CHAPTER 1: Mohn and Ytterboe Family Connections
I WAS born in the Main, August 5, 1897, and my first memory (whether
I was told it or remember it) was of sitting on the front or east steps
with my brother Norman, my sister Evelyn, and my cousins, the Mohn boys.
A great big bumblebee flew along, and I said, "Oh! What a pretty bird."
It stung me on the thumb, and my cousins said they had to crack butternuts
for me all afternoon to keep me from crying. Both our families were
living in apartments on the first floor of the Main at the time ---
the Ytterboes having the one to the northeast, the Mohns the one to
the southeast. I don't remember Uncle Mohn too well other than that
he was the first president of St. Olaf College. I remember sitting in
the parlor in the lap of my father and seeing Uncle Mohn sitting near
the living room table drinking a cup of coffee. That scene is as clear
in my memory as if it were yesterday.
I do remember my great-great uncle, The Reverend Nils Brandt very well
because he lived to be ninety-seven years old, and we children considered
him a grand old gentleman. He was small in stature, but certainly not
small in mind and spirit. We always said, and I think it is true, that
he was a classmate of Ibsen and Björnson at the University of Christiania,
now the University of Oslo. He became the oldest living graduate of
the University and was knighted by the King of Norway.
|Rev. Nils Olsen Brandt First Norwegian Lutheran pastor to penetrate
the region west of the Mississippi River.
My grandmother was a Brandt on her maternal side, and her father, my
great grandfather, was Lensmand Anderson. They lived in the district
of Valders in Norway. As I understand it, a lensmand was a very important
person, a lawyer and a government official, and, as such, was looked
up to in his district. My grandmother remembered that when she was a
child the family rode in their carriage, and as they rode along the
people would take off their hats and bow to them in recognition of their
high position. When Lensmand Anderson died the family was separated.
At his death, my grandmother was in her very early teens. Her own mother,
my great grandmother, must have been a most attractive woman by family
account as she soon married again. She married a Mr. Ringstad, who took
her to America. My grandmother then was left in the care of her uncle,
the Reverend Nils Brandt, and when he returned to Norway to marry Didrikka
Ottesen, my grandmother came over to America with the Brandts. The Reverend
Mr. Brandt's wife was a highly cultured and educated woman of the Aall
family from Porsgrund in Telemark, Norway.
Things in America were very pioneer, and so it was decided that Mrs.
Nils Brandt would teach French in a small Episcopal school in Oconomowoc,
Wisconsin. My grandmother went to school there and learned to love the
Episcopal Church. In later years when I moved to Anniston, Alabama,
and found there was no Lutheran Church there, it pleased Mother to hear
that I had entered the Episcopal Church, because she knew how closely
her own mother had been connected with that church in her early days
After schooling my grandmother married Andrew Kittelsby. Mother told
me that Grandmother Kittelsby was a great teller of tales. Her children
and neighbors would gather around her as she read them stories or told
them tales from books she had read.
Mother said that in later years after she had married she read Ivanhoe.
But she found nothing new in the book as Grandmother Kittelsby had told
the tale so accurately and so dramatically that even that tremendously
long story was as familiar to her as though she had read it herself.
I remember a celebration we had here in Anniston for my mother on her
birthday. One of the guests was Mrs. Cottington B. Wells, niece of General
Sherman of the famous Sherman's march to the sea during the War Between
the States. She and my mother got together, and it was discovered that
Mrs. Wells had attended the little Episcopal School in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
My mother, Elise Ytterboe, was quite excited as the facts were revealed.
Mrs. Wells was quite a character, and I remember her saying the little
Episcopal Church school died because it became so fashionable and later
Mother attended St. Olaf's School (academy), located on the east side
of the Cannon River where the Congregational Church now stands, during
the second year of its existence. And she lived in the home of its first
president's family, the Reverend and Mrs. Thorbjörn Mohn, her aunt and
uncle, on Division Street in downtown Northfield.
She has often spoken about the James and Younger bank raid in Northfield,
an event which the city now celebrates annually in an autumn festival
called the Defeat of Jesse James. Mother had been asked by Tante Mohn
to go down a couple of blocks to the center of town to do an errand.
