AN EXAMINATION of the annual St. Olaf College Directory, which lists the names and addresses of faculty, administration, employees, and students reveals some interesting facts. We learn for example that the number of employees in the area outside of faculty and administration now constitutes almost one-half of the college staff. St. Olaf has been, exceptionally fortunate in the loyal and devoted service of its non-academic employees, the members of the grounds crew, the food service personnel, the custodians, housekeepers, engineers, carpenters, plumbers, painters, and the many others without whose services the college could not have functioned.
There have been some very interesting personalities in this group. Oldtimers will remember Lewis Larson, who in 1906 became college dray man. At that time the central power plant had coal burning furnaces. Almost daily Lewis could be seen driving his team up unpaved St. Olaf Avenue as he hauled the coal for the power plant, the groceries for the kitchen, the supplies for the bookstore. He was especially busy at the opening and closing of the school year. Students came by train in those days and brought their belongings for the year in a trunk. It was something to see the dexterity with which this slightly built man single-handedly swung the trunks up onto the dray. He often worked until midnight. At times his language was somewhat strong as he deposited the last load of trunks in the dormitory at the end of a fatiguing day.
Lewis Larson was a bachelor and had a room in Ytterboe Hall. Every evening he would go out to the barn, now long since converted into the present football dressing room (first facetiously called Holstein Hall) to talk to his horses and see that they were comfortable for the night. They were his “children”. Though they had to work overtime at the beginning and the end of the school year Lewis was most concerned that they should regularly have their necessary rest. Once when we were putting on a pageant, one episode of which required a prairie schooner, we asked Lewis if we could borrow his horses to pull the schooner across the athletic field then located west of old Mohn Hall. The pageant was set for seven o’clock. Helpful though he always was, he refused, saying that his horses worked from seven in the morning until six at night except for time off at noon, and after that they were to do no more work! Even in our disappointment we could not but respect him for his concern for his horses.
Students of more recent years even up to the present will remember Joe Rodrick and Thor Vangen, successors of Lewis Larson in the hauling and trucking business. Thor Vangen’s untimely death during the summer of 1967 after some thirty years of service saddened the entire campus community. Hardly a faculty member or student had not been the beneficiary of this always happy, friendly, buoyant personality’s helpfulness. Thor was the local campus trucker hauling bleachers to and from athletic field and gymnasium, chairs at commencement time, furniture in and out of dormitories, luggage for students, and campus supplies of every kind.
Joe Rodrick did largely long distance trucking, hauling supplies to St. Olaf farms in North and South Dakota and Minnesota, and cattle and grain and the like from farms to market or to Northfield. In his forty-one years of trucking (he had served for six years on the food service staff before that), he drove two million miles without an accident. For many years Joe Rodrick would come to the campus early on Memorial Day with his truck to take Mrs. Ytterboe, me, and the members of the Student Senate with the flowers they had gathered to Oaklawn cemetery to decorate the St. Olaf graves.
Then there was Abraham Vold, one of our early engineers. Though largely self-taught, he was a natural mechanic and many a time one would find him surrounded by a group of college physics students explaining some of the principles of mechanics. Slow of speech, lumberingly deliberate in movement, he had his own way of doing things and some of his innovations were strange and wonderful. He was employed during the years preceding and following World War I. Those were years of careful economizing. Abraham was economical by nature and made many things “do” which could not have passed an examining board. One of his favorite economy measures was to alternate turning on the steam heat to the different buildings. I recall one cold Sunday morning when after the early morning warm-up the heat was turned off in Mohn Hall. I expostulated with him and told him that not only did the girls in the building have to put on bath robes or coats over their dresses but some even had to crawl into bed to keep warm. His unruffled reply was “They should be in church. ” Yes, Abe had many oddities but he was friendly, helpful, hardworking and deeply devoted to the college.
In the fall of 1917 Sr. Ovidia Olson joined the St. Olaf staff as college nurse. At that time the college hospital was located on the site of the present Rölvaag Memorial Library. It was built in 1908, the gift of the St. Olaf Association which was composed of ex-students. To begin with it was used only as an isolation facility for contagious illnesses. Much of the time it was vacant. Since campus housing for women students was very limited, the building was for several years used as a small dormitory and called Manitou Cottage. In 1916 it was decided to put the building to its intended us as a college infirmary with a resident nurse in charge. Sister Nettie Wiggen came to us from the Deaconess Home in Chicago and was replaced the following year by Sr. Ovidia Olson. She it was who really laid the foundation for our Health Service. For a number of years she was the only college health official. In case of any serious student illness, local doctors were called. In 1928 Dr. E. R. Cook of the department of physical education became director of student health.
