March 10, 1988

Dear Family:

I have just completed my rambling thoughts on the high points of my life. I have tried to weave a thread of family history throughout. I have tried to tell what it was like growing up on an Iowa farm in the teens 20’s and 30’s- the childhood joys and experiences, and what wonderful parents we had. I know that there is much more that could be written but I feel this is long enough and tells the story to some degree. I touched lightly on my family life with Leonard and our children as that is current knowledge. I also realize that it could stand a good going over and rewrite. At times sentence structure is poor, typing is not the best and other flaws, but I just don’t have time or patience to do it. If desirable, sometime in the future this could be done.

I hope everyone who reads it will enjoy it and perhaps learn something of “how it was then.” It was fun for me to recall many things.

Be assured that I love you all and pray for you daily.

who is-
wife, mother, grandmother, sister, mother-in-law

The Story of my Life

March 1988

Karen has asked me to record some thoughts and memories of my life. I hope that what I write will somehow cause my children and grandchildren to appreciate and be proud of their heritage. The longer I live the more grateful I am for my forebearers. All four of my grandparents were born in Norway and came to America in their youth. Norway at this time was a poor country, less than five per cent of the land could be tilled, and the small farms could not even feed the families living on them. America was the land of opportunity, the land of milk and honey that called the more adventurous to her shores. They were strong people, strong in body, soul and mind. They brought their Lutheran faith with them and instructed their children in the same faith. My grandparents were part of the building of a new society in this new land. They leave with us a proud heritage.

In the summer of 1986 Karen and I had a most memorable trip to Norway and we visited the area near Stavanger from which my forefathers came. All four grandparents lived within a few miles from each other. On the Ritland side my great grandparents were Ole and Siri Ritland. They lived on the Ritland farm near Hjelmeland, Norway, a farm high on the mountainside. It was not possible for Karen and me to get to Ritland. We got as far as an auto would take us but it was raining and we would have had a slippery 20 minute walk up the mountain. No one lives there now but we were told the house is still standing. The scenery was indescribably beautiful but the farm was small and rocky. They were poor tenant farmers and they could not support their family of seven children so America beckoned as the land of opportunity.

Ole and Siri with their seven children, including my grandfather, Jens, immigrated to America in 1855. Jens was seventeen years old. After spending eleven weeks on the sailboat, The Sisters, they sailed up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec. Upon reaching Quebec they boarded a train for the east coast of Michigan. They crossed Lake Michigan to Chicago and from there they went to Lisbon, Illinois, where they lived for two years. Their son, Lars, died here in 1856. In 1857 they left Lisbon for Story County, Iowa. There were seventeen covered wagons, drawn by oxen, in the caravan. The Ritlands lived in their covered wagons along Skunk River on the outskirts of Story City until they secured temporary shelter in a log cabin. Later they moved to the farm which Ole Ritland bought. Their son, Jens, was a young man on the prairie, spending his time as that of any ordinary man on the farm, splitting rails and breaking prairie with a huge breaking plow drawn by eight oxen. But the Civil War between the states was now raging and he enlisted in the Union Army at Story City, Iowa, on August 12, 1862 and left for service in September. He saw a lot of action in the Mississippi River campaign. We have his War Story as he himself dictated it. It is ironic that he came back safely but his brother Osmond was accidentally shot at home on April 14, 1865, very day that President Lincoln was shot. He was 17 years old and my father was named for him. By serving in the Union Army, Jens secured his United States citizenship.

My grandfather, Jens Ritland, was born near Hjelmeland, Norway on September 10, 1838, and died in Roland, Iowa, in 1917 at 79 years of age. After his discharge from the army he was engaged in farming the rest of his life. This farm is still in the Ritland family and was named a Century Farm. He married Inger Hegland, who also was born in Norway, July 3, 1835, and was from a beautiful valley near Hjelmeland. Karen and I were within a few miles of the Hegland farm, but time was running out on us so we did not see it. Jens and Inger had 7 children, 4 sons and 3 daughters, namely, Olaus, Bennie, Osmond, and Lewis; the 3 daughters were Belle, Julia and Louise.

Uncle Olaus was a very successful farmer living near Garden City, Iowa. He and Aunt Osa had 10 children, 5 sons and 5 daughters. We often visited them on Sunday afternoons and Aunt Osa always had a good supper for us. Their daughter, Ethel, was about my age but she died at the tender age of 13 from spinal meningitis, It was my first brush with sorrow.

