By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Al Ganske, at 88, has delivered to his last doorstep, made nice with his final antsy subscriber, and no longer has to be leery of customers’ charging canines.
“You think they’re going to come right through the door,” he says.
In newspaper parlance, Ganske was a shorts runner — the person who delivers to homes rendered paperless by wind, rain or carriers who ran short or amiss — and commiserates with subscribers displeased with it all.
In the wrong hands, the job of shorts runner could be grist for an explosion, given the sometimes volcanic reactions from those whose morning routines have gone awry.
But with Ganske at the helm, the hot lava rarely flowed, even when warned that it might by Pete Rheaume, one of The Free Press’ flak catchers fielding the morning phone calls.
“If we had one that was really hot, I’d tell Al, ‘Don’t look for any milk and cookies at this stop.’”
But the ever-gracious Ganske was masterful at dousing lit fuses.
“I got more thanks than anything,” he said of his customer interactions.
Ganske has retired from his gig at The Free Press after being on the job just shy of 20 years. He wanted to make it to that nice round number, but a 2009 heart attack and the onset of diabetes in 2006 have held sway.
Not that he’ll necessarily miss being on the job at 5:30 a.m. every day and delivering up to 100 papers to disparate points in Mankato and North Mankato.
But a guy gets used to a routine. He gets used to the intrigue of navigating new subdivisions that seemingly spring up monthly. He becomes accustomed to the uplift he receives from people who understand that tardiness happens, and thank him for his efforts.
Besides, you might say his career transition to the newspaper job was preordained. Three of his brothers worked at The Free Press as well.
Ganske served in the Pacific during World War II. He and his Army comrades were spared the task of invading Japan when, as Ganske terms it, “they dropped the big one.”
The atomic bomb ended the war, and he served out his military duty as a base cook on Guam, where emaciated GI prisoner-of-war survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March were sent to recover.
“Nothing but bones,” he says of their condition.
Upon returning stateside, Ganske embarked on a 45-year career as a meat cutter.
In his tenure as a newspaper shorts runner, he became familiar with the foibles of customers such as the woman who reasoned that because she arose daily at 5 a.m., her paper should be delivered then as well.
And the man who politely called to cancel his subscription because each morning the paper lay on his steps 4 inches too distant, requiring him to set foot on cold concrete to fetch it.
And the guy who inadvertently complimented his newspaper carriers even as he was griping.
“This is the first time in 80 years I didn’t get my paper,” he harangued over the phone, “and it better damn well be the last.”
Ganske’s retirement will leave the paper with some big “shorts” to fill, as it were.
“He was our final contact with our readers and the public.” Rheaume said. “We always felt comfortable putting the ball in Al’s hand, and he never once dropped it.”