CHAPTER 7: 1899
AGAIN, how shall I recount that wonderful and terrible year 1899? At the annual meeting of the church all the ministers and lay delegates were convened when the question came up as to whether the church would receive St. Olaf College as a gift. The Reverend Gjermund Hoyme was presiding. He was the first President of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church. We called him Formand Hoyme (formand is the Norwegian name for president). He was a powerful man and a formidable opponent. He was bitterly opposed to accepting St. Olaf College as the church school and fought hard against it. He was also opposed to co-education. He held that it was impossible to have a college for young men and young women studying together. He rallied his forces and the convention was a battleground. The life of St. Olaf College was at stake.
But the laymen and many of the ministers throughout the Northwest were personal friends of Father and Uncle Mohn. They believed in them, and they believed in the cause for which they had worked so hard for so many years. Hoyme's forces were overwhelmed. The final vote was counted, St. Olaf had won!
Many have told me that a dramatic incident occurred at the annual meeting in 1899 when Father arose and asked Hoyme to pray for St. Olaf College. In those days if a minister was asked to pray, he prayed with all the vigor he could muster. Formand Hoyme prayed so hard for St. Olaf College that you would have thought that he had done it all himself! However, a terrible thing happened.
They elected a new President for St. Olaf College and relegated my Uncle Mohn to an inferior position. This was putting Uncle Mohn in an impossible position. However, he took it like the gentleman he always was. He wrote a beautiful acceptance letter for his inferior position. I cannot say what conferences and words were spoken between the men, Father and Uncle Mohn at that time, but I can well imagine Father's deep sorrow, and I can well understand that both men felt that their mission had been accomplished and the college was safe.
I do not know, but I understand from what I have heard from time to time that Uncle Mohn felt his work on earth was done, because in that same year 1899 he died at the age of fifty-six. I feel certain that the decision of the church hastened his death.
Then it was that the citizens of Northfield rose again to show their love for the college and the Mohn family. They presented Tante Mohn with a beautiful silver service, and the citizens and the college at Northfield honored Uncle Mohn's memory. St. Olaf College was closed for the day in his memory as was Carleton College, and the entire town observed a day of reverence.
Tante Mohn was left with six young children, five boys and one daughter. She was a frail woman. She had no money. The youngest of the children was Cousin Ted, then about nine years old. Again, the citizens of Northfield showed their love and appreciation to the Mohn family. They bought a lot on St. Olaf Avenue, and a group of alumni and friends built the Mohn house, which now stands at 1208 St. Olaf Avenue.
Tante Mohn had to sit through the long funeral service at which many of the church leaders gave eulogies. Hardest for her was Formand Hoyme's coming down from Minneapolis and giving the longest eulogy of all! He spoke so long that darkness was beginning to fall at the end of the service. How Tante Mohn could sit through it all, listening to President Hoyme, St. Olaf's bitterest enemy, speak at such length when her heart was so full of sorrow, I do not know. She had great dignity and she never betrayed for a moment that anything was amiss. She was a frail and lovely looking woman. She had great courage and dignity and was truly a lady of the old school.
How Father and Mother felt I really do not know because they never spoke of it with bitterness. There were great men at St. Olaf in those days. How the church could have treated Uncle Mohn in such a shabby manner, I could never understand until I myself grew older and began to realize that the church was composed mainly of immigrants. They were fine, hardworking, honest men, but men who had little time for the amenities and the gracious life. I do not believe that they even thought they were treating Uncle Mohn so unfairly.
I never heard Tante Mohn speak with bitterness about the situation. Truly Tante Mohn and her family were thoroughbreds.