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Greg Jolstad

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Greg Jolstad
Greg Jolstad is a construction worker who fell into the Mississippi River when the I-35W bridge collapsed last week.
Photo courtesy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Greg Jolstad's friends called him Jolly "because of his name, and because that's just how he was."

Bill Stahlke remembers ice fishing almost daily, as teenagers, with Jolstad and Jim Hallin on Knife Lake, near the Jolstad family farm. The three haven't missed a winter on the lake in the nearly 30 years since they graduated together from Mora High School.

"He never had a fish-finder or anything like that. He just fished the old-fashioned way, and he caught fish like a son of a gun," Stahlke says of Jolstad. "He made his own fish house out of plywood and poly tarp. Nothing fancy, but it got 'er done."

The three would eat the homemade chili from Jolstad's wife, Lisa, then sit in the ice house and lose sense of time, testing Jolstad's encyclopedic knowledge of Minnesota sports. 

If you threw out the number of a Minnesota Vikings or Twins player, Jolstad could tell you the name of the person filling out the jersey.

Inevitably, Jolstad would catch more fish than he could keep, and he would give much of it away to seniors and others.

"Jolly would be out there scouting and scouting and scouting, and he wouldn't call me unless he was catching fish. So I'd show up with all my fancy electronics and fancy fish house and he had no part of that," Hallin says. "He drilled all his holes by hand until four years ago. He thought a motor would scare all the fish away. Then Lisa bought him a power auger for Christmas. Don't you know, he never used that hand auger again."

The oldest of four children, Jolstad never moved from the 40-acre family farm where he was born.

"It's a deer heaven, as Jolly would call it," Hallin says. "To me, it's deer camp. That, and Lisa's cooking is the reason I go."

Jolstad, 45, was with a construction crew repairing the Interstate 35W bridge when it collapsed.

"He worked real hard," says Jolstad's mother  Dorothy Svendsen, who lives in Hinckley, Minnesota. "But he used to say, 'Another day of work just brings me a day closer to ice fishing.'"