Stripe Drive-in founder, former teacher dies

Les Swan teamed with 2 others for business on US-61 in the 1950s

The Stripe Drive-in was a Forest Lake fixture in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Lee Sandager)

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

Around Forest Lake in the 1950s, there wasn’t much on the south end of town for the many travelers who used Highway 61. That ended in 1954 when Fran LaBelle, Lee Sandager and Les Swan joined forces to open the Stripe Drive-in.

For the next decade, the drive-in was the spot to go for travelers and the Forest Lake area residents who craved the burger, fries and malts served by car hops who carried trays of food to vehicles.

As 2012 opened, only one founder of this part of Forest Lake’s history remains. The death of Les Swan on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011 leaves Sandager as the only surviving partner. Fran LaBelle is also gone.

Les and Rosie Swan

Swan was the operations chief for the Stripe, a sharply designed building with red and white stripes and car hops decked out in outfits of colors to match. It was a full-time summer business with weekend hours in the spring and fall.

It was a perfect match for Swan and Sandager who were Forest Lake teachers. Sandager took care of the books and would help out in the kitchen when a bus load of travelers would invade the Stripe.

“There was nothing of that type in town at that time,” Sandager said this week from his home in Scandia. “It was a good location on the south end of town. We saw it as a good business opportunity.”

Sandager credited Swan with building the business. “He built the business on quarter-pound hamburgers,” Sandager said. The Stripe sold soft-serve ice cream products which were coming on the food scene, he said.

Others Remember

“That was the place to go,” said Jim Trudeau, a 1958 Forest Lake graduate who grew up during the time of the Stripe Drive-in. “It was always special to go there. Everyone met there.”

Trudeau was also a neighbor to Swan in the 1950s. “I enjoyed Les more as a neighbor,” Trudeau said. “He and his wife (Rosie) were just super people. What a nice man.”

Rollie Nelson taught with Swan for a number of years at the high school. Nelson ran the band program while Swan directred the choir.

“He (Swan) was an outgoing, energetic and fun person,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the start of the Stripe Drive-in gave kids a place to go. “It was a hang-out for the kids — a place to go after the ballgames,” Nelson said.

School Ties

Swan was the choral director and social studies teacher at Forest Lake High School in the 1950s. It was at school where he built his friendship with Sandager.

When the Stripe Drive-in was started, they used their school ties to recruit top students who found employment as cooks and car hops.

The partners sold the drive-in in 1958. The business was located on the corner of SW 6th Ave. and Highway 61, directly east of the Forest Lake Post Office site today.

During his Forest Lake years, Swan was active in school and community functions.

In 1954, he ran for mayor of Forest Lake and defeated the four-term incumbent, Hector Pepin. Swan later made an unsuccessful bid for the state legislature.

His teaching career took him to Hazel Park Junior High School in St. Paul in the 1960s. He left teaching for a second career with Horace Mann Insurance.

Swan served in the military during World War II prior to landing his teaching job in Forest Lake.

A graveside service was Tuesday, Jan. 3 at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. His wife of 65 years, Rosie, died six months ago.

His family has requested that memorials be directed to Catholic Charities or Gillette Children’s Hospital. A complete death notice can be found in death news inside this issue.