CHAPTER 8: A New Day and A New President
I don't really believe that President J. N. Kildahl at first wanted
to be President of St. Olaf College. He was a deeply spiritual man and
a great and forceful speaker. But the church had called him to be President.
He had a keen sense of duty; so he answered the call of the church.
He had no training as an administrator for a college, and he must have
been rather bewildered at first. Father, continuing to take all the
financial responsibilities, was there to help him in many ways. Uncle
Mohn had built well, and the college courses were well-planned. Some
of the loyal professors were still there.
So a new day had come. St. Olaf was safe in the hands of the church,
and a tremendous building program was started. I say tremendous advisedly,
because to us in those days it seemed just that.
Ytterboe Hall was planned and built under the supervision of Father.
It was a wonderful building and one of the finest men's dormitories
in any private school in Minnesota, or even in the surrounding states.
Carleton College was envious and filled with admiration. It was a large
dormitory and it had room for more boys than were enrolled at the college
in that day. It had electric lights throughout; there was a splendid
gymnasium; the toilet and bath facilities were considered the very finest
to be had. They were located in the basement and, at that time, it was
considered perfectly convenient for the boys on the third floor to rush
down three flights of stairs to take their showers and wash their faces
at the long row of washbasins. Shades of the first tin bathtub in the
The Ytterboe family had a fine suite of rooms. First was Father's office,
then the parlor, as it was called, then Father and Mother's bedroom,
and then the bedroom for the three children --- my sister Evelyn, my
brother Norman, and me. That led into a private bathroom for us, which
we considered the height of modern accommodations.
I remember the first telephone in Father's office. It made a deep impression
on me as a child. Father had a great sense of humor, and we had a janitor
whom we children called "Old Helgeson." Helgeson lived on upper Forest
Avenue in a tiny little house with his daughter Lena. Father planned
to have Helgeson use the new telephone, which was attached to the wall
in his office, and he stationed the daughter, Lena, in the Main. We
were all gathered in Father's office when "Old Helgeson" came in, and
Father hold him to take up the big black receiver and say "Hello, Lena,"
which he did. Lena answered him, and he was so astonished that he dropped
the receiver and turned to us with bewilderment written all over his
face and said, "Det er virkelig Lena," which means, "It's really Lena."
We had great fun over that episode.
Then a new President's House was built on the campus. It was an elegant
house, roomy and comfortable, and had plenty of bedrooms to take care
of the Kildahl children. Father, as you can well imagine, was extremely
busy with the planning, supervising and building of Ytterboe Hall and
the President's House. There were also the fine, raised wooden sidewalks
which extended from Ytterboe Hall all the way through the woods to the
President's House to the Ladies' Hall and to the "Main."
Soon thereafter Halle Steensland gave his fine gift to St. Olaf College,
the gift of the Steensland Library. For this Father was partly responsible
as he was a good friend of the Steenslands. This was the first large
gift given to St. Olaf College. Father worked and planned and supervised
this lovely revival of Greek architecture. It was more than adequate
for the books of the library at that time, and the basement was used
for a museum of rocks and fossils which had been collected by someone
whose name I now cannot remember. This was the first building at St.
Olaf College to be named for a person.
|The Acceptance of the Library From the Builders Gunner (contractor)
H. T. Ytterboe, Thori (architect) Halle Steenland. Aug. 5, 1902
President J. N. Kildahl was a fine man and he soon took up the reins
and grew strong in office as the years passed. He had four boys and
one daughter. The youngest boy, Harold, was my good friend and playmate,
together with Osmund Felland, who lived in the Ladies Hall. We children
always called the building the "old" Ladies Hall. I don't know why we
did that except that we knew it was an old building from early days
moved by Harold Thorson to the campus; so we naturally thought it was
an "old" building.
Every now and then some English language purist would say, "We really
must not call it the Old Ladies Hall, because old ladies don't live
there at all." In fact, the ages of the girls were sometimes from fourteen
to twenty-one. We would try to say "Ladies Hall" but, invariably, we
would go back to the same expression, and it continued to be called
"Old Ladies Hall" by us.
The Fellands lived there, and I remember a tremendous key to the front
door. It must have been six inches long. I sometimes wonder where that
key has gone. I remember Professor Felland's lovely garden beside the
Old Ladies Hall in the clearing of the Big Woods. The garden was backed
by a whole row of snowball bushes and the garden contained old-fashioned
flowers such as bleeding hearts, peonies, iris, and lilies of the valley.
We often had pictures taken there.
It seemed to me that we lived in Ytterboe Hall for a long time, for
a year seems long in the memory of a child. They were happy, wonderful
years. We had the woods to roam in, the wild flowers in the spring,
and Norway Valley with its beauty in which to wander. Of course, we
felt we owned the college as it was such a part of us.
President Kildahl, as I said, was a fine man. He was a good father
to his four boys and one daughter. He became very popular with the people
of the church because he was one of them, one of the people.
We at Ytterboe Hall had many girls from Norway working in the kitchen
and helping to keep things clean and tidy. I remember especially Nellie
Sathre who baked such delicious breads and rolls and cinnamon rolls.
