CHAPTER NINETEEN: Town and Gown
IN the very early days, there was a real feeling of intimacy between the citizens of Northfield, Carleton College, and St. Olaf's School. Uncle Mohn was a good friend of Dr. Strong, the first president of Carleton College, and Father was a good friend of G. M. Phillips of the First National Bank. As I have already stated, the citizens of Northfield gave invaluable help in founding St. Olaf, and that friendship continued for many years.
Father was on various Northfield community committees. The most important committee at that time was the Prohibition Committee. Mr. Skinner (of Skinner Memorial Chapel fame at Carleton) was president of the Prohibition Committee and Father was vice president. When the rock wall on the Cannon River was built, Father was there with his high boots working with the other citizens, helping to build it. I believe it still stands.
Every year the faculties of the two colleges entertained each other at a reception. One year Carleton College was host, and the next year St. Olaf acted as host. Mother told me that each year she used to have one best dress made for special occasions. Imagine her surprise when she came to the reception at Carleton College that year to discover that one of the Carleton faculty wives was wearing a dress just like hers! The coincidence was not, of course, a matter of importance, but to the feminine mind it was embarrassing.
Gradually under the new regime things began to change. President Kildahl was a deeply spiritual man, but he and Mrs. Kildahl were not much interested in social affairs. Social gatherings between Carleton and St. Olaf came to an end, and intimacy between Town and Gown was no longer encouraged. It seemed to me that we became more and more Norwegian as time went on, until we felt we were living in a little ivory tower of Norwegians completely set apart from the rest of the community. We called the people of Northfield Americans. Carleton College could have been located on a different planet as far as we were concerned. However, we did play baseball with Carleton each year, and it seemed to me that Carleton never won the games. I almost felt sorry for Carleton, but when I got into my college days, St. Olaf never seemed to be the winner. Now in the 1960's, I hear the score is much more even, and the goat, a basket-ball trophy, has been in the hands of St. Olaf for many years.
I was in the Academy when the goat was made and I can remember Agnes Larson at pep meetings in Hoyme Chapel during her college days. She was the very essence of the vital and loyal St. Olaf spirit as she appeared before us with her marvelous pep talks.
As I have said, we became more and more Norwegian. In the Academy we were required to study for one whole year a book called Norges Historic, written in Norwegian and published in Bergen, Norway. It was a general history of Norway from the early Viking days and on. Most of us couldn't speak Norwegian, and through that entire year's course we were in a complete fog. Since that time I have read Karen Larsen's splendid history of Norway with its tremendous sweep and fascinating account of the Norsemen ; but, to tell the truth, my only recollection of that year's study was the name Svein Tjugeskeg. We thought that was a hilarious name and whenever we felt like laughing in that class, we had only to whisper "Svein Tjugeskeg" and we would immediately go into gales of giggles! Our professor must have been a very understanding man, for it was said that everyone in the class was given a passing grade whether he deserved it or not.
At the old St. John's Church, located across the street from the present Grand Theatre, only Norwegian was used. The minister wore a white ruff which reminded one of Queen Elizabeth I's day. There was a "klokker" who announced the hymns and then rushed over to his place at the front of the church and began to pump the organ. We children always attended services. As a result of the exclusive use of Norwegian in church, I firmly believed as a child that only Norwegian was spoken in heaven! I never thought about how I would get along in heaven if I were privileged at my early age to ascend there. I believe I am correct when I say that the secretary's minutes of St. John's Church were written in Norwegian until the year 1920.
Puritanism was in full swing and all the ministers preached against the evils of dancing, card playing, drinking, and the theater. President Kildahl was no exception. They tell a story that President Kildahl was in Chicago attending the meeting of a church committee. The meeting was held in one of the hotels, and, as a number of the gentlemen were walking down the corridor to the committee room, they passed an open door. A dance was going on inside. President Kildahl stopped, and his friend said to him, "President Kildahl, you don't want to look in on that. It is a dance." President Kildahl stopped, looked in at the dancers doing the waltz and other steps. He stood there for a few minutes and then said to the others in a quiet, rather inquiring voice, "Well, is this what I have been preaching against all my life?" I also remember that in the later days of his presidency we students were giving an outdoor pageant. The pageant took place on the old athletic field in front of what is now Agnes Mellby Hall. Eight of us were to do a Mozart minuet. We were in proper costumes and we enjoyed practicing the stately steps.
The thought did enter our minds that President Kildahl might object to it. However, we went on with it, and it was a pretty part of the pageant. Afterwards, President Kildahl came up to me while I was still in costume. He bowed gallantly and said to me, "Edel, I liked that."
After fifteen years of being President, Dr. Kildahl retired from that office to become a professor at the Theological School in St. Anthony Park in the Twin Cities. Many were the parties of farewell given for them, as they were greatly beloved and admired by the faculty as well as by the students. The day they left, the Kildahls were all packed and ready to leave on an early afternoon train to Minneapolis. Mother invited President and Mrs. Kildahl to have dinner with us before the train left. We were seated at the table, just Mother, Evelyn, and I, and President and Mrs. Kildahl. Mother asked President Kildahl to say grace. He bowed his head and said the blessing. He didn't raise his head. Mrs. Kildahl didn't say anything, and we looked at each other in a rather worried way. He had fallen asleep at the table! How tired he must have been. He too gave his "all" for the college.
When he died, Mother let the Kildahls have the other half of the Ytterboe lot at Oaklawn Cemetery, as she thought that the second President of St. Olaf College should be buried beside the first President of St. Olaf College. That is the reason why the two presidents are buried side by side.