Blair Goes From Rags To Religion

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Editor's note: This is another profile in a series meant to introduce readers to the newly elected council members. In the Friday, May 19 edition of the Payson Roundup, mayor-elect Bob Edwards was profiled. On Tuesday, May 23, Su Connell was featured. Mike Vogel will be the subject of an article on Tuesday, May 30.

Ed Blair couldn't get elected as an officer of the Lutheran League youth group -- an organization he'd belonged to throughout his young life -- no matter how hard he tried.

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Ed Blair

"I was a nerd," Blair said. "I was loud."

But, more than a half-century later, Blair avenged the luckless bid for office of his youth.

After a seven-month political bandy, the retired Lutheran pastor eased into one of the four vacant maroon chairs on the council dais Wednesday, May 24.

There, he gave his debut address to the citizenry.

"I pray for (the) wisdom to combine three important items: Growth by local builders that does not exceed resources like water. The second part of the combination is affordable housing, so desperately needed for teachers, seniors, fire and police; and the third part of the combination is to preserve the charm of our mountain town.

"That combination will require the wisdom of Solomon and the wisdom of many citizens, but working together, it can get done."

Ever the charismatic clergyman, Blair draws strength from his faith in God, the lessons of the Bible and a cheeky sense of humor.

His mirth and quirky personality disarm even the worst of critics, and he's always easy to spot at events -- just find out where the action is and he's right in the middle of it.

When he laughs, which is often and mostly at himself, his eyes squint behind wire-rimmed glasses.

And although Blair brings humanity and joviality to his religion, he reveres his faith and weighs the impact of his ministry on the small town he served 40 miles outside Minneapolis, called Buffalo.

Blair grew up in Sauk Centre, Minn., four blocks away from Sinclair Lewis Main Street -- so named after the Nobel Prize-winning author who also grew up there.

Blair's parents provided their two sons, Eddie, as he was called then, and his young brother, Johnny, with a stable moral foundation.

"I had a good childhood," Blair said. "We were economically poor, but we didn't know it."

So, to shave pennies off the slim budget, Blair worked as the family barber.

"I learned how to cut hair because we were so poor," he said. "I had to cut my dad's hair. I said, ‘What if I hurt your hair?' He said, ‘Eddie, it'll grow back.'"

Frans, Blair's father, was a first-generation Swede.

He drove a route truck for the Swift meat company. To support his two boys and wife, he sold eggs, sometimes 30 dozen at a time, and live chickens.

Blair said his dad was a scrappy and shrewd man, but for good reason. To earn his $13 a week, he had to hustle.

Frans hawked his chickens and eggs to middlemen -- who in turn sold to large companies, such as Hormel -- before other route drivers made the deal first.

"My poor dad used to have to shove eggs and chickens on the trucks," Blair said. "He was so thrilled when I became a minister because I wouldn't have to work outside and lie to people."

On Sundays, in the family's 1941 black Chevy coupe, Blair's mother took her two boys to a Scandinavian-base Augustana Synod Lutheran Church.

"I was always connected to the church," Blair said. "My mother made sure I went to Sunday school. I always took it real seriously."

During his sophomore year in high school, Blair received the call to serve God.

"It's a gradual awareness," he said. "I said to myself, ‘I think I can do this.'"

After two years of community college, Blair entered Gustavus Aldophus University in Saint Peter, Minn.

With a barber stool in the back of his room and a knack for carving flat tops, Blair took the "donations" from customers -- because he couldn't charge for services without a license -- to fund his education.

"During one homecoming weekend I cut 75 heads of hair that week," he said. "They liked the price."

Not only did Blair outfit the male population of Gustavus Aldophus University with crew cuts, he met Karyl, his wife, at a first-day-of-school picnic mixer.

The pastor-to-be, alone with a plate full of food after being abandoned by his date, found his mate of 42 years. Fewer than six months later, the couple married.

"She was a very intentional Christian," Blair said. "She took it seriously. Her faith was important to her."

After attending seminary in Minneapolis, Blair moved his family -- Karyl, and their son and daughter -- to Buffalo, Minn. where the pastor led a congregation of 3,000 Lutherans for 31 years.

In 2001, the retired golf-fanatic reverend and Karyl, dumped their down coats and headed to the warmer climes of the southwest.

"I was looking for a place where I could golf 12 months out of the year," he said.

These days, if you happen to attend Mount Cross Lutheran Church on a Sunday when pastor Elaine Watskey is out, you might just find Payson Town Councilor Ed Blair, dressed in a white robe, behind the pulpit.

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