Mayo Priebe horse.jpg

Mayo Priebe, the flamboyant Rochester businessman who tried to market aspirin and other products using his famous first name, greets people from horseback. Priebe had a large horse farm southeast of Rochester.

My boss walked past my desk yesterday — never a good thing — and said, "When are you going to do something about all the gnats?"

"What am I supposed to do about gnats?" I said. "I'm an Answer Man, not an exterminator."

What he meant was, he wanted an answer to the question, "Why are there so doggone many gnats this year?" I told him no one had asked, and lo and behold, a short time later, I found this unsigned email (from my boss' address) in my inbox: "Dear Lazy and Shiftless Answer Man: When are you going to tell readers the reason for all the gnats this year?"

A few hours later, I received this even more compelling email:

Dear 'Handsome' Answer Man, why are there so many bothersome gnats this year? I haven't seen any mosquitoes yet this year but would rather have them than gnats flying in my eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

As ever, forever grateful for your response. — Lauren

So, given a choice between these two, I'll respond to the latter. Lauren, you're right, there seem to be more gnats this spring. I was having a burger on the patio at a favorite bar and grill the other night and it was unfortunately seasoned with about a pound of gnats.

I called a guy who should know, Tom Ekdahl, the supervisor at Chester Woods County Park, east of Rochester, and the young man who picked up the phone said, "Oh yeah, Tom just got bit by a bunch of gnats. He'll talk to you."

Tom, who has worked at Chester Woods since it opened 19 years ago, took the phone and said, "It's definitely a bad year for gnats," but if it wasn't one annoying insect, it would be another. "I don't have any theories about why they're bad, but every year, you have some insects that" go nuts, basically.

This spring, it's the humble gnat's turn.

He said campers haven't complained much. They just use their bug spray, or the time-honored home remedy: A little dash of vanilla extract behind the ears or wherever. Plus it makes you smell good to humans.

More on Mayo

As a wrapup to my excellent columns on long-ago Rochester businessman Mayo Priebe, which I have to admit have been a great contribution to the historical record, I'll give the last word to one of Mayo's daughters — though as you know, I always get the last word. Always.

Mayo Priebe was the gent who tried to market aspirin with the brand name Mayo-Cin in 1957; Mayo Clinic quickly put a stop to that little headache, winning a permanent injunction from the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1962. In the P-B's coverage of the Olmsted County District Court trial in 1959, Priebe testified that he sold "Mayos Aspirin" locally as early as 1926.

He also told the court that he sold "Mayo's Cereals" in grocery stores that he owned in Minnesota and Wisconsin back in that era.

The coverage of the trial is absolutely fascinating. Harry Harwick, a major figure from the early days of the clinic, took the stand, as did a Twin Cities psychologist who talked about how the word "Mayo" influenced buying decisions.

Priebe died at age 77 in 1978, after a long career in businesses ranging from motels and gas stations to horse breeding and slot machines.

Marcia Priebe Gray, who's 80 and lives in Rochester, remembers her dad as "the kindest man I ever knew. He helped everybody who was down on their luck … after he died, we found a dresser drawer full of scraps of paper from people he had helped," loans that he never asked to be repaid.

Marcia says that when she was young, she helped "sort the packaging" for her father's drug-store products during their brief heyday. But she doesn't remember anything about Poopsie, the lion I told you about in last week's column. Mayo Priebe bought a lion cub in 1963 and kept it for a time on his farm along U.S. 52 south of Rochester. The lion was a replacement pet for a monkey that had recently died.

According to a P-B story from December 1963, the lion was donated soon after to the University of Minnesota's veterinary college, "for use by Joe Mayo of Rochester in conjunction with the school's research."

There was a promise, according to a letter in our archives, that Poopsie would eventually be "skinned and presented to (Mayo Priebe) as a tapestry," but I prefer to think that never happened.

Expect leadership from the Answer Man — always. Send questions to P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903 or

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