Uncle Bennie also was a farmer in the McCallsburg area. He and his wife, Aunt Malinda, were like second parents to us. I remember once she took me to Marshalltown with her and bought me a lovely dress. They had a lot of hardship and sorrow but they were stout-hearted people. Uncle Bennie never learned how to drive a car; that was left up to Aunt Malinda. I can still see him driving his buck board wagon with his faithful team of horses and pulling into our driveway. He usually came in for a cup of coffee and he had the strange habit of filling the reservoir on the stove with water from our kitchen pump. He used to pull from his pocket a nickel or a dime for me. They were the parents of 5 children but only 2 lived to adulthood. Clarence died at 33 years of age of epilepsy. Bert died a few years ago. Aunt Malinda always had a lot of beautiful clothes. She was a good cook and we had lots of delicious meals in their lovely home. I remember she always had doughnuts on hand.

Aunt Belle was the eldest daughter. She married Knute Logan and they made their home on a farm near Ada, Minnesota. She was a devoted wife and mother of 4 sons and 2 daughters. Herma is the one we know best. Rufus became a professor at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota and was also State Tax Commissioner for the state of Minnesota. In the summer of 1928 when I was 13 years of age my Dad bought a new Pontiac and took the family on a long trip. We visited the Logans for a couple of days and we had such a good time. I remember we went gooseberry picking and Aunt Belle made gooseberry pies. One evening we stayed up until the wee hours just talking and telling stories and telling jokes. Dad was a good story teller. Rufus and Otto were handsome college boys home for the summer and they joined in the fun.

Aunt Julia and her husband, Jonas K. Johnson, lived near Randall. They had a large family. Mamie was my age and we played together. Alvina was my idol. She was a tall gorgeous blond and a beautiful soloist. She married a physician surgeon and lives in Clarksburg, West Virginia. We had the privilege of visiting them there in their lovely home. Ruthie learned to know Harris and family in Seattle and keeps in touch with Mamie. When Mark and Denise lived in Mason City they met Carl who lives there. They were all members of Trinity Lutheran Church where Carl was a dedicated Sunday School teacher. Jonas K. Johnson was a lay minister of sorts and could give a very nice talk, Aunt Julia was very sweet and motherly.

Aunt Louise was married to my mother’s brother, William Williamson, which gave us double cousins, Obed, Christian, Luther and Inga. On that memorable trip in 1928 we also visited the Williamson Stock Farm at Grafton, North Dakota, and had a fantastic time there. Luther paid attention to me and I thought he was very nice. We young people even went to a show one night in Grafton. Their stock and dairy farm was the show place for miles around, modern in every way The barn was huge and new and equipped for dairy farming. The house was the finest for that time, expensively furnished. Christian ran the farm and Luther the dairy in the town of Grafton, selling milk, cream, ice cream and all other dairy products produced and processed in their plant. Uncle William was tragically killed one night, hit by a car as he was walking on the road to town. Aunt Louise was a very pretty woman She walked proudly and held her head high. She was spunky with lots of spirit.

Osmond, my father was next in age. He and Mama, the former Ina Williamson, were married in Badger, Iowa, at the Lutheran Church, June 30, 1909. They had a lovely wedding with 3 bridesmaids and 3 groomsmen. The Badger band came out to the Williamson farm in the evening and provided the music. Mama made a beautiful bride with her slim figure, lovely auburn hair and deep brown eyes. Dad had attended school at Jewell College and also at Luther College in Decorah. He was a farmer all his life and was a very good farmer. He had respect for the land and took good care of it.

Uncle Lewis was the baby of the family. He and his wife Malinda (we called her Lewis Malinda) lived on the old Ritland Homestead near Roland. They had 6 children- very nearly the ages of us in our family so we had lots of fun together. Dad and Uncle Lewis were very close. They thought alike and during the depression they had a lot of serious talks. Uncle Lewis and Aunt Malinda were tragically killed one summer Sunday evening near Roland as they were driving to visit their daughter Esther and family. They had a large double funeral. We were there, I will never forget it. This really hit Dad hard- he lost his pal.

After her parents were gone Alice seemed to be the anchor of the family. We were saddened when we lost her to cancer about 4 years ago. he still keep in touch with Esther, Earl and Lloyd. They were all very good to my parents, always including them in their family celebrations.

