Imagine your most hated holiday song. Are drummer boys rum-pum-pum-pumming in your ears? Are the Chipmunks warbling until your eyes cross? Is Dominick the donkey making a special appearance in your worst nightmare?
Now here’s the crazy part: No matter how much you hate that song, KOOL 108’s Lee Valsvik is completely cool with it.
“There isn’t one Christmas song I just can’t stand — and there are so many that I adore,” said the 59-year-old local media legend.
She’s currently presiding over the radio station’s annual transformation into an all-holiday-song format. From 9 a.m.–2 p.m. every weekday, she’s playing plenty of classics by Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, along with her No. 1. Favorite — Doris Day’s version of I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Once the carols have wound down on Dec. 26, she loves all the ’80s and ’90s hits featured on KOOL 108, too, especially Fleetwood Mac.
“I love Bonnie Raitt — and James Taylor, too,” she said.
Christmas with Holly
This Christmas, Valsvik will be celebrating with her children, Max, 19, and Kiki, 18, whom she adopted with her partner of 21 years and wife of five years, Holly Boyer, an otolaryngologist and executive director of ambulatory care for the University of Minnesota clinics.
“Holly’s birthday is on Dec. 25, so it’s a double celebration,” Valsvik said. “We usually get together a few days earlier in Stillwater with my family, then head to see her family in Aitkin, Minnesota, with the hopes of doing some ice fishing.”
While Valsvik has plenty of happy holiday memories centering around music, she also recalls food-focused traditions in her childhood household.
“When I was a kid, I loved Mom’s Swedish sausage on Christmas Eve,” she said.
On Christmas day, her dad always served lutefisk.
“I’d take the lefse and use it like a tortilla, adding potatoes and lutefisk to help with the texture,” Valsvik said. “Lutefisk is all about the texture, right?”
Stillwater runs deep
Valsvik and her family recently moved from Stillwater to Golden Valley to be closer to KOOL 108 (107.9 FM) at the IHeartRadio offices in St. Louis Park’s West End.
“That commute was brutal, and now it’s five minutes for me to get to work,” she said.
Despite her current mailing address, Valsvik still is a born-and-raised Stillwater stalwart. A 1978 graduate of Stillwater High, she still can be seen wearing her Stillwater Ponies letter jacket to homecoming games.
To ensure she still fits into that jacket after all these years, she stays active by golfing in the summer and skiing in the winter.
At her home-away-from-home, Stillwater Country Club, she says her handicap was 3 or 4 “BK” (before kids) and now is a 12.
“I’ve played the best courses all over the world, but my favorite course is still right back home here in Stillwater,” she said.
After noting that she still serves on the board of directors of the country club, she added: “I’ll be back to live here someday. I can’t stay away.”
Valsvik’s love of golf began with her dad, Don Valsvik, who began teaching her when she was a preschooler. Her first state golf tournament was when she was just 10 years old.
“But dad pushed too hard, and I ended up playing softball instead,” she said. “Stillwater didn’t even have a girls’ golf team at that time. I wish I had listened to him and played more golf back then.”
Valsvik was always very close to her parents. But in 2001, a drunk driver struck her parents’ car, instantly killing her mother, Dorothy, and injuring her father. The accident happened close to Valsvik’s house, and she went to the scene.
“As soon as I heard a siren, I knew it was them,” she said. “I guess God puts you in strange places for reasons sometimes. I was able to tell everyone that she didn’t suffer.”
Her father died 10 years after the accident in 2011.
If Valsvik’s name and face seem familiar, her voice is probably even more recognizable to people all over the state. Valsvik, who originally went to Bemidji State University to study pre-med, ended up on a whole other career path when she started working at the student radio and TV stations at BSU.
In 1981, Valsvik took her first broadcast job in Hutchinson at KDUZ.
Over the years, she’s been on the Twin Cities’ radio airwaves with Metro Traffic Control, KSTP-AM, KDWB-FM, WLOL and Cities 97, including two popular morning shows at KDWB with co-hosts Steve Cochran (1988-1993) and Dave Ryan (1993-2000).
Ryan said, “Everyone knows and loves Lee — and even if they’ve never met her, she feels like a friend. I share a lot of great memories with her. We worked together during a very fun and crazy era at KDWB.”
Those stories included a Met Center explosion, meeting and interviewing all the big celebrities of the era and even helping a mom give birth.
“We had many wonderful times together,” Ryan said. “Lee is a great conversationalist, and she can talk to anyone like it’s the most natural thing
in the world.”
Valsvik is also a local TV personality, doing live features every Saturday morning for KARE 11: She’s been captured ice skating, kissing an eelpout and being accidentally tackled — live on the air — by her cameraman before the start of a Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers game in 2013. (That video went viral and was featured on late-night TV shows and media all over the world.)
With a Monday-through-Friday gig at KOOL 108 and Saturday mornings at KARE 11, Valsvik is certainly a busy person. But she tries her best to keep her schedule open where she can, citing the epiphany she had a few years ago when she heard Oprah Winfrey say, “To say ‘no’ is to say ‘yes’ to your kids.”
Still, she’s a frequent fixture as an emcee at charity events, most notably for Stillwater public schools and Youth Advantage, which works to provide arts, athletics and educational-enrichment experiences for children in need.
Stillwater resident and friend Maria Reamer has served on boards with Valsvik, and she’s continually impressed by her friend’s enthusiasm and drive to make positive change.
“She generously gives back to the communities she’s in with her time, energy and resources,” Reamer said. “I’m deeply blessed to call Lee one of my dearest friends.”
For her part, Valsvik seems to be a person who finds joy in just about everything — and everyone — she encounters. She still savors the occasional junk food treat, indulging in Sweet Martha’s Cookies when she’s broadcasting for KOOL 108 from the Minnesota State Fair.
And she’s unable to resist Old Dutch potato chips, her favorite snack food. With the air of a true chip connoisseur, she said, “Ripples with onion dip is hard to beat, but I also like the Parmesan-garlic variety and other fancy flavors, too.”
Her ideal location for a perfectly relaxing day?
“Put me on a golf course or at a ski resort and — I don’t care where it is — I’m one happy camper,” she said. “I think my blood pressure goes down the minute I get there.”
Just like Betty White
“I have no plans for retirement,” Valsvik said. “Technology works to our advantage in radio today. You can do your show from a studio in your home if you want to. Because I do so many product endorsements, I need to go in and meet our salespeople, at least right now. But things are always changing and improving.”
Valsvik’s friend Andrea Saterbak said: “I recently asked her where she saw herself in the future, and she told me she wanted to be the Betty White of Minnesota media.”
(The beloved actress, still working, turns 98 next month.)
“Lee’s voice transcends age,” Saterbak said. “When people hear her, they perk up and listen.”
On the air: Lee Valsvik
9 a.m.–2 p.m. weekdays on KOOL 108 (107.9 FM)
8–10 a.m. every Saturday on KARE 11
Julie Kendrick is a contributing writer for many local and national publications. She lives in Minneapolis. Follow her on Twitter @KendrickWorks.