In 1992, Victor Etienne entertained students at his childhood school, Chelsea Heights Elementary, Hoyt Avenue and Huron Street. Bugle file photo by Truman Olson

In 1992, Victor Etienne entertained students at his childhood school, Chelsea Heights Elementary, Hoyt Avenue and Huron Street. Bugle file photo by Truman Olson

In the last issue of the Park Bugle, a photograph of a home on West Hoyt Avenue (“Garage homes were once a Como Park phenomenon”) reminded some readers of Victor Etienne, the colorful character who lived there for almost 40 years.

Etienne (pronounced “etnee”) was known to generations of local schoolchildren as a genial ventriloquist who, with the help of his wooden friend Terry, used humor to impart life lessons such as “Patriotism: What It Means to Be an American,” “Safety Counts,” “Be Healthy, Stay Healthy” and “Self-Esteem.”

After suffering a series of debilitating strokes, Etienne died in 2015. But in his prime, Victor was a “ball of energy,” crisscrossing the country to appear before school audiences and church groups, scout rallies, hospitals and care centers, said his younger brother, Brian.

“Victor loved life on the road and for many years was seldom home,” Brian recalled. “He drove to appearances for much of that time, but in his later years would take the Greyhound or Amtrak.”

Victor always returned to the Como neighborhood where he grew up. There was an entertainment tradition in the family, his father having skated in the Ice Follies variety show in the 1930s. Brian, a Roseville resident, is a drummer and has backed nationally known artists such as Melissa Manchester and Amy Grant. He also is active in the local acting community, most recently appearing in the Rosetown Playhouse production of Disney’s Little Mermaid at the Como Lakeside Pavilion.

In 1992, Victor told the Park Bugle that he got his start in show business appearing before his sixth-grade class at Chelsea Heights Elementary School. He went on to graduate from Murray High School in St. Anthony Park in 1958 and enrolled at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis.

He planned to return for a second year, “but I kept getting bookings,” Etienne recalled and his career path was set. Spurning nightclubs and theaters, he regarded himself as a “traveling minister” or evangelist, a reflection of his lifelong membership in the Assemblies of God Church.

His journeys took him to every state in the union, as well as to Canada, Mexico and Great Britain. But Etienne eventually wearied of the demanding schedule and restricted his travel outside Minnesota to the summer months, staying in state during the school year.

He played in Scrabble tournaments, followed minor league baseball teams around the country and golfed.

Victor got his first cat, Monty, when the stray adopted him somewhere out East, Brian relates. Monty accompanied him on most of his travels. Later, Victor could be seen walking Monty’s successor, Lucky, on a leash down Hoyt Avenue, where they would sit on a bench and watch the golfers on the Como course.

After suffering the first of what would be four strokes, Etienne was helped to a waiting car by a passerby—this writer. “Watch your blood pressure,” he admonished.

1 Response

  1. Carrie Tucker

    Victor was a cheerful man who rented his little house to my husband and I for the summer after getting married in 2000, that our friends lovingly referred to as the “love shack”. We still laugh about all the memories we had with Victor & our first summer married. I remember Lucky tied up to the front porch when I came to look at the house. He’d kept a diamond ring in his closet for his long time girlfriend , Bev, of 40 years at the time, who he never had the courage to ask, but we rarely saw them not together. He had trust in us to keep the ring safe while he was on his summer travels. He faithfully sent a Christmas card to us every year.

    Coming into the Christmas season, I decided to look into what happened to him, and see he’s in a wonderful place that he spent his life towards: heaven. If any of his family, or Bev, reads this, we want you to know we never forgot Victor or his enthusiasm for scrabble, ministry, memory for people & details. May you rest easier knowing he isn’t forgotten.

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