My maternal grandmother, Christine Sagaard was born on the Sagaard farm near Tau, Norway, in 1834, just over the mountain from Ritland. Her father, my great grandfather, was Peder Bjornsen Sagen, born in 1807, and her mother was Ingeborg Christine Rasmusdatter Vasstveit, also born in 1807. Christine was the eldest of 6 sisters. She and her sister Ingeborg came to America; the other four remained in Norway. Their names are: Berta Sagaard, Anna Marie Tjosheim, Marie Jorpeland and Rachel Leite. Margreta is a descendent of Rachel, and Berta’s descendants are still on the Sagaard farm. Karen and I had a nice visit on the farm that summer in Norway, and it was truly a thrill to be there, to walk on the very ground on which she had walked, to gaze on the mountains that she loved, and to see the same fertile valleys and beautiful fjords.

I can only imagine the pain and sorrow they must have felt when they bid their dear ones “farvell” and set their faces toward America- never to see their parents and sisters again. There must have been an irresistible pull to draw them to America, the land of golden promise. For those who went there was some degree of excitement and anticipation of a new adventure,but it must have been excruciating for the parents and others left behind. It has been said that my grandmother was very lonesome for Norway and cried bitter tears, but she was never to see Norway again. Karen was anxious to know more about her great grandmother but I am sorry I do not know very much about her. She died in 1906, 3 years before my mother was married. I do know she was a strong person. Her father was a farmer and a fisherman. As the eldest of the sisters she was her father’s helper, rowing the boat in the heavy North Sea and during the summer, taking the herds up the mountains to the seter. Here the goats, sheep and cows grazed all summer on the lush grass and grandma made cheese and butter for the long, cold winter ahead. I am told she had a very sweet singing voice and I can just visualize her singing as she went about her work She was a woman of deep religious faith. She lost 3 children in their tender years- at least one to the dreaded diphtheria. In spite of her grief it is said that as one of her babies was lowered into the grave she burst forth in a hymn of praise to her God. In later years Cousin Rolf Stageberg came upon a letter she had written in Norwegian to her children. He had it translated into English and it was full of concern for her dear ones. I wish I could have known her. What an inspiration she would have been in my life.

It was a great privilege for me to be on the Sagaard farm. As I shook hands with my 3rd Cousin Goodvin, who now lives there, I felt I had completed a journey. I had come back to the land where my roots were and I felt a strong kinship with the family there. We had more in common than names in the family Bible. We had a common heritage. Norway had welcomed me to her shores. I had come full circle. I am sorry we have lost track of Grandmother’s sister, Ingeborg, who came to America with her. She married a man by the name of Johnson. We have a picture of Christine and Ingeborg with their husbands. My mother was just a little girl and she and Uncle Syvert are on the picture as well as their cousins, Lena and Isaac Johnson. All four are young children. I remember once as a little girl I was with my parents when we visited Isaac Johnson near Whalen,

Minnesota. I seem to remember a large white house on a farm, but we haven’t heard about them for many years.
My great grandparents on the Williamson side were Siri (Sarah in English) Tysdal, born in 1805, and Vellom Meland. They were married in 1834 and their son, Ole, was born in 1840, near Hjelmeland, Norway. He was Vellom’s son, thus he took the name of Vellomson, which in America became Williamson. That was the custom of Norway. I have stated how much it meant to me to be on the Sagaard farm. It was equally thrilling to be on the Meland farm. The old house where the family lived is still standing- a very small frame house, now protected by law as a historical place to be preserved. Curtains were still at the windows but we did not see the inside. We talked to an elderly couple living in an adjacent house and he told us there was a plot of ground known as Vellom’s Field. This valley was simply beautiful with white farm houses, red barns, green fields with mountains in the distance. They were drying hay on fences which added to the pastoral scene.

Although My Grandfather and Grandmother Williamson lived only a mountain away from one another in Norway they did not know one another in the old country. In those days the mountains were a tremendous barrier. Many Norwegians were born, Married, died and were buried in the same valley, never venturing over the mountain to the next valley. My grandparents met the boat that took them from their homeland to the new life they shared in America. They sailed from the harbor at Stavanger in 1863. We think they came down the St. Lawrence River waterway to the Great Lakes, to Chicago, and thence to the Fox River settlement in Illinois, which was a Norwegian settlement. They were married in the fall of 1863. After 6 years in Illinois they went by prairie schooner to Webster County, Iowa, with their 3 small children and all their possessions. They were early pioneers and suffered the hardships of that time. While fording a river on their hazardous trip to Iowa the wagon tipped over, dumping everyone and all their earthly belongings into the swift current.

