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On the road -- at home -- with KSTP’s Jason Davis

After his Star-Observer interview, Jason Davis mimes hitchhiking along Carmichael Road near the Interstate. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Chuck Nowlen)

He’s been everywhere from Benevolence, Minnesota, to Machu Picchu, Peru and beyond.

He’s covered polka palaces, a sausage-faced Elvis impersonator, a dog that delivers newspapers and perhaps the worst rendition of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” ever sung -- and much, much more.

Jason Davis’ 5,000-plus “On The Road” broadcasts found the joy of life for 38 years at the Twin Cities’ KSTP TV -- the quirkiness of it, the simplicity of it, the moments that make you smile, sometimes through heart-touched tears.

That part hasn’t changed since he retired May 30. He’s still got an eye for those endearing, everyday details. He just doesn’t chase them for a living anymore.

“It was just time for me to retire,” Davis explains with his signature English accent in an interview at a Carmichael Road coffee shop.

“I have no goals. I don’t even have a schedule” –- he pauses –- ”beyond the fact that I might have to meet with someone from time to time.”

Davis and his wife Amanda have lived just north of Hudson –- “near Bass Lake Cheese Factory,” he notes pointedly -- for the last 28 years. He still has that easy gift of gab, and his face, now bearded, still seems incapable of generating anything but a broad, genuine grin.

When he speaks, he connects warmly, looking you straight in eyes.

“We’ve had a great life here,” says Davis, whose bearing is decades younger than his 70-plus years. “We could live anywhere, but we have absolutely no plans to live anywhere but here.”

Simple pleasures

There always seems to be something interesting nearby, Davis notes, whether he and Amanda are dining out with the “hundreds of dollars in gift certificates” they’ve accumulated; relaxing with their grown children, Kylie, Jessica, Verity and Jeremy, and eight grandchildren, all of whom live within 45 minutes of town; planning upcoming trips to New York, Australia, Seattle and South Dakota; serving local civic groups; or just hitting the swimming pool, doing chores and gardening at home.

“We do a lot of home maintenance, inside and out. It’s been so wet that we have oodles of work.”

Now Davis grabs his smart phone -- “this one’s a piece of (soft expletive deleted),” he deadpans, pausing again for a quick side story. Then he displays a photo of a bear’s paw print they just found next to the pool.

“Look at this,” he says. “We were out in the yard yesterday, and there it was.”

Another recent semi-coincidence: He and Amanda, an office manager at FamilyMeans counseling and support agency for 10 years, both retired on the same day.

“It seemed appropriate,” Davis shrugs. “We’re comfortable. We love all the nature that’s around us. We love all the rivers and lakes.”

They also love being part of the Hudson community. All of their kids graduated from Hudson High School. The entire family’s been active one way or another in The Phipps Center for the Arts. Jason has been honorary chairman of the St. Croix Valley United Way and is a longtime board member of the SOS Players youth theater in Hudson and St. Paul.

Too many gawkers

Jason and Amanda moved here from a corner house near White Bear Lake, which he describes as “the perfect American dream -- lovely schools, a great neighborhood.”

The only problem: “As I became more well-known, we found that more people driving by were slowing down in front of the house and parking.”

He’d also always dreamed of owning some land, so they started looking. Eventually, they found the 11 acres they now call home.

“It’s beautiful land,” Davis beams. “Heavily wooded with old-growth oak.”

He also has a full library of his “On The Road” segments, which have won him nearly every recognition imaginable. Among them: 17 local National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awards, including one of the academy’s highest honors, induction into NATAS’s Silver Circle; the Minnesota Museum of Broadcasting Hall of Fame; the Northwest Broadcast News Association’s Eric Sevareid Award for Public Service; and a regional Edward R. Murrow Award.

Hard to believe, maybe, that it all came from a restless 15-year-old kid who left home and went to sea for nine years as a merchant marine.

Then again, maybe not. Listen to the story of how he got his first TV gig in 1968 after jumping ship in Australia. You might detect the essence of a natural journalist.

“It was as simple as walking in and asking,” Davis remembers, as if still surprised that it actually worked.

Chuck Nowlen

Chuck Nowlen joined the Star-Observer team as a business, township and general-assignment reporter in April, 2014 after a three-decade career in newspapers and magazines, and as a newsroom-management/business-planning consultant.

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