Just over a month after penning his last Claude and Ernie cartoon for the Echo Journal, Dan Gola died after battling health issues for years. He was 76.

“He loved doing that. He loved y’all,” his wife, Barbara Gola, said of the Claude and Ernie cartoon that Gola created for nearly 30 years for the Echo Journal. “That was a big part of his life.”

Gola fought a good battle but passed away Monday night, Jan. 25, at a Lumberton, North Carolina, hospital, his wife said.

Claude & Ernie cartoon by Dan Gola
Claude & Ernie cartoon by Dan Gola

"My apologies to Claude Schmidt and the family of Ernie Musolf go along with my thanks for the inspiration for 28 years of fun with the cartoon," Gola said in an email in early December.

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Gola grew up in Pequot Lakes, moving with his parents at age 3 from the Twin Cities to Ideal Corners where the family bought Pine Terrace Resort and later the Ideal Store, gas station and bar.

In 1990, he started working with the Lake Country Echo, and he met the two men he based his cartoon on - Schmidt and Musolf.

"Both of them were World War II vets and worked together for the railroad in Brainerd. Both retired from the railroad," Gola said in an interview for a story in April 2016. "They hung out at the Legion club. Ernie lived right across the street. Those two guys cracked up the house every night. Arguing, talking about game wardens and how to get away from them."

That’s how Gola started the Claude and Ernie cartoon that appeared weekly in this newspaper.

“When Dan approached us about Claude and Ernie, I wasn’t sure how it would play out,” former editor Louis Hoglund said in an email. “But it turned out to be a fun connection between the Echo and the readers for a long run.”

Hoglund said the cartoon strip had a certain “Lake Wobegon” charm.

“In retrospect, I think Dan’s comic helped preserve a link between the ‘old-timers’ and the newspaper,” he said, noting Claude and Ernie seemed to continue a link between traditional small town and small town newspaper as the complexion and demographic of the area changed and grew.

“The bonus was that the simple humor often resonated with all readers - whether you were a true ‘local’ or a transplant,” Hoglund said.

Even after moving to North Carolina with Barbara in 2004, Gola continued his cartoon until December.

He gave a “bob of the bobber” to friends who contributed their ideas to the cartoon, and gave each a framed copy of the cartoon with the Echo logo as thanks for their help.

Friend Jim Nickel shared the following about Gola:

“Dan was a member of the Pequot Lakes Class of ’62. Dan was always very approachable and a friend to so many. We called each other 'bro’s' over the years as first initiated by our teacher, Mrs Bland.

“Dan was usually a step or two ahead of most class members with his wit and energy. I will miss our weekly correspondence over these past many years of later life. Yes, Bro Dan is in my ‘Life-Book.’”

Hoglund said: “Dan was one of those local characters and had a wry sense of humor about small town life.”

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.