At over 80, George was a star athlete

The legend of George Mayhew will linger here as long as our river flows and the lake freezes because there never has been such a local swimmer.
Or a Fort Frances runner of marathons either, especially anyone over 80, like George was—but still looking for yet another challenge.
It’s several years, and then some, since George and I travelled to Hawaii for one of his running achievements—you know, 26 miles if you can last that long and few can! It seems that was George’s favourite distance.
I had watched almost with disbelief while George tackled that distance in a Winnipeg marathon (besides adding a few miles by accident when he ran off the course into a park believing he was following other competitors)!
For George, being quite deaf, was prone to making mistakes. This almost led to him being disqualified in Honolulu after the judge at the end of the race had shouted that anyone running off the road and on the sidewalk would not have his time recorded.
But George didn’t hear that announcement!
I looked down the sidewalk and here came George, out of bounds! So I had to run down the road to bring him onto it for a legal finish and, in the heat of that day, George seemed almost finished anyway.
Soon afterwards, though, he recovered as we rode back to our hotel behind a girl bicyclist on her three-wheeler.
George knew his way around Honolulu very well, having made several visits earlier. He took me to a sidewalk vendor selling oysters containing pearls and purchased one for me in appreciation.
At this time, I did not know about his skill in the water but learned that running was not is real reason for visiting Hawaii. He had a young lady instructing him in swimming there every winter.
George had an obsession about the Australian crawl stroke which he practised almost all year long. He had learned it from a local Jones girl he watched swim off the Pither’s Point beach here and he kept improving this skill at every opportunity.
The warmth of the water meant very little to George, who would be in it at least three seasons of the year. He would begin in May while there still would be ice floating away out, then continue until almost freeze-up—diving in off the Pither’s Point Park dock and heading for the old pulp house months after everyone else had quit because of the cold.
After 80, George would continue riding his bike while sometimes saving his car for his dressing room at the upper river. He would drive it into the water, remove his street clothes, and emerge in a swim suit, returning sometimes hours later after he had swam a long way—and sometimes all the way across to the American shore!
Others might shake their heads over one of George’s demonstrations—but there was no doubt he could do whatever he chose.
Long retired from his forestry occupations, George also took up house building, creating several in one north-end neigbourhood. Or he would just walk if he got the urge.
With his wife and four children, he lived on Scott Street where I first met him (his children all delivered the long-gone Winnipeg Tribune for me). When he learned I had started carrying a news camera, George did not mind his picture being in the news.
As we got together, I learned to appreciate this amazing old-timer. His athletic prowess is still marvelled at today by all who saw him in action!
His oldest son, Donald, still teaches high school here and I’d imagine gets questioned regularly about George. Because few others in this community ever had such remarkable fathers!
• • •
Arvid Soderholm, our retired town fire chief, continues his Safeway shopping at 88, usually with his wife, younger by only one year. He served with the late chief, Bob Readman, for 10 years before spending 20 years in charge at the old fire hall.
• • •
I can’t seem to let go of my Mine Centre memories and decided to set down the names I can bring to mind from my own two years there in the ’30s. Many others enjoyed our times together when the local gold mines were the main attractions.
The village was next to the railroad and included two quite busy groceries, the Bliss and Prideau stores, as well as the Mine Centre hotel (not the one moved to Fort Frances earlier from Old Mine Centre).
There were also Mrs. Bereman’s boarding house, the Hickerson family, the Kielczewskis and the Hatchers, as well as the Justice of the Peace Louis Hamel.
The road wended eastward and past our one-room school down to prospector Arthur Stone’s home and then south to Foley mine.
Looking west of the stores, there were homes of two railroad foremen, John Lowe or Law, and John Zoochkan and Jim Phair, as well as Mrs. Angelo Paccito, a mine owner’s wife.
Further east, beyond the hotel, there was the popular dance hall where musicians like “Frog” Myers form “The Fort” and later young George Bliss would provide accordion music.
There were outlying families to the southwest, such as the Williams, and let’s not forget the Sockolotuks and the large Dumeney family towards Turtle Lake to the southeast.
There also were the Larocques, who kept horses by the railroad. And I’m forgetting the Schulers and old Mr. Lizert!
Not many villages have smaller populations in this district anymore, but Mine Centre nevertheless was quite a busy place!
• • •
I’m told that three of the brightest students to go through Fort Frances High School, Ed (Moony) Rinas, Joe Puszynski, and James Freberg, all in the same class, have now passed away with Joe’s death last week bringing them all to memory because of their close competition in the early ’40s.
Joe will long be remembered as a joke teller who would hold your attention for about 10 minutes with every joke—and never seemed to run out of them!
• • •
Don Hammond was still awaiting a buyer for this Harbourage restaurant by the river when he closed down for another season on Dec. 20. The very popular place is still on the market—and awaiting the seasonal return of American fishermen.
• • •
Are we still appreciating the polar warming that found us last winter? But can we ever get over our dread of high fuel bills?
Well, so far, so good, we are relieved to report, with only one night last week dropping below zero F (minus-18 C).
But then, old January’s straight ahead.
• • •
But say, for Christmas joy, try and beat this story! One local wife continues to be delighted with 31 unbroken years of her husband’s sobriety.
For her, this continues to be amazing and all those Christmases have been simply wondrous!
• • •
And Safeway contributed much more than food to help our seasonal enjoyment this year with almost enough Santa Claus toques, big teddy bears, and red stockings to take our minds off food! Oh yeah?

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