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Xtreme Laughter

When life puts him down, he lifts a pen and crafts short poems that make people laugh.

They are whimsical, humorous poems that are often revised versions of jokes and banter he's heard.

Don Orth describes them this way: "Hopefully by the end of the poem you have a little smirk on your face.''

There are lots of smirks evident in Renville County these days, where the Olivia banker's newly-released book "Xtreme Laughter, People of Renville County'' is enjoying brisk sales.

Like his first book, "My Lifetime in Rhyme,'' it offers both humor and a photographic celebration of life in Renville County.

For both books, Orth called on his friend Rick Vogt, a cement mason by trade and wrestling coach and illustrator, to produce a selection of his favorite cartoons.

He also turned to another friend, Brooke Eischens, a graphic designer, to put both works together in attractive packages.

Both books come complete with a wide assortment of photographs that Orth snapped. He captured local folks having fun at all kinds of events, from sharing laughter and banter at the local café to just being silly for the camera at Corn Capital Days, Olivia's annual summer celebration.

Yet his works are also a poignant reminder of how quickly good times and loved ones can be taken from us. Among the smiling faces in the photos is that of James Wertish. The 20-year-old Army National Guard soldier lost his life July 16, 2009, while serving in Iraq.

Orth is familiar with this kind of sorrow too. He and his wife, Ann, lost their 18-year-old son Tim on Valentine's Day, 1997. The affable young man had battled an inoperable brain tumor. He became the inspiration for the Tim Orth Foundation, which raises funds to assist families with children facing catastrophic medical needs.

Since its start the foundation has raised more than a $1 million. Orth said it has only reinforced his conviction that good things can come from the most trying of times. You just have to be open to it, he said.

It's a lesson he first learned in a hospital room.

Orth grew up near Redwood Falls with a passion for sports and an aptitude for business. He earned a degree in business from the University of Minnesota and soon, had the job he wanted on the 26th floor of the Investors Diversified Services building in downtown Minneapolis.

And that's when the inexplicable happened. He needed hip surgery, and learned that it would end his participation in the Minneapolis intramural sports leagues he had come to love so much.

And speaking of love, he was already in his 20s -- and not a prospect in sight.

Orth said he was feeling very glum about his fate when a new nurse named Ann came into his room. He started scribbling humorous, but romantic poems to win her attention.

An author was born and a marriage was made.

Ann and Don Orth decided they wanted to raise their children in a rural setting. He left the IDS building for a small, newly-opened storefront bank in Olivia.

The couple raised four children, and Orth became immersed in local volunteer activities while overseeing the bank's growth over the last 35 years.

Orth said he continued to write through all of the years, and always kept a fun-loving attitude no matter the challenges. His son's battle with cancer only strengthened his own resolve to be uplifting to others, firmly convinced that making other people happy would have the same effect on him.

When bad things happen to you, said Orth, you don't stay the same. "You either go up or you go down.''

He had to lift no more than the pen to make good things happen, but the rewards are not his alone.

Orth said he knows better than to believe that two books penned for a local market are going to be profitable. If he's lucky he will break even on the publications, but it doesn't matter. He donates $5 from every book sale to the Tim Orth Foundation.

Orth is now working on a third book. This one will feature stories written by others in the area. He is asking anyone who has an interesting story to tell to submit stories and a happy photo of themselves to: Don Orth, 409 Sunrise Drive, Olivia MN 56277 or call 320-523-1008 evenings or 320-523-2040 days.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335