Rushford's Howard Otis at his home.
Rushford's Howard Otis at his home.
Burdey’s Cafe was included on an internet post titled (I think), “11 Under-the-Radar Restaurants in Minnesota that are Scrum-diddly-umptious.” The author recommended that visitors try the “How-ard’s Mess” for breakfast. The Mess is a platter of hash browns, topped with three scrambled eggs, purt-near everything in the kitchen (including fresh sliced jalape-nos), and cheese. If you’re Howard Otis, the man for whom the infamous Mess is named, you also like a little ghost pepper cheese on top. And sriracha sauce.

Howard and his basset hound, Oliver, live in a beautiful valley paradise right down the road from where I grew up, on a 60-acre plot that stretches from “that hill to that hill to that hill.” As Howard gestures at the bluffs outside his kitchen window, he tells me that I am looking at “Marjorie’s Heel,” a steep patch ascend-ing into woodlands, bearing the name of his late wife. He was kind enough to let me stop by to chat, and brewed a delicious cup of coffee for our visit.

Howard was born in Rushford in 1929, in the big white house that still stands at the top of Elm Street. He went to grade school in Wiscoy Valley, and graduated from Winona Senior High. Due to his love of spicy food, I suspected Howard might not be Norwegian, and he confirmed that his ancestors first arrived in the U.S. in 1660 from Wales.

Howard’s great-grandparents were among the founding fathers of Rushford, and he has a picture from Christmas of 1854 where his great-grandparents were present for the naming of the town. His great-grandpa Otis’ younger brother, Jo-seph, founded Brooklyn, which was called the Otis Addition at that time. On that side of the creek, Jessie Street was called Otis Street. Howard figures that Joseph must have been a “stubborn Otis,” as both were eventually renamed.

After high school, Howard joined the Navy, serving from 1948 to 1973. He met his lovely wife, Marjorie, a northern Cali-fornia girl, on Christmas Eve of 1951. Af-ter returning from Korea, he “got serious” and the two wed in 1954. They raised three kids: Dave, Paul, and Annette, and have eight grandkids. In 1982 the couple moved to the home that Howard still lives in today.

When the Otis’s returned to Rushford, they brought a love of bluegrass music with them. When a friend suggested they get something started up here, they began the first annual Money Creek Bluegrass Festival, which took place at Money Creek Haven in 1983. The festival re-mained in Money Creek for six years before moving to its present home at Cushon’s Peak Campground.

Howard and Marjorie invested heavily into the success of the festival; plenty of time, energy, and finances. It took quite a few years to break even, but was worth it. Howard said the best part is the people; good, trustworthy people that come from all over the country to enjoy the music. Howard played the dobro in the band Family Four Plus Two (which contained four Otis’s and two friends) for many years at the festival. His dobro is still sit-ting pretty in his living room. He doesn’t play it as much as he used to, but he does get down to the festival every year.

At 89 years young, Howard is one busy man! He is very active in the honey business, as he has been for 50 years. As a child, he would go to his great-grandpa’s place in Rushford, out where the mink farm was. Howard still remembers when he was 5 years old, his dad was splitting fence posts, and hollered, “Son, you’d better get off that box!” Well, it was one of his Uncle Vern’s bee boxes, so he heed-ed the warning, and a love of beekeeping was passed on to another Otis.

He says he still has some hives out there. Actually, he’s got quite a few hives, starting out last year with somewhere around 150,000 bees. Bees are purchased in two-pound packages, which each hold 4,000 to 5,000 bees, and that number grows come summertime.

Last year wasn’t a good year, as he lost a lot of bees due to factors like weather. Occasionally you’ll open up a hive and there will be nothing there, he says. But there are many factors that go into the success of the hives. Howard says his best producers are up by the Kasper farm in ru-ral Peterson, where everything is organic. Bees don’t like the modified corn, he says; even the deer aren’t eating it.

The honey Howard sells is raw, which means that the honey cannot be pumped or filtered, because that would require heating. Heating damages the enzymes in the honey, as well as altering its natural flavor, and that’s all good stuff that we want to keep in there. Raw honey has antibacterial properties, and Howard even uses it on cuts and burns. He has a couple of young ladies that help with his opera-tion at present, but a lot of the work of Rosemount Apiaries is still done by How-ard himself.

Howard’s beloved Marjorie passed away in 2013, just shy of their 60th anniversary. He speaks of her fondly, and says that it was when they moved to their current home that they really got about the business of enjoying life. “It’s a real nice neighborhood,” he says, and he hopes to get all the neighbors over sometime this summer for a get-together. Howard’s a pretty nice addition to any “neighbor-hood” he’s in, too. His smile lights up the room when he comes into the café. So next time you see him, grab a cup of coffee and sit down. I guarantee you’ll have a good visit.