Used to guiding canoe trips in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, John Goutcher of rural Preston shows how to carry a canoe when portaging between lakes.
Used to guiding canoe trips in Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, John Goutcher of rural Preston shows how to carry a canoe when portaging between lakes.
Stay active. Always keep learning. And think you're younger than you are.

Those are some of the ways John Goutcher of Preston stays young. He just turned 72 on July 2. But you wouldn't know it - and he sometimes feels he's a couple decades younger.

He and his wife, Shirley, just celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary June 5. John was from Minnesota and she was from North Dakota when they met at Westmar, a small, liberal arts church college in LeMars, Iowa.

"I didn't have one or two things I liked to do... I liked to explore all the possibilities," John said with a big grin.

He shared his background to show how he ended up fit, active and involved today.

"I give it all I've got whatever I do. I firmly believe you do that every moment you're here. Do the best you can with what you've got as long as you can do it."

Setting the stage

John and Shirley were married in 1964. He earned a bachelor's degree in social studies and then a master's degree in school administration. He served as a teacher of psychology, sociology, government, outdoor survival and the like. Then he was a school administrator for 11 years and retired after 30 years in education.

The couple ended up in Preston because it was roughly halfway between his job teaching in Rose Creek and Shirley's job teaching in Peterson.

While he'd had a lot of experience in the wilds of northern Minnesota, "We fell in love with the place (Preston)," he shared.

Locally, he worked in Wykoff and Spring Valley/Kingsland before retiring from Kingsland.

Also, along the way John worked as a lobbyist at the state Capitol. Recently, he put that experience to good use helping in a role he called a "quasi-lobbyist" at the state for the National Trout Center in Preston, working with Sen. Jeremy Miller and Rep. Greg Davids.

And - in a part of his life that has continued to make a major impression since 1958 - he guides canoe trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW).

Canoeing and learning

As a young man, he started doing canoe trips into Boundary Waters, taking off from the end of the Gunflint Trail and working for the Gunflint Lodge. He was packing stuff for trips and outfitting them for owner Justine Kerfoot when one day she said, "Now it's your turn." He started guiding trips into the primitive setting and was hooked.

In 1986 he started guiding trips to the Boundary Waters for church groups through the Way of the Wilderness lodge at the end of the Gunflint Trail. The North by Canoe guiding company was started.

"I've been doing it ever since," he stated. People who help him guide are former students who've been on his trips. John is doing three trips this summer.

He spent over 20 years during evenings and weekends helping write outdoor education curriculum for the state of Minnesota's environmental education unit. Some of it was even used nationwide. He laughed, recalling how he'd experiment on his kids. "They were guinea pigs... much to their dismay at times."

Music has always been an interest. He became a charter member of the Chatfield Brass Band in 1969, due to knowing its founder, the late Jim Perkins of Chatfield.

John still plays percussion today in that band, as well as other local groups. He's currently in two church "praise" bands out of Lanesboro, one for Bethlehem Lutheran and the other for Lanesboro United Methodist Church. Another of the local bands is called Over the Waterfall with Tom Schramm and Dave Becker.

Always learning

In 1971 he was one of 46 high school principals in the nation selected to tour the Soviet Union to evaluate its education system. Of course, that was behind the Iron Curtain at the time. He recalled scary experiences but he "still enjoyed it."

John has been a certified lay speaker since 1977 with the United Methodist Church. He noted, "I can do anything other than marry and baptize. I've been in the pulpit many times all over southeastern Minnesota and at times serving as an interim pastor."

From 1979 to 1980, he took a year away from education and helped Sheriff Don Gudmundson at the Fillmore County Jail. John helped develop rules and regulations for the state or federal level. Then he also helped get the jail into 95 percent compliance with the rules by the time the year was concluded.

Goutcher has done behind-the-scenes work for the Preston Historical Society on projects including the elevator and the boxcar.

Combining his interest in history and lay ministry, John stays involved with the Historic Lenora Church in the Fillmore County village of Lenora.

He said, "There's the historical thing to it. You can't describe the feeling that people have when they go into that church. The solitude and silence overwhelms... the flicking of kerosene lamps... the pop of the big stove. It enhances and enchants them... puts them into a different world."

He recently portrayed the Rev. John Dyer, founder of the Lenora congregation over 150 years ago and a circuit rider. Goutcher rode to the church on horseback, where he had a dialogue with the Rev. Mark Woodward, who has taken the church under his wing.

They also team up for popular services offered each Christmas season at the historic church. John laughed, "We don't rehearse. We can have the same theme one evening for the 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. services - and it's entirely different. Mark and I have the uncanny ability to read each other's minds without saying a word."

Energy and exercise

Shirley sometimes gives John a hard time about "not having one extra ounce" on him even when they eat the same things.

John commented, "I've got lots of energy. I'm always outdoors doing something. I spend more time outdoors than indoors."

He also chops wood for the stove in their home just west of Preston. The couple raised and sold Christmas trees. Goutcher said that took a lot of time and they got out of it in 2007.

However, he added, "We can't quit anything." They've moved into selling potted deciduous and conifer trees they raise near Wykoff and Preston. He explained the trees offer consumers a smaller option, as opposed to planting bigger trees and possibly having a yard torn up in the process.

He and Shirley also have gotten into the antique business. They have a booth at the Generations Antique Mall in Harmony.

Final words

In conclusion, Goutcher feels hanging out with younger people is a good way to stay young at heart, in addition to his other "secrets."

"You're as young as you feel. I really don't believe I'm 72. I think I'm 52...

"You've got to think young... and stay involved in what goes on. Too often you see people who retire and just sit in a chair and watch the world go by.

"People will know I never died sitting in a chair. It's a big world. There's so much to learn and I want to be a part of it."

Then he shared three words, which would make a great slogan for any sporting goods company - and by which Goutcher lives his life: "See... do... participate."