Imagine her horror and surprise when she got there just after the raid
and saw two of the men of the James and Younger gang lying dead on the
The next day Uncle Mohn had promised to go out in the country to baptize
a couple of children. To get to the place he had to travel through the
"Big Woods", and everyone thought that the rest of the James and Younger
gang was hiding in those woods, and urged him not to go; it would be
dangerous, they said. But Uncle Mohn, full of courage and determination,
took the trip and got back home safely.
I remember my two grandfathers very well; two men couldn't have been
more different. Grandfather Kittelsby was retired and had been mayor
of the town of Calmar, Iowa, for many years. Calmar is located very
near Decorah. He lived in quite a large house in a pleasant part of
town. We would now call the house Victorian. It had a wide front porch,
and I thought it was a fine place. Many years later, in 1964 to be exact,
I took my daughter-in-law, Josephine Ehringhaus Ayers, to Calmar, and
we looked it up. It is still standing and attractive, although it is
full of gingerbread decoration.
As I remember Grandfather Kittelsby, he was an elderly man with a shock
of grey hair, good features with a short but luxuriant beard. He had
the bluest eyes I had ever seen. He was dignified and had a slow, deliberate
way of speaking.
He had a lovely garden and loved to work in it. He was deeply religious
and loyal to the Old Synod and to Luther College. He gave of his means
and also collected money for the building of the college. He was on
the Board of Trustees of Luther College during the years 1865 to 1890.
His name is inscribed on the stone monument erected on the campus for
the hundredth anniversary of the college.
I remember so well that when we visited him in the summertime he would
have family prayers every night. He would read out of a book of sermons.
This was always in the Norwegian language, and we children who had played
hard all day could scarcely keep awake during the long family prayer
service and the language which we could hardly understand. The word
"summariam" made an indelible impression upon me, because I thought
when I heard it that it would mean the end of the prayer service. I
didn't know what it meant. Oftentimes he would read two sermons and
there would be two "summariams." I realized only later in life that
the word "summariam" meant the summing up of all the points of the sermon.
Actually Grandfather Ytterboe was an entirely different sort of man
--- very vibrant, drove his horses like mad. He lived on a large farm
outside of Calmar and, as the road from Calmar to the Ytterboe place
had seven railroad crossings, people considered that to ride with him
was a most dangerous experience. But we children loved it and would
hold on to our hats as we drove like the wind up the road and across
the numerous tracks. At the gate of the Ytterboe place was a little
red public schoolhouse for which Grandfather had given the land. In
it my father had received his early education, and I looked at it with
awe; it was so little. I could picture my father sitting at one of those
Grandfather Ytterboe was a very generous man, and I remember at dinner
time he would tell us to look under our plates. When we did there was
a great big shining silver dollar. Of course, we thought Grandfather
Ytterboe was very rich. He was considered a man of substance in those
days and he, too, gave and worked for money to build Luther College.
His name also is inscribed on the stone monument which stands on the
Luther College campus.
My father and mother were engaged and married in 1886 during the heat
of the church fight. When they were engaged, Father, then a professor
at St. Olaf College, sent a telegram to Uncle Mohn announcing the event.
Sending a telegram was an unusual thing in those days, so Father must
have been a very excited and happy man. The telegram was a little rhyme
in Latin and Norwegian:
Jacta est alea,
Min er Elise Amalia.
Which, translated, means:
"The die is cast,
Elise Amalia is mine at last."
|Wedding picture of Elise Kittelsby Ytterboe. 1886. Taken in
They were married in Calmar, and it must have been a large wedding,
for I have the wedding picture, which shows a great crowd. The Luther
College band played under the direction of the famous Sperati at the
wedding reception. Uncle Mohn was father's best man, and the Reverend
Wilhelm Koren, who was one of the leaders of the church fight in the
Old Synod, performed the ceremony. Feelings ran so high that the Reverend
Wilhelm Koren would not even shake hands with the best man, Uncle Mohn.
|Wedding picture of H. T Ytterboe. 1886. Taken in Decorah, Iowa.
Father and Mother were, of course, loyal to St. Olaf, but they also
loved the Reverend Mr. Koren, because he had baptized, confirmed and
married them. But because Uncle Mohn was an ordained minister of the
newly organized United Church, the Reverend Mr. Koren could not bring
himself to shake hands with a man who had opposed him in the church
fight. This seems a little thing, but it does show how high the emotions
can rise during religious wars or church fights. Prof. and Mrs. Ytterboe's
parlor in the northeast corner of the main building. November 15, 1887.