The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 8, 2012

Ojanpa: Walk the walk, talk the talk

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

— Eldon Tharp has two pairs of Dr. Scholl’s sensible shoes, in tan and black.

If those shoes could talk, they’d cry “uncle” because Tharp works them like rented mules.

Tharp, at 83, is the walking-est person in Madelia. There’s not a street in that town he hasn’t trod once, twice, even thrice.

Early this year he set a goal to walk 1,000 miles in 2012. He met that the last day in August and didn’t break stride. He expects to hit 1,500 miles by year’s end.

He measures his mileage with the pedometer he carries that counts his steps. Ten thousand equals five miles.

Health problems a couple of years ago prompted him to hit the pavement. He says his five-mile daily walks are good for his ticker, good for his sanity and, he hopes, inspirational to fellow elderly.

But, he stresses, people don’t have to emulate his full five-mile regimen to maintain their health.

“I do it because I’m crazy.”

Tharp dwells alone in an apartment. He’s outlived his brother and his parents and cut bait with his wife after 40 years of marriage.

“I just got fed up with it.”

Besides, his domestic needs are few. He says he doesn’t like to cook and doesn’t even like to consume.

“I eat to keep alive.”

Tharp typically walks twice a day. Three miles in the morning, the rest in the afternoon or evening. In winter he dons a pair of boots with ice-gripping cleats.

“When I start out, I walk fast. But by the time I get home, I’m not walking that fast. And I’m as good a talker as I am a walker.”

His pauses to gab with people give him welcome five-minute rests before ambling on. He used to give treats to dogs he encountered. Bad idea. Give treats to unleashed dogs and pretty soon you’re leading a slobbering parade of them.

Tharp has this walking stick he uses to, well, let him tell it:

“I use it to beat off the rabbits and beat off the women, but I haven’t had to use it for either yet.”

Tharp has it all figured out. He says he wants to walk until he’s 90, at which time he’ll be perfectly content to check out on his own terms. To wit:

“At 90 I want to get shot by a jealous husband. I’m already asking the gals if they have a husband with a gun.”


Brian Ojanpa is a Free Press staff writer. Call him at 344-6316 or email