PINE ISLAND (AP) -- Pat Christensen walked in her father's shoes until the soles wore out. Then she bought an identical pair -- thin rubber, painted green, curled-up toes topped with green pompons.
Her father, Jack Ryan, a longtime Pine Island barber and full-blooded Irishman, reveled in St. Patrick's Day and didn't hesitate to share his enthusiasm with fellow shopkeepers, nursing home residents and schoolchildren.
For one day every year, the 5-foot, 4-inch Ryan became a leprechaun.
"I used to see him uptown. He'd pop in and out (of shops) and tell jokes and kiss the ladies," said Christensen's sister, Gertrude McAttee, who was visiting from Indiana.
"He had several different outfits. My mother always seemed to rig him up. I would go there on St. Patrick's Day and put his makeup on. Each year, the costume got better," said Christensen, who recalled scouring Rochester for green face paint one March.
By the time Ryan died in 1983 at age 83, the vivid green ensemble included a pointed cap with ears and attached hair, a short vest over a matching shirt and tie, polyester knickers, knee-length socks and the elf-like shoes.
Aside from replacement shoes and a newly acquired green beard, the costume remained unchanged -- right down to the cigar burns dotting the button-down shirt.
The sisters' favorite photograph of their father was taken on a St. Patrick's Day when he wore a more austere costume. Ryan's whole face smiled.
Another treasured photograph, mounted in a painted green frame, was clipped from a March 17, 1979, newspaper. That was the year Ryan became Pine Island's official leprechaun -- a role he played, both officially and unofficially, for 30 years.
Christensen, who stands 5 feet, 1 inch, earned that designation herself last year. Last month, 10 years after she first wore the costume, the County Board declared her Goodhue County's official leprechaun.
Assuming the role her father played so well was not easy. Christensen waited until eight years after his death.
"I just feel my dad would feel proud of me doing this. At first, I felt awkward. My husband said, 'That's OK as long as you don't go uptown.' It doesn't bother me now because people look forward to seeing (the leprechaun)," Christensen said.
She did venture uptown eventually. One year, she distributed candy in front of Pine Island Pharmacy, where she worked.
"You were Dad made over," McAttee said. Of all the siblings, she said Christensen was the closest to her father. The two also shared a mischievous sense of humor.
The sisters laughed as they recalled the time their father gave their mother a birthday cake decorated with St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland. Their German mother, unfortunately, was less amused.
"I think of my dad a lot on that day. A lot of people talk about him. I think about my hubby, family, all our Irish relatives," Christensen said. On St. Patrick's Day, she places green carnations on her father's grave.
She drives uptown to make her St. Patrick's Day appearances. (All the Irish magic in the world can't melt the snow.) While she may dance with nursing home residents, Christensen, 69, said she isn't as spry as she once was.
"She is Pat Christensen. She is not trying to act or talk like a leprechaun," said Dorothy Edstrom, Pine Haven Nursing Home's volunteer director.
"She's a bouncy kind of person and she kind of flitters and dances around. I don't know what she says. She certainly produces many happy faces, many smiles," Edstrom said.
This year, in addition to Pine Haven Nursing Home, she expects to appear at the bank, flower shop, drugstore, senior citizens center, elementary classrooms and Goodhue County Historical Society.
In the tradition of her father, she will distribute candy and occasionally recite Irish sayings or poems.
Sometimes, she hides in the kindergarten classroom and surprises students.
"That's the idea, it's a tradition," Christensen said.
Christensen's grandfather, Lott Ryan, came to the United States from the County Cork. Her father grew up in Cannon Falls, then moved to Pine Island. His first job was with the Minnesota Department of Transportation; he then worked for more than 50 years as a barber.
When he dressed as a leprechaun, Ryan spent the entire day in costume. Christensen said his barber shop customers knew him and weren't surprised.
"When it was St. Patrick's Day, it was St. Patrick's Day until dark," McAttee said. "He was quite a guy, very fun-loving. ... He just bounced when he walked."
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