Boomer Grandpa: An interview with an icon on his 70th

A few of us in this town have had famous people sightings around Mayo Clinic. This just happened to me.

While walking in the downtown subway, I came upon one of my heroes walking my way. I had just read a press release that he was turning 70 this week. He was bigger than I imagined and surprisingly he had a hat on, no shoes and only a pair of pants while walking in the clinic pedestrian subway.

I stopped him and told him I was a big fan. I told him I was a writer for the local newspaper and I'd like an interview. He reluctantly agreed to meet me for a cup of coffee at Dunn Bros. in northwest Rochester in two hours. I drove home, got my recorder and notebook, put on a white shirt, a sport coat and my Smokey tie.

Exclusive interview with Smokey Bear

LE: Happy Birthday, Smokey. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. I used to wear Smokey Bear lapel pins on my sport coat every day when I would go to work. My job entailed fire safety. I also have a few of your T-shirts and some other very cool memorabilia.


Smokey Bear: So you're a writer. I have heard of the columnist Jennifer Koski. I've read that Lange guy, too. He is very funny. I'm thinking I do remember your name. You've left a lot of messages on my phone asking for free stuff, like pencils and posters.

LE: Yeah, yeah, everybody knows those two. I might have left a message or two.

Smokey Bear: Say, this coffee is very good. I can see they roast their own beans here. The ambiance is also very nice.

LE: Dunn Bros. is a Rochester hot spot for excellent coffee and good conversation. In fact, that's Lynn Wong, one of the owners, over there. She is very nice. Let's get to business. The public needs to know so I have to ask. What brings you to Rochester?

Smokey Bear: I'm in town for a checkup at Mayo. You know, most bears don't stand up all the time like I do, so my knees are killing me. I am seeing the top bear doctor in the country. I just read where the Mayo Clinic was ranked No. 1 in the nation! By the way, if you didn't know, 70 bear years is equal to about 282 human years. You think you have problems!

LE: Yikes, that's a lot of years. I hope your checkup goes well. So what is next for you?

Smokey Bear: As you know there have been a lot of wildfires throughout our country lately, in particular out west. I'm getting to as many areas as I can, bringing my prevention message. Things are a little too busy right now. I don't get much "me" time. A bear likes to get in a long nap every now and then.

LE: When you make these presentations, are you old school or do you embrace some modern technology?


Smokey Bear: I have a cub IT intern to assist me. I have a Facebook page, an Instagram account and many followers on Twitter. I have close to 292,000 likes on my Facebook page. In fact, I think you also leave a lot of posts on my Facebook site, don't you?

LE: I do sometimes. What have been some highlights in your career?

Smokey Bear: I've worked with big names over the years. I appeared in commercials with Bambi, Thumper and other Disney stars. I've traveled a great deal and met a lot of celebrities. I have also come to know many very dedicated people in the firefighting and wildfire prevention business.

LE: Any difficult times in your forestry career?

Smokey Bear: The firefighting community, family and friends just had to reflect on the one year mark since 19 wildland firefighters of the Granite Mountain Hotshots were killed. When that happened. I had to go into my cave for a while. I was devastated. However, this strengthened my resolve and I am working hard to prevent that from happening again.

Smokey Bear: You know, I'm a little hungry. Do you mind if I get one of those 'claw' type pastries?

LE: No, let me get you one.

Smokey Bear: Thanks. These are very good. You know, it's getting late. What else you got?


LE: Anything else that people should know about you?

Smokey Bear: One thing that really bugs me is people call me Smokey the Bear. It is Smokey Bear. My middle name is not "the."

LE: Thank you very much. Do you have any final words?

Smokey Bear: Why, yes, get out and see the new Disney movie "Planes: Fire and Rescue." I was an advisor to the film. And to all your readers, remember, only you can prevent forest fires. Oh and here are some pencils. Please don't call me anymore.

Disclaimer: Of course, this didn't really happen, but it was my way of saying happy 70th birthday to Smokey, a baby boomer and pop icon, and providing a tribute to our firefighters across this country, especially those we have lost, but will always remember.

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