Sr. Ovidia looked very much the Deaconess. Her neat habit, white for work and black for dress topped by her white starched cap became her well. She was tall, dignified, calm, and serene in speech and manner, interested in community and public affairs as well as in her immediate field of Christian and professional services. She had a delightful sense of humor. Sr. Ovidia could be penetrating in her questioning if necessary but most comforting in her ministrations. She entered wholeheartedly into the life of the college. I recall among many other incidents a football game played on the old field on a slushy snowy day. In the front row of the bleachers sat Sr. Ovidia under her umbrella with the melting snow dripping from the tips of the umbrella ribs. She watched the game to the very end.
It was natural that her treatment of various common complaints would be discussed by the students. Many knew of epsom salts but only as a remedy taken internally for a very specific purpose. When, however, students suffering with poison ivy rash, or some type of swelling or abrasion reported that epsom salts was prescribed without stating that it was in the form of a wet poultice or in a solution for soaking the affected member, it became almost a campus by-word that Sr. Ovidia’s cure-all was epsom salts! She was an excellent nurse, a wonderful, selfless woman ministering to both the body and spirit of those in her care.
The ranking custodian at St. Olaf for many years was Böie Boe, one of a number of campus workers who came to us from Norway. His first assignment was Mohn Hall where he not only swept and mopped and in the winter shoveled snow but also served as a general handy man to the girls in the building when they needed help of any kind — from getting bricks for setting up book cases in their rooms to assisting them in getting at their trunks in the crowded store room.
His tenure at the college was interrupted by a year’s overseas service in World War I. In 1920 he was put in charge of the newly completed Gymnasium. In addition to his usual custodial duties he became adept in supervising the student workers who set up and took down chairs before and after chapel, concerts, and other evening events.
From the Gymnasium he advanced to Holland Hall when it was ready for use. Besides classrooms and laboratories, Holland Hall housed the administrative offices. Dr. Boe was president at the time. The story goes that helpfully answering a telephone call in the president’s office one day when no one was there Belie said, “No, This is vice president Boe.” And so he became labeled. Now he was not only custodian of a building but was also in charge of the store of custodial supplies, which he dispensed as needed to custodians of the various buildings. `Pete” (L. P. Pederson), towering, impressive looking but most understanding and genial was in charge of the Gymnasium for the next twenty-nine years after Böie Boe left the building. In 1941 the Rölvaag Memorial Library, later enlarged by the Felland Wing, was completed and Böie was promoted to the custodianship of this building where he and his wife Ragna also had their living quarters. The final rung of Bøie’s upward climb was reached when he became the first custodian of the beautiful Boe Memorial Chapel. Böie retired in 1953 after 40 years of service. Jolly, friendly, and with such a diversity of contacts, “vice president Boe” will be long remembered by a large group of St. Olafites.
He was a dapper, slightly built man of some sixty years with twinkling eyes, bushy eyebrows, and soft gray hair. We didn’t see much of Pa Jorgenson, father of Mrs. P. G. Schmidt, for most of his work was done in the college carpenter shop. However, we had friendly chats with him when he came to install the articles he had made or to stain the entrance doors of the dormitory. What we especially remember, however, is how he came every spring with his pouch of grass seed slung over his shoulder and proceeded to scatter the seed under the trees in front of Mohn Hall where the grass never seemed to thrive. He was the spit and image of the man in the picture familiar to all of us from our Bible histories of the “sower who went out to sow the seed.” And Pa Jorgenson never seemed to become discouraged because the seed was so often tramped down by student feet and the ground remained bare. Each spring he returned to sow his seed again.
Marty Fossum is a St. Olaf personality beloved by generations of St. Olaf students. He began his career when the book store was located within its limited confines in the basement of Old Main. The move from Old Main to the spacious new quarters in the Library in 1942 meant greatly expanded services. The management of the Lion’s Den was included in Marty’s responsibilities. Now with the greatly increased space provided in its present location in the St. Olaf Center its services have not only expanded but have been multiplied. Because of the efforts of Marty and the assistant manager, Miss Frances Green, to meet every type of student need, the college book store is a fascinating combination of post office, book and art store, gift shop, notion counter, and drug store.
