to make it, we suspect because we weren’t awarding millions of dollars or that they had to rush to cover a big story somewhere else.  The small town of Moose Lake knew we had arrived in town though and besides just the local coffee shop patrons and other passers-by ogling at us and wondering if we were just some elaborate hoax or the real deal, the two local newspaper publishers quickly showed up to cover the story. 

Here is a link to a picture that the Moose Lake Star Gazzette had on their front page for a few weeks.


Everyone wanted to know who the winner was but we kept our cards tight and wouldn’t show them our hand.  In a small town like this, the chances that someone knows (and might alert) the winner are much greater.  So we finally get going, Jack at the steering wheel with the big check near his seat and me in the back of the caravan with the dozen roses (prepared Miss America style of course) and balloons ready to jump out once we pulled up to the winner’s home (still known only to us).  The newspaper publishers were following us in their pickup trucks and the adrenaline was officially flowing big time. 


We turned down this road and that, over that way and down this road, finally arriving on a dirt road 15 minutes outside of town.  We see our winner’s house (thankfully the address was posted clearly) and pull up between his house and the neighbor’s.  Immediately, one of the newspaper publishers jumps out of his truck and runs up to our car window.  “I gotta know now!  Who’s the winner??!!” Jack showed him the check with the winner’s name.  “Ohhh!  That’s my next door neighbor!  I live right there!”  The publisher of the local newspaper in Moose Lake lived right next door to our first winner and followed us all the way watching us turn on this road and that, down all these back roads and as we turned on his street his heart was pounding away wondering if it was him who had won. 


The next part of this story I’ll tell in fast-forward-scan mode.  The winner wasn’t home so we drove 20 minutes to where we thought he worked (a Sappi paper mill in Cloquet, Minnesota) based on what the newspaper publisher/next-door neighbor told us.  The Prize Patrol van sign started coming off in the rain that had been coming down quite heavily, so we pulled off the road and re-secured it.  As we were there in the rain trying to get it on, these two guys pulled up next to us and after realizing we were the real thing, offered to show us the way to the guy’s job.  They did and to show our gratitude (and so they could tell their friends) I used the one guy’s camera phone to take a picture of them with Jack and the Prize Patrol van.  We got to the factory but the guard said he had no record of the guy working there so we went back to Moose Lake and left everything with the local newspaper publisher/neighbor of the guy.  And that, in as few words as possible, was the story of our first of three Prize Patrol adventures in Minnesota.  Random picture:



And for the story as published by one of the local newspapers, click or copy this link:

http://www.ml-star-gazette.com//index.php and click “story…” underneath that first picture. 


Lake Superior


Here’s just a short note about this part of the trip.  After awarding the prize in Moose Lake, we drove to Duluth and stayed there that night at a cool place called Fitger’s Inn which is right on Lake Superior.  

Two notes: Bob Dylan was from Duluth and they are of course very proud of that fact.  Also, take a look at Lake Superior on a map of The United States.  It’s almost as large as New York State.  So it was quite impressive looking out at what looked like an ocean, seeing Wisconsin up on one side and knowing Canada was on another unseen side.  Lake Superior is also the location of the lake that was so violent that it caused the Edmund Fitzgerald to sink – causing Gordon Lightfoot’s song “The Ballad of the Edmund Fitzgerald  One view below:



Brainerd, Minnesota

The folks at V.I.P. Weddings (a combination flower shop and wedding chapel) wanted us to somehow surprise the winner and have the media right there in their shop.  Publishers Clearing House isn’t going to change its whole way of surprising.  We always surprise our winners at their home or business or hospital…more on that below.  We had them take a picture with us though.  See below.


Okay so we had the local PBS affiliate there and he followed us to the winner’s home.  But he wasn’t there either.  We went to the local hospital where he was having his hearing aid adjusted.  He was 85 and in a wheelchair, a WWII vet from the Merchant Marine.  He stated that he would tithe 10% to his church, put half in the bank and then go buy a gun! For his collection.  So let’s go to the videotape—so to speak.  Click/go here and our news story is at 6 minutes 10 seconds in so let it load up:


Robert Hall, Brainerd, Minnesota


This story may only be online until this Wednesday the 21st though, I’m not sure.  So check it out!  I’m going to try and get the video on DVD from the station though.


Fargo, North Dakota

We got into Fargo the night before awarding our third and final $1,000 prize check.  The city is like a small town on Long Island or anywhere else but due to the surrounding country/open plains, it’s as city as you’re going to get.  Still it makes up for its small size in great amounts of good people, good restaurants and cultural activities and a fantastic hotel called The Hotel Donaldson which was recently named a top hotel in National Geographic Traveler.  Here is a link to a collage of newspaper stories that they had in their lobby about the restoration process for this hotel, epitomized by this neon key sign.

