FOND DU LAC — Holy duster. Eucharistic minister. Woodworker. Wordsmith. Waterfowl hunter.
Linus Doll carried these titles and many others in his 89 years as a master woodsmith and devout Catholic. A longtime member of St. Mary Parish and Holy Family Parish in Fond du Lac and Holy Family, he added a title to his resume in 2007: writer concentrating on the good ole days growing up in Fond du Lac.
This month, Doll is writing the 90th hometown commentary column for publication in the Fond du Lac Reporter newspaper. With ballpoint pen in hand, Doll sits down to write, in block letters, three pages talking about geese, crows and seagulls from the birds’ point of view.
From there, the column is delivered to Ray’s TV where his grandson, who works with computers, enters the piece into electronic format.
“I love to write. It keeps my mind going. It makes me feel good when people tell me they enjoy reading my column,” Doll said. “Most of my columns go back to when I was young.”
Doll’s columns range from recalling the wonders of the wooden icebox to days when socks with holes were repaired and not discarded, the history of the barber services going back 6,000 years to fishy tales from Lake Winnebago, a tribute to all mothers, relaxing in a bathtub and listening to music on 78 rpm records.
Parish benefits from writing
Newspaper readers are not the only ones benefiting from Doll’s latest passion.
Doll has self-published a collection of his first 89 columns in a booklet titled “Looking Back … Stories by Linus Doll.”
Proceeds from the booklet, which Doll assembles himself, are going to help fund new stained glass windows at Holy Family Catholic Community Church.
The first column in the booklet is not the first column Doll wrote, but it recalls in a personal eulogy his fond relationship with and the tragic death of Fr. Vic Capriolo, who died in 2012 after being stuck by a car while riding his bike on his way home from church to the nearby community of St. Peters.
“It is with a saddened heart that I write this article. Of all the previous articles I have written, the intention was to try to bring back fond memories to everyone of things that happened in the good ole days,” Doll said in a column titled “Breaking Zucchini Bread With Fr. Vic.”
The column, published six days after Fr. Capriolo’s death, recalls Doll’s long and close relationship with the priest whose death, he said, “Was a real shocker and will be with me until my time on earth is over.”
Doll said he served many times with Fr. Capriolo. “(Those) proved to be some of the most pleasant times in my life. His homilies brought tears and laughter. If you needed a good joke, he had one,” he said.
The column describes Fr. Capriolo’s aversion to eating anything green — except his inability to avoid munching down a loaf of zucchini bread baked by Doll’s late wife, Ruth.
Began career as a carpenter
Doll, who was born in nearby Marblehead, moved to Fond du Lac with his parents and 14 siblings when he was 8 years old.
Doll enlisted in the Navy at age 17 and began his career as a carpenter and cabinetmaker upon his return to Fond du Lac after World War II.
“Back in those days we didn’t have power tools. When we turned in a screw we did it with a screwdriver,” said Doll, who still has a workshop in his basement. “I just love to build. When you get it done, there’s always something you can point to and say, ‘I did it.’ It makes you feel good.”
Doll, who built his current home in 1950, has always been active in Fond du Lac’s Catholic community.
In March 2014, Doll wrote a column titled “Houses of Worship Play Large Part in Growth of Fond du Lac Community.”
“To my surprise, I find that I have not written anything about one of the most important things in my life … as a community we are blessed with many topnotch places, for many different denominations, to worship as we please. Thankfully, we still have that freedom,” he said.
Doll’s writing career began not as a memory of his times in Fond du Lac, but as a letter to the editor chastising other letter writers for complaining about how the city was plowing snow in Fond du Lac.
“I wrote a letter commending the plow drivers. I took readers back to March 1959 when crews used to shovel the snow by hand. And people liked what I wrote. They said please don’t stop writing, please keep going. And one thing led to another,” he said.
Doll wrote some columns and presented them unsolicited to Fond du Lac Reporter editor Mike Mentzer.
Mentzer told him his writing was good but he couldn’t take his columns too often.
Undeterred, Doll kept writing and sending his columns to the newspaper.
“When I get to the point of having an urge to write, I will sit down and write,” he said.
Doll’s first job was with The Reporter as a newspaper carrier. Upon graduation from high school, his first fulltime job was assembling caskets for the Northern Casket Company.
Parents emigrated from Russia
Doll said his penchant for writing stems back at least a generation to when his father, Ludwig Anthony, and mother, Mary Eva, emigrated from Russia in 1903 after the Russian government offered the family and other families displaced from Germany to Russia due to political events at the time, land to farm in the United States.
“Years ago my dad used to write articles in German for a German newspaper in Milwaukee. I wish I would have asked him at the time all about it, but I was too young to know better,” he said.
Doll, the only high school graduate among the 15 children of Ludwig and Mary, always observed what was happening in his surroundings, a talent that would serve him in his later years.
An avid hunter, Doll recalls two columns he wrote about the Supple Marsh, which years ago was filled with all manner of waterfowl, including ducks, geese, swans and seagulls.
“The city began using it as a landfill. The city killed the Marsh,” Doll wrote with a bit of melancholy.
Doll’s fondness for observation and detail mixed well with his skills as a woodworker and cabinetmaker as well as with his love for his Catholic faith.
In addition to practicing his craft with several companies in Fond du Lac, Doll offered his skills to the city’s Catholic churches and even non-Catholic houses of worship, including one synagogue.
“Over the years that I was still working my trade, I was honored to construct many items in different churches. The two jobs that meant a lot to me were replacing all of the church fixtures that were destroyed by fire at Redeemer Lutheran Church and constructing all of the cabinetry at Temple Beth Israel. I made many, many things from wood for liturgical purposes,” said Doll, who regrets not having been able to attend Catholic schools because of finances.
‘Holy Duster’ has love for his faith
Doll’s generosity in donating the proceeds from his booklet ($15 per copy) is a reflection of his love for his faith.
“When I got involved in church, I loved to serve and distribute the Eucharist at Mass. I loved serving at daily Mass at the former St. Louis Church before it burned down,” Doll said. “I loved bringing out the chalices during Mass. I felt I was doing something for God that God wanted me to do. Every morning I thank God for another day and tell him I’m willing to do whatever he wants me to do.”
That love for his faith earned him, for many years, the title of Holy Duster at St. Mary Church. He explained that he and his wife and a couple other people would dust every surface in the church weekly.
One of Doll’s favorite activities in retirement has been collecting bakery for the Broken Bread program and delivering it to St. Paul Cathedral. He also volunteered at the Fond du Lac Senior Center where he constructed various items for the facility.
“If you are someone who has never needed help from anyone, then God bless you. There can’t be many of you that lucky,” Doll wrote in one of his columns.
Doll said he has no plans to retire from writing his columns. In fact, Doll’s words will be published following his eventual passing.
In one single-spaced, typed page Doll has written his last column titled “Obituary for Linus Earl Doll.”