CHAPTER 2: The Old Synod

WHEN I was born, my father went to announce it to my nine-year-old sister Evelyn and my six-year-old brother Norman. He said, “Something wonderful has happened. Guess what?” They couldn’t guess, so he prompted, “The most wonderful thing that could happen to you,” and they immediately answered in one breath, ” – – – chocolate pudding!” How dreadfully disappointed they must have been when they saw a very red and healthy looking baby sister who had come to join the family household.

Mrs. H. T. Ytterboe and her daughter Edel. 1898


One could not have been brought up in those days without being deeply aware of the Old Synod, as we called it. The Old Synod was founded by highly educated and cultivated gentlemen who came over from Norway to minister to the many immigrants who had arrived before them. My great-great uncle, the Reverend Nils Brandt, was one of them and was the first Norwegian Lutheran minister to cross the Mississippi River. He, together with Vilhelm Koren, Herman Preus, Adolph C. Preus, Laur Larsen, Hans A. Stub, and Jakob Aall Ottesen, founded the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in the year 1853.

Those men were a powerful influence in the Norwegian communities in the early days. They not only founded the Norwegian-Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but helped found Luther College so that the sons of the Norwegian immigrants could get a proper education and be trained in the culture, language, literature and music of their beloved old Norway. Therefore, our family had its roots deep in the church and in the old culture established there.

My mother oftentimes said that she would like to have written about the experiences of her own mother in those early days, for she knew her particular experiences in the new country were quite different from those of most pioneers. She intended to write the story, but my sister Evelyn dissuaded her doing it, because, said Evelyn, the writing would become too personal. However, I myself feel differently, because I am a great reader of history and biographies and find that the personal and intimate accounts of the early days draw one into an atmosphere that becomes more fascinating than the bare facts of history.

Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, became the center of Norwegian culture in this country. The early founders of the Synod, such as the Reverends Brandt, Koren, Stub, Preus, Ottesen, and Larsen, were men brought up in Norway, and Luther College was patterned after the Latin schools which they knew and at which they had been educated. Everything was taught in Norwegian, I believe, even mathematics! Times change, however, and young men born in this country were growing up. The old guard at Luther College could not change with the changing times, and so a new element came into existence in the church.

My father and mother and my Tante Mohn had a deep love for their upbringing and culture in the Old Synod. Father, Halvor T. Ytterboe, was educated at Luther College. He also did graduate work for one year at the University of Iowa. Professor O. G. Felland was also educated at Luther College, as was Uncle Mohn, although Uncle grew up in Minnesota.

After some years there was a split in the church, and we children were very much aware of that fact. We really didn’t know what the church fight was all about, but we realized that it was serious. I remember one day talking to my playmate, Osmond Felland, and my cousin, Ted Mohn, and my brother Norman, and we decided in our child minds that they were all fighting about how many angels could dance on the tip of a needle!

All through the controversy between the Old Synod and the newly organized United Church, the Ytterboe family, though intensely loyal to St. Olaf College, never lost their love and feeling for Luther College and its people. I remember well the late President Ove Preus’ visit to me in Anniston, Alabama. He was then President of Luther College. And on speaking about my father he said that all through the fight between Luther College and St. Olaf College my father never neglected to pay his alumni dues to Luther. Finally the feelings between the two colleges lessened. On the very first occasion when the Luther baseball team had come to Northfield to play against the St. Olaf team, Ove Preus had been one of the players on the Luther team. But, instead of being met with stones and brickbats, as they had expected, it was my father, Professor Ytterboe, who met them at the train. And as Ove Preus said, “No one could have been kinder and more gracious.” They were amazed at the courtesy of their reception throughout and still more at the good sportsmanship of the game itself.

The Old Main


Mohn and Ytterboe Family Connections
The Old Synod
The Reverend Bernt Muus
Young Professor Ytterboe
The First Bathtub at St. Olaf College
A New Day and A New President
Chapel Prayers by H. T. Ytterboe
Erik Hetle and Ole Rölvaag
Hoyme Chapel
Old Buildings at St. Olaf College
1300 St. Olaf Avenue
Agnes Margaret Kittelsby
Professor O. G. Felland
Agnes Mellby
Town and Gown
Music at St. Olaf
St. Olaf’s First Rhodes Scholar
My Mother, Mrs. H. T. Ytterboe