Some Distinguished Campus Visitors

THROUGHOUT THE years there have been many distinguished visitors at St. Olaf — artists, authors, statesmen, leaders in church and state-to whom I was privileged to serve as hostess. Among these, just to mention a few, were Kirsten Flagstad, Mrs. J. Borden Harriman, Ambassador to Norway at the time of the invasion, Eunice Hilton, Betsy Kjellsberg, Christopher Morley, Robert Taft, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Haile Selassie. Through the generosity of the Maude and Louis Hill Family Foundation, several Minnesota colleges were enabled for several years to secure as guest lecturer an outstanding authority in his field whom we otherwise could not have afforded to invite to our campuses. Those who came to St. Olaf spent six weeks with us, February and half of March. Several of the men were accompanied by their wives. It was not easy to find housing in Northfield for a six-weeks period at that time of the year. When this program was started I had already built my little home at 30 Lincoln Lane and so was privileged to rent my house to the college for these guests during their stay at St. Olaf. Two of the speakers stayed in guest rooms at the college. The other three with their wives lived at my house. I myself moved up to the guest room in Hilleboe Hall during the time and thoroughly enjoyed these six weeks with the seniors in their dormitory.

Dr. and Mrs. J. S. Whale from England were the first to occupy my house. The next year it was Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Compton, and lastly Dr. and Mrs. Buckminster Fuller. It was a wonderful privilege for St. Olaf to have these men on the staff and for students and faculty alike to get to know both lecturers and their wives personally. Many opportunities were provided in small discussion groups for such personal contacts. John Mason Brown and Dr. George Cressy were the other two St. Olaf Hill Foundation lecturers.

Senator Robert Taft visited Northfield September 7, 1939. I was informed by Herman Roe of the Northfield “News” of his presence in Northfield and that the following day was his 50th birthday. Hurriedly a little pre-birthday party was arranged for him in Agrees Mellby Hall with cake, candles, and all. The guests were not many, but included Herman Roe, Congressman August Andresen, President L. W. Boe, Arthur Lee, J. Jorgen Thompson, and Lyndon King of Minneapolis, a Yale classmate of Mr. Taft. The cake was inscribed “Happy Birthday . . . 50 . . . Taft for President.”

One year we had as a guest speaker Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, who addressed the students on the work of the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations. She was housed in Hilleboe Hall. The Student Senate was in charge of hospitality for her and her secretary, and the members got a real thrill out of breakfasting with them in the Hilleboe Hall Lounge.

One of our alumni, Joseph Simonson, served as the U. S. Ambassador to Ethiopia for four years (1953-1957). He became well-acquainted with Emperor Haile Selassie. On the Emperor’s visit to the U.S. in the summer of 1954, arrangements were made by Ambassador Simonson for the Emperor to visit the campus for a couple of hours.

A glamorous tea table was set in Agrees Mellby Hall living room with an eager group of hostesses ready to serve the Emperor and his party on their arrival. Outside the building, college and city officials walked about to be on hand to receive the distinguished visitors. When the time set for their arrival came and there was no sign of the party, there was some anxiety on the part of the awaiting hosts. After some half hour’s delay, however, after having circled Carleton and met President Laurence Gould and other Carleton College officers, the colorful procession came up St. Olaf Avenue accompanied by the Minnesota National Guard and the highway patrol. It was of course a delightful experience to meet the Emperor, and his aides, together with other Ethiopian governmental officials. With a friendly wave from all of us, the group was off again for its next destination after their hour-and-a-half visit at St. Olaf.

But it was the visit of Crown Prince Olav (now King Olav) and Crown Princess Martha, May 7th and 8th, 1939, that was the most exciting of all. The whole college was involved in preparation for their arrival. They and their party were to be housed in Agnes Mellby Hall, completed just a year previously. The entire first floor was turned over to the royal party. The students who occupied the rooms on first floor vacated them and moved in with friends living on the floors above. Mrs. Rygh, the housemother, and I moved up to second floor to the room at the head of the stairway. Since this was the first year that Agnes Mellby Hall was occupied, there were a number of friends of the college who planned to make this an occasion to see both the building and the royal party at the same time. But this was to be distinctly a St. Olaf College visit by their Royal Highnesses. This information was widely broadcast, and at the same time the announcement was made that the royal party would be in Minneapolis on their return trip from the West Coast and that that meeting was open to the general public.

The personal maids and the valets arrived two hours before the rest of the party. They looked over the quarters, unpacked baggage, and hung up clothes. I noticed with interest that the first thing they did was to put large photographs of the children on the dressers.
The living room in the quarters of the Dean of Women was turned over to the Prince and Princess to serve as their private retreat. The Princess slept in the adjoining bedroom and the Prince in the room just off the lobby (now the guest room). The rest of the party was housed in the two first floor student sections with the Chamberlain, Major Nicolai Ramm Oestgaard, and the Lady-in-waiting, Mrs. Oestgaard, occupying the room closest to the Crown Prince and Princess. The students had cleared one closet in each room for the guests, made up the beds with fresh linen, put out soap and towels, and had done what they could to make the accommodations as much like those provided in a home as possible.