 We stayed at the Donaldson and made a visit to their rooftop bar which sports lounge chairs, a wild prairie garden and even a hot tub (which was unfortunately closed the night we were there).  Jack and I asked some nice people nearby to take our picture:


And within the hour those same nice people were buying us drinks and—talk about North Dakota Nice—even bought us these cool sweatshirts (the hotel’s nickname is “HoDo Fargo”:

Yes, the Titanic really was the ship of dreams.  Wait, what was I saying?  Oh right, Fargo.  So these same people didn’t stop there.  One was a local businesswoman named Sharon Hilgers, of Fargo, who was so sweet to us.  She should be made in charge of the Fargo Welcome Wagon if there was such a committee in their Chamber of Commerce.  She and her daughter, Sarah Hilgers, Fitness Director at Athletic Republic, Fargo, were incredibly nice to the both of us.  They were dining with their friends, Gayle Jaeger of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Fargo, and her husband, “Mick” Jaeger, who is pictured above with us modeling our new sweatshirts.  This was all in the space of 2 hours of meeting them.

The Fargo area winner, Marg Cossette, lived out in the farms outside of town but was also not home, so we asked some neighbors and found her at her insurance agency job back in Fargo.  These are the nice folks at Connie’s Petals, in Kindred, ND who supplied us the flowers for Marg, although we ended up having to go back to Fargo to give them away.

This is the view on the way to her house:

 She was delighted with the surprise and we were so happy to make her day.  This and more pictures below:

Our winner in Fargo, North Dakota, Marg Cossette




When we called Sharon Hilgers, of Park Co Realtors, to tell her about the Fargo winner (pictures above), she recommended a great place to eat called The Old Broadway. 

When we got to the restaurant, the owner of the place met us and welcomed us to his establishment.  Sharon had called him to say we’d be in.  Jack was looking for a nice Bison Filet Mignon that Sharon had mentioned they had but it turned out was only available at dinner time.  No problem at all, the owner told Jack, because Sharon called ahead, he had dispatched his night chef to start early to cook him up his Buffalo Filet Mignon!  Then while at dinner, a woman approached our table.  She was from the local art museum and presented us with posters to take home, (courtesy of Sharon Hilgers):

Sharon had called her too!  But wait!  There’s more!  When we got to the airport, a voice from behind us called, “You must be Jack and Sean from Publishers Clearing House!  I don’t mean to be a stalker, but I’ve been trying to track you guys down.” 

He was David K. Martin, President of The Fargo Chamber Of Commerce and he wanted to thank us for coming to Fargo.  He said Sharon had called the Mayor of Fargo, who was meeting with the Governor of North Dakota.  Somehow, the President of the Chamber of Commerce came out to meet us at the airport as we were leaving.  Unbelievable. 

He had heard we were at the Old Broadway restaurant and missed us there, then tried to catch us at the Plains Art Museum in town but we had only been able to see that (for a traveling Auguste Rodin exhibition) for about 15 minutes so he missed us there too.  He was a very nice man and we of course had so many nice things to say about Sharon Hilgers, Sarah Hilgers, and the Jaegers and our whole experience in Fargo.  And finally, as we got just a little further into the airport, we were met by another man who also knew our names.  He was Shawn A. Dobberstein, Executive Director of the Fargo Airport!  He too wanted to thank us for coming to Fargo and presented us with gifts from the gift shop as a small token of his thanks.  All in all, we were—and still are—floored by the generosity of these kind Fargo citizens.  Our only regret was that we could not stay longer in town!  All the more reason to go back some day soon!  Side note: Most of the time, Sharon was trying to get the Mayor of Fargo to meet us too.  He had business in Bismarck with the Governor and wasn’t returning until after our flight left.  Unbelievable coolness all around.

Sean Brennan in Minnesota

Sean with Paul Bunyan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Bunyan_(lumberjack)


Marg Cossette and her co-workers from American Family Insurance in Fargo, North Dakota


What a great job we had!  Making people smile all over Minnesota and North Dakota!  It’s something I’ll never forget!


Along the way – some other interesting sights!


Duluth, Minnesota


Minneapolis, Minnesota (where Mary Tyler Moore worked) at night.





Outside Brainerd, Minnesota, Jacks Shack (Jack Quinn with his business namesake)


Attending a livestock auction on the prairies in Minnesota


Funny sight – America’s smallest car – the Smart – on a flatbed trailer in North Dakota, land of the wild open spaces.



And then with the flight back it was over