OSLO, Minn. — The regulars know better than to sit on the corner counter stool at Kitty’s Cafe.
That spot is reserved for Earl Mallinger, Oslo, Minnesota’s longest and oldest resident. Mallinger, who turns 103 in August, has lived in Oslo or outside of it, for all but 12 years of the town’s existence.
Mallinger's father, Peter J. Mallinger, immigrated to the United States from Luxembourg in 1885. Shortly after the younger Mallinger was born in Oslo in 1917, his father moved the family to a nearby farm.
Earl Mallinger followed in his father’s footsteps, farming the Mallinger family land and living on the farmstead, where he and his wife, Julia, now deceased, raised three daughters.
In 1980, Mallinger built a home in Oslo, in northwest Minnesota. He also has homes in Grand Forks and Texas.
Like the elder Mallinger, who was a member of the Oslo Volunteer Fire Department and active in civic affairs, his son is a prominent community member.
“I like to boost my hometown. I always have,” Mallinger said.
For example, he was on the Oslo City Council and supports community businesses, still eating breakfast at Kitty’s Cafe six days a week.
Mallinger’s girlfriend, Debbie Hanson, nearly 40 years his junior, drives him Monday through Saturday from his condo to Kitty’s, where Mallinger walks — on his own — to the corner stool at the counter. Malllinger met Hanson, now a retired Lutheran pastor, several years ago, when she was serving in his church in Oslo.
Mallinger often accompanies when she fills in for vacationing or ill pastors, and the two, nearly every day, enjoy visiting with other Kitty's Cafe customers over breakfast.
Cafe owner Kitty Stromberg recalls one of the first things a longtime Oslo resident told her when she took over the cafe from its previous owner.
‘“If I can give you one piece of advice, it’s 'Don’t sit in that booth … Earl sits there,’” Stromberg said.
Her informant’s counsel about Mallinger’s choice of cafe stool’s proved to be correct.
“He’s never sat anywhere else,” Stromberg said.
Though the lifelong farmer no longer plants his fields, Mallinger still decides which crops his renter will put where and also markets his wheat, soybeans and sugar beets, the latter, which he’s grown on his land since 1921. Mallinger still is concerned about whether the crops are getting enough, or too much, moisture.
Knowing that, Stromberg takes an unofficial poll of her customers before Mallinger arrives at the cafe.
“When it rains, I always ask ‘How much did you each get, because that’s the first question he asks,’” Stromberg said.
Besides his active involvement in farming, Mallinger spends time reading books.
“Every other day, he’ll tell me about a new book he’s read,” Stromberg said.
“I don’t care for fiction. I like history and autobiographies,” Mallinger said. “I’ve read autobiographies of about half the presidents. I’ve read a few books on Lawrence Welk.”
Mallinger’s memory is as sharp as his mind.
“He remembers years of floods and what crops there were,” Stromberg said.
Tim Gowan, an Oslo businessman who frequents Kitty’s Cafe at breakfast, makes it a point to get Mallinger, whom he refers to as the “town historian,” to talk about the town’s past.
“I try to ask him a question of the day so I can get information,” Gowan said. “Someday, I can tell somebody else about it.”
For now, though, Mallinger will be there to do the telling. He enjoys visiting with Kitty’s Cafe customers and others he runs into when he’s in Oslo.
“Everybody knows you from far and wide,” he said
For sure, they know the gregarious Mallinger.
“I like people,” he said. “I’ve always liked people.”