Ottertail resident is in search for collectable autographs, records
By Chad Koenen
Dick Strand has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
How else do you explain how a man who is originally from Madison, Minn., can chalk up the likes of Charles Lindberg as a friend, party with Ricky Nelson and meet some of the most iconic celebrities like Johnny Cash in a hotel lobby in Bloomington, Minn. After all, the current Ottertail resident has collected over 20,000 autographs and met countless celebrities by just simply walking through hotels—even though he had a pretty good idea they would be there.
His knack for being in the right place at the right time could very well be in his blood. After all, Strand’s dad, Harry Strand, was a talented athlete.
Harry was part of an all-star amateur baseball team that got to play against the Minneapolis Millers in 1933, and his pitching held up against the professional baseball team that day. As it turns out, Harry was just as talented on the basketball court as Strand said he became the first white man to play basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters back in the 1930s.
Strand said his father hurt his knee while playing against the Globetrotters as a member of a local amateur team in Sacred Heart, Minn. When one of the Globetrotter’s players got injured, Harry was asked to fill in for the team. He ended up traveling and playing with the team for a month, until the regular player’s injury healed.
Today, Strand is putting his knack at being in the right place at the right time to a new use, as he helps a friend collect records.
For the past 25 years Strand has been buying and selling records, mainly for a friend who collects them in Fergus Falls.
“He has a huge record collection and he also sells his duplicates and sells records to get money to buy the records he collects,” said Strand. “He enjoys them a whole lot more than I do. He is a huge music fanatic.”
Always one who is up for a challenge, Strand began helping out his friend to find collectable records. He hung up bright pink signs in grocery stores, gas stations and just about anywhere where people gather.
Strand has vague guidelines to follow when purchasing a record for his friend, typically older stuff like jazz, cock and roll, music from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Even with those guidelines, it isn’t very often that Strand finds a very valuable record mixed in with a person’s collection. Most times he ends up selling a record that he purchased for just $.50 or $1, for as little as a dime apiece to someone else.
“A lot the times, because I am not the record collector, I don’t even know that it is worth $100. It’s something I never had seen before so I bought it for $.50 or $1. Most of the time it is worth less than what I paid for it,” he said. “But the times it is worth $500 or $100, that really gives you a thrill to spend a dollar and sell it for $500. It doesn’t happen very often but it gives you a thrill.”
While it can be disappointing to learn that a record that was purchased for a buck was less valuable than a piece of Laffy Taffy candy, Strand said the thrill of the chase of finding the next valuable collectable, and opportunity to learn about the story behind the record, keeps him going every day.
While Elvis and the Beetles may have ruled the land during the peak of vinyl records, their overall value for collectors is not nearly as sought after as the music itself.
“As opposed to public opinion, the best rock records are not Elvis Presley and the Beetles. They sold a million records and everyone still has them,” said Strand. “They think they have a fortune if they have a 1970s Elvis album. They think it is great, but it is really not (for collecting).”
There are exceptions of course, like an obscure early record for one of the legendary rock bands, or an album cover with some different markings. Typically, Strand said the most valuable records are those that are either autographed or from a little known band that makes a record more valuable.
“It’s more of the obscure records or bands that make a record valuable,” said Strand. “People say ‘huh who is that.’ That is what it is more expensive than an Elvis one.”
Prior to helping his friend find collectable records, Strand had a massive autograph collection that spanned generations. He was always interested in meeting stars, while also learning more about their uniqueness that made them larger-than-life figures in pop culture.
Strand’s interest in celebrities hit a fevered point in 1961 when his aunt took him to the Aquatennial celebration in Minneapolis, Minn., to see Annette Funicello. His aunt, who knew Strand was a fan of the actress, offered to take him to the airport to see her arrival with countless other fans that day. Strand managed to get a front row spot for her arrival and followed behind the star as she walked through the airport to her convertible.
While his collection of autographs totaled well over 20,000 at one point, Strand didn’t always grow up dreaming of being an autograph dealer. A pharmacist for years, he worked at a Wallgreens in St. Cloud, Minn., before moving to Minneapolis, Minn., in 1972 and working for a pharmacy in the heart of the city. He found himself unexpectedly bumping into celebrities at the pharmacy, as celebrities would often stop by the closest drug store to refill their prescriptions and purchase over-the-counter medications.
Being a sports fan, he would also attend sports banquets where he met star athletes. He started collecting autographs, and as time went on, he started writing to celebrities and asked for an autograph—something they would commonly oblige to back in the day.
“That’s how I really got started gathering,” said Strand of the sports banquets in the Twin Cities. “Then I started writing, sending photos to various movie stars and what have you. In that time you would get one back 70-80 percent of the time.”
In fact, Strand enlisted the help of his sister, who agreed to write 10 letters a day while the kids at her home daycare were napping. She did this for 10 years, getting about seven or eight autographs back for every 10 letters she sent.
When stars would come to the Twin Cities area, namely the Carlton Celebrity Dinner Theater in Bloomington, Minn., Strand would find out where they were staying and track them down for a quick picture, story and autograph in the hotel lobby on the way to their performance. That’s how he met Johnny Cash, as well as his wife June Carter Cash.
“We would find out where some of the stars were staying when they were performing in Bloomington,” he said. “We would meet them in the lobby and get their autographs.”
As his collection began to pile up, Strand started selling some of his autographs that included the likes of Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Michael Jackson, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, the Wizard of Oz cast, Marilyn Monroe, Mother Teresa, the Beetles, Harry S. Truman and many others.
Strand even has a picture of his sister getting an autograph of famed wrestler Andre the Giant. He said the larger-than-life athlete was as big in person as his famed lore during his stint on the professional wrestling circuit.
“The pen looked like a tooth pick,” he said.
One of his most memorable nights came when Strand spent a night hanging out with Ricky Nelson. One of rock-n-rolls teenage idols during the 1950’s and 60’s played a show at the Cactus in Perham in 1984. Strand was asked to help chauffeur Nelson and his entourage to Perham from the Detroit Lakes airport.
After hauling Nelson’s equipment to town, Strand met up with the rocker and his girlfriend at Dean’s Grocery Store in Perham where he was invited to come to the house where Nelson was staying for the night. While at the house, Nelson began playing the piano for a select group of people, before the rest of the band arrived before the show.
Nelson died just 1 1/2 years later and the memory of that experience with the rock star has made his autograph by far more valuable than any other autograph to Strand.
“I don’t want to part with that one as long as I am alive,” he said of Nelson’s autograph.
In addition to Ricky Nelson, Strand has enjoyed a long friendship and correspondence with people like the manager of Gordon “Porky” Lee, who was the child actor who played Porky in the original “Our Gang” television series in the 1930s, as well as Minnesota-born celebrities like Arctic explorer Will Steger, poet Robert Bly and Charles Lindberg.
Lindberg was the last surviving Marine out of a platoon of 40 who raised the first American flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. Strand and Lindberg had homes near each other in the Twin Cities.
“I found out where he lived and went over to visit him. I became good friends with him and his wife Vi,” said Strand.
Strand continues to search for collectable records for his friend in Fergus Falls. He said anyone with a record collection or some vinyl is encouraged to call him and tell him about the records.
If interested, he will purchase the records and see if his friend is interested in them. To contact Strand, call him at 367-2614.