I loved her and, strangely enough, I connect Nellie Sathre's baking
with the Spanish-American War! I also connect the assassination of President
McKinley with the building of Steensland Library. (Nellie Sathre's son
married Nellie Boe, sister of President Boe.)
I was a great friend of all the girls from Norway, and one of them
even gave me a gold cross with the words "Gud Med Dig." ("God Be With
I remembered the cleaning woman very well. Mrs. Lageson used to talk
to me by the hour. One cold winter day I came in from sliding down the
hill or making snowballs, and my hands were almost chapped and cracked,
and she looked at me and looked at my hands and said, "Edel, you must
take care of your hands because some day you will become a lady." I
thought with wonderment on that statement, and I thought of it a great
deal all that day. "Some day I would become a lady." How wonderful,
strange . . .
I remember so well the Hilleboe family who were cousins of ours, and
every summer they would go to visit Grandfather Ytterboe and stop with
us in Northfield on their way back home. So my cousin Gertrude's memory
also goes back to the early days of the college. Another cousin, Marie
Hilleboe, and my brother Norman were the same age. Of course, we had
plenty of room for the entire family in the summer months there at Ytterboe
Hall. One time we heard a loud howl from down the corridor. It was my
brother Norman screaming. As it turned out, my cousin Marie loved Norman
so much that she bit him, and when she was asked why she did that, she
said in Norwegian, "Jeg vill bare smakke pa ham," which means, "I just
wanted to taste him!"
I remember only one spanking I received from my father and that was
because I hadn't been polite enough to an old farmer who came to visit
the college. My father always told us that anybody, no matter who it
was, who was interested in the college and the school, was a friend
of ours and should be treated with great respect.
Those were the days when he always said to his boys in the evening
devotional which he had formerly repeated so many times in difficult
days, "Stand by the college." As I said, those were busy years for Father,
although they were safer years for the college financially. The money
did not come easily and the financial burdens all rested on his broad
In those years Father had to continue traveling a great deal, for he
was responsible for the buildings and plans, had various financial commitments
and was on many finance committees. We children were wild with joy when
he returned from these trips. He would take me, the youngest, and bounce
me high up to the ceiling and catch me again, always happy to be back
with the family. It seemed to me he always brought us some candy, especially
rock candy. We would never ask him for the candy, but would look at
him with great expectation in our eyes, then he would give us a little
paper sack. We opened the sack and it contained a few pebbles! We knew
he was teasing us, but very soon out would come a beautiful sack of
real, delicious rock candy. We children adored him. He was wonderful
in our eyes, and his joyous spirit pervaded our hearts, filling us with
the joy of life.
I remember one time he took all of us, Mother, Evelyn, Norman and me,
to see the Gentry Brothers' Dog and Pony Show which had come to Northfield.
It was a little circus with only trained dogs and ponies. However, it
made my mother very nervous as she thought the trainers were cruel to
the animals. Father, who was very kind and understanding of my mother's
feelings, made us leave in the middle of the entertainment. I can see
myself being dragged by the hand and looking longingly back at the cute
little ponies and darling little dogs. It was a big disappointment to
my child's mind, but we were taught to obey and never questioned the
authority of our parents.
I must have been a very funny little girl, because I had a puzzle that
I asked my father about a thousand times, and he could never guess the
answer! The puzzle was this:
"There was a hill, upon the hill there was a mill, around the mill
there was a walk, and under the walk there was a key. What is it?" My
father never could guess what it was, and he puzzled and puzzled. At
last, I would shout out triumphantly, "Milwaukee!"
I remember that Father asked me to go to town with him one day. I thought
that would be wonderful. He started walking from Ytterboe Hall on the
raised wooden sidewalk through the woods to the Main. We reached the
brow in front of the Main and walked down the three stone steps, which
I believe are still there, down the hill and along Forest Avenue on
the way to town. Father was tall, had long legs, and it seemed to me
he walked with seven league boots. I couldn't keep up with him, so I
decided to run a long way ahead, then I would rest until he came up
to me. I don't know what we did in town, but I shall never forget his
steady long strides.
Father was a chess player, and I remember well the many visits that
Per Strömme, the writer, made to us. He and Father were great friends,
and they had gone to Luther College together. I used to watch the two
gentlemen as they sat quietly looking at the board. My mother had quite
a time getting them to leave the chess game and to eat their meals on
time. It was said that Per Strömme had Father in mind when he created
the character of Halvor in his book "Vorledes Halvor Blev Priest."
Mother too was busy in those days. Always she and Father helped welcome
friends and alumni when they came to visit the college. Mother voluntarily
took charge of the girls in the kitchen and planned many of the meals
during the school year as well as during the summer months. We all sat
at the faculty table in the dining room of Ytterboe Hall, and I remember
what a tease P. O. Holland was. He always sat next to me and would pinch
me under the table. Mother was horrified every now and then by my squirming
and the funny faces I would make. It delighted P. O., and he would look
at Mother with the most innocent of expressions. Father too was a great
tease and loved to tease Mother. One day there was a dinner for the
trustees, and the table was all set in Ytterboe Hall dining room, and
just as the trustees were descending the long stairway leading into
the dining room Father picked up my petite mother and put her right
on top of the set table! Mother, who was quite dignified, was terribly
embarrassed and scrambled down from the table just in time to welcome
I was there and though it was very funny!