A detachment of the Minnesota National Guard under the command of Adjutant General Ellard Walsh was sent to the campus. Two guards were stationed at each door of the dormitory and others at strategic places about the campus. No visitors were allowed in the dormitory, no fond parents or curiosity seekers. During the period of the visit, there was always one senior student resident at each door to identify to the state troopers the residents as they went in and out of the building. Next to having the Crown Prince and Princess as their housemates, the girls experienced their greatest thrill in having the doors swung open for them by a national guardsman. That was royal treatment for them.

The royal party arrived about five o’clock after first having been greeted by Northfield citizens and officials at Bridge Square. Students, faculty, staff, and guests were gathered in front of the Finseth band stand to receive them with the college band providing appropriate music. After a welcome by President Boe, Sigvald Holden spoke in Norwegian on behalf of the student body and flowers were presented to the Crown Princess by Kathryn Jorgenson.
After the reception at the band stand, the members of the party were assigned their rooms and given an opportunity to rest before dinner. Our visitors had expressed the wish that they could see as normal a sample of college life as possible. So the party ate in Ytterboe Hall dining room with the freshmen and were served a typical Sunday dinner, the only variation being that it was served at night instead of at noon.

At 8:15 p.m. there was a concert by the St. Olaf choir in the Gymnasium which was followed by a gala reception for faculty, staff, and guests in the Agnes Mellby living room with refreshments served in the recreation room. The next morning a late breakfast was served in their private living room to the Crown Prince and Princess and to Mr. and Mrs. Oestgaard, prepared by some of the home economics seniors in the advanced food class. Wishing to use whatever local products were available, they included with the customary breakfast of grapefruit, toast, bacon and eggs, and coffee, Northfield’s Malt-O-Meal cereal. It was apparently a novelty to the guests to be served porridge for breakfast.

The big event of the day was the morning convocation in the college gymnasium at which the Crown Prince was awarded an honorary doctor’s degree from St. Olaf. Large American and Norwegian flags were in place at the rear of the platform. All the dignitaries involved including General Ellard Walsh were seated in an impressive semicircle. Everything was proper and formal. The greetings and speeches were given; the Crown Prince was at the lectern giving his response. Then came the never-to-be-forgotten incident that has become a cherished story in the annals of St. Olaf. Beloved Dr. C. A. Mellby, whose traditional fidgeting and often unconscious movements had brought his chair to the edge of the platform, toppled backward, chair and all, and disappeared from sight.

It was like a bomb shell. Breathless silence in the entire assembly! On the platform startled expressions. The general jumped to his feet, and then from behind the curtain the chair slid onto the platform with Dr. Mellby in it calmly polishing his glasses. Mr. John Berntsen had been behind the platform, caught the chair, and pushed it back into place. That broke the ice; a cheer went through the audience before calm was restored. President Boe said, “No one but Dr. Mellby could have removed the stiff formality of the occasion so ingeniously and gotten by with it so graciously.”

Crown Princess Martha had been ordered to rest as much as possible on this trip and not to make any public speeches. The Crown Prince had been invited to a luncheon given by a group of doctors and lawyers in Rochester. Princess Martha had felt it necessary to decline the invitation to be the guest of the Rochester ladies. After a luncheon with the women members of the party in the little dining room in Mohn Hall, she rested for awhile and then with her lady-in-waiting went out to inspect the campus at leisure. They even went over to the dairy barn to see the Holsteins. Her husband was much interested in the development of herds on some of his holdings in Norway. On her return she laughingly said that she had learned something new about cattle care, that cows were entertained with radio music and she wondered whether that helped produce more milk. Apparently the herdsman had a radio in the barn for his own entertainment.

Upon her return from her campus walk, coffee was served the women members of the party together with college hostesses. After a short rest the lady-in-waiting, Mrs. Oestgaard, told me that their next stop was the Grand Canyon. She said that Princess Martha had noticed the comfortable-looking shoes that the college girls wore, that her high-heeled shoes were unfit for any walking around at the canyon and wondered if someone could go with them to buy more suitable footwear. It was arranged that the President of the Women’s Student Government Association, Ruth Borge, should be their escort. The store they entered didn’t look too prepossessing for the windows were practically covered with sales advertising. But the women found the shoes they wanted. Each bought a pair. The next day the windows of Sletten’s shoe store were cleared, and in full view was a chair on which was placed a pair of shoes with a placard stating that this was the kind of shoe bought by Princess Martha and her lady-in-waiting. The store was immediately sold out of shoes of that style.
The living room and foyer of Agnes Mellby Hall served as the general gathering place for the members of the party and college and other official personnel and visitors. The press, local, Twin City, Norwegian-American and Norwegian, was in constant evidence, with reporters, interviewers, and photographers. It was interesting to observe that when Prince Olav was interviewed he always seemed to want Princess Martha near enough so that she could hear both questions and the answers he gave, and make any additional comments she might judge appropriate. She impressed us as a very keen-minded person.

Whenever Prince Olav spoke either to a large assembly or at smaller groups or in giving expression of appreciation for one thing or another, he always included her so the phrase “The Crown Princess and I” became a familiar one. Both of them were most delightful guests and in every way displayed both the dignity and the charm associated in our minds with the terms “Prince” and “Princess.”

Manitou Analecta

Chapters:

Introduction and Foreword
Early Contacts
St. Olaf Builders
Loyal and Faithful
Student Life
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