Unperturbed and unhurried in the midst of the business of the place Marty seemed to find time for all sorts of extra personal services: wrapping big packages for mailing, making his paper cutting machine available to his customers, and in dozens of similar ways helping them out. It was a strange day on the Hill when Marty retired from his many years as bookstore manager.
For some twenty years between World War I and World War II tall, white-haired Mrs. Julia Tronbol served as the motherly matron of Ytterboe Hall Boarding club. She came to St. Olaf to fill a vacancy as a laundress. One day when the pastry cook was ill she was asked if she could make pies. She modestly answered that she thought she could. Her pies were so good that she was immediately transferred from the laundry to the kitchen and in a short time was made matron.
Mrs. Tronbol had a wonderful way with people. Soft spoken and with a quiet chuckle she enlisted the loyal services of all her staff. She took a personal interest in all the boys that worked for her as waiters or in the kitchen. Many a financial lift was quietly given by her to students in need. Always there was coffee in mid-morning for the grounds men who had been at work since seven o’clock. Serving for many years on her staff and long after she retired should be mentioned Rachel Eide, Mrs. Böie Boe of meatball fame, Hilda Guttormsen, and Clara Wilberg, who is still on the food service staff, as are the Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gunderson. He has headed the bakery for years and provided real “home-made” bread.
In this connection tribute is also due some of the long time faithfuls in Mohn Cafeteria, among whom may be mentioned the always cheerfully beaming Mrs. Dagny Rian; Miss Evelyn Knutson, whose pies were unsurpassed; the gracious managers and hostesses, Mrs. Charlotte Burr Johnson, Miss Mildred Henderson, and longest-serving of all, Miss Lajla Glasoe. There are others that should be mentioned but we shall have to leave it with a thank you to all who have contributed to the operation of the college through these various services and conclude with a glimpse at the activities of one who has served in more capacities and over a longer period of time than any of the others: John Berntsen.
John has given St. Olaf over fifty years of devoted service. As carpenter and furniture maker he made and installed shelves, book and display cases, and cabinets in one building after another; for years he cut meat for the food services; as superintendent of grounds he planted trees and flower beds, built sidewalks and saw to it that the ever-expanding campus grounds were mowed and kept in order; as superintendent of buildings he supervised the custodians, attended to the necessary painting and refurbishing and responded to emergency calls night or day; as general utility man and construction director he supervised his men in moving pianos, setting up and taking down stages in the gymnasium for concerts, plays, recitals, festivals, and graduations.
Beginning with the ground-breaking for the present Women’s Gymnasium in 1919, and until he retired, he has handed the shovel to the ground-breaking official at the ceremonies for all the subsequently erected buildings. Particularly in very dry weather, in order to make it easier for the inexperienced digger, he often softened the area with water before hand. Hours did not count for John. It was a matter of getting the task done, and many times he and his men worked long and late to accomplish this. One of John’s feats was to climb the flag pole on Old Main to paint it or to untangle a twisted cord for the flag. One final incident illustrates his resourcefulness. It was Saturday of a big football game in November. A heavy mantle of wet snow had fallen. The field would be very muddy and difficult to play on. John got his men together and in the style of building snow-forts they rolled huge snow balls down the field and cleared it in time for the game! Among those working closely with John Berntsen through many years were his right hand man Clarence Bergo, now custodian supervisor; Robert Rasmussen, now foreman of grounds, and Arthur Johnson, gardener. Mr. Vernon Tripp succeeded the ever kindly, patient and courteous Knute Leidal as chief engineer and now is supervisor of the physical plant.
Introduction and Foreword
St. Olaf Builders
“Loyal and Faithful”
Ytterboe Hall Boarding Club
War Comes to St. Olaf
When the Chapel Burned
Dearest of “Homes on the Circling Heights”
A Dream Come True
Second World War Years
Getting Back to “Normalcy”
Some Distinguished Campus Visitors
“The Play’s the Thing”
‘Once Upon a Time’ Traditions and Other Miscellany
Our College Songs