The following is an interesting excerpt from The Biographical Record of Webster County, Iowa, published by S J. Clark Publishing Co., Chicago, Ill, 1902: “Their home, as it is with marks of culture on every hand, such as music, books and flowers is an interesting one. The efforts of Mrs. Williamson deserve special mention. She has not only reared a large family, which alone to the modern woman appears a Herculean task, but as a pioneer wife, she has ever been ready with strong and willing hands to see that chores were done, grain in the stack and hay in the mow. The fortitude and heroism of a pioneer’s wife in the midst of hardships and privations cannot be too fully realized and appreciated.

In his political views Mr. Williamson is a staunch Republican, having supported every presidential nominee of that party since casting his first vote for General Grant in 1868. He has never sought official preferment, but gives his entire attention to his farming interests. He has met with well deserved success in all his undertakings, and is today one of the well-to-do and substantial farmers of his community.”

Grandpa became well known as a horseman and had beautifully matched teams. He would often loan his teams to pull the funeral carriages. He became well-to-do and built a large comfortable home on the farm south of Badger. I remember the house very well. Johansons lived on that farm taking care of Grandpa in his old age, and we often visited there when I was a child. There was a long lane leading up to the farm buildings and we would honk the car horn the whole length of the lane to herald our coming. What fun we had! There was a one room country schoolhouse on the corner and once I visited school there with Charlotte and Oline. In her youth Aunt Anna taught school there and was known as an outstanding teacher.

Christine and Ole Williamson had 10 children- 3 died as infants as I mentioned before. This was a remarkable gifted, talented family, exceptional in music and other artistic abilities. I remember Grandpa as a kindly, grandfatherly-looking man with a white beard and mustache and twinkling blue eyes- not unlike Santa Clause. Grandma’s pictures show her to be a large person, dark hair parted in the middle and drawn severely back off her forehead. Grandpa died in 1922 at 81 years of age. I was 7 years old. Grandma died in April, 1906 at 71 years of age. Seven children grew to adulthood and they are as follows: Isabelle (Ingeborg), William, Peter, Syvert, Susie, Anna, and Ina.

Aunt Isabelle was a saintly person, deeply religious. She married Kernel Hill, president of Jewell College, but was widowed at an early age, leaving her with 2 small children to raise, Ruth and Carl. Her heart was broken when Ruth died from a ruptured appendix in her youth. Aunt Isabelle later married Rev. M. J. Westphal, a Lutheran pastor.

Uncle William married Louise Ritland, my father’s sister with the result that we had double cousins in Obed, Christian, Luther and Inga. Uncle William was a Lutheran pastor for a number of years, then went into farming in Grafton, North Dakota, and was very successful. He had a commanding appearance and had a domineering personality that commanded respect. My two grandfathers knew one another in Norway coming from the same beautiful valley near Hjelmeland. They renewed their friendship in Iowa and would visit back and forth from Roland and Badger. This resulted in 2 marriages between the 2 families. Louise Ritland married William Williamson and Osmond Ritland married Ina Williamson.

Uncle Peter was a pastor, also, but of the Congregational Church, I believe. He and his wife, Aunt Bessie, had 12 children, 9 girls and 3 boys. The one we have known the best is Lois, who married Leslie Klopfleisch. There are several others we have learned to know through the Williamson Reunion- Olive McCafferty, Beatrice Beckland, Bessie Wegeman, and Clara,Willman. At over 90 years of age Clara still comes every summer all the way from California. This was a very musical and gifted family. They also had a certain amount of class. Bessie Wegeman’s sons were expert skiers and represented the United States at the Winter Olympics in Oslo many years ago. Uncle Peter had a simply marvelous solo voice and whenever he came to visit Mama would always arrange for him to sing in church and she would play for him.

Uncle Syvert was only 53 years old when he died from tuberculosis. In his youth he was a promoter for the state of North Dakota, selling the people on the advantages of the frontier state and getting settlers to take out homesteads. Aunt Isabelle and also her daughter Ruth did that for awhile and he was responsible for Uncle William to move to the state. He was a great reader and had a brilliant mind. He and Aunt Mathilda lived in Grand Forks and had 4 children2 sons and 2 daughters. We exchange Christmas cards with his daughter, Anna Belle, but we call her Dolly.

Aunt Susie was an interesting person. She had a sweet singing voice and a terrific personality. She could strike up an interesting conservation with any person- young or old, rich or poor, famous or ordinary. She married a college professor- Olaf Stageberg and raised 5 sons, one of whom is Rolf. She was deep1y involved in politics and one of the founders of the Farmer-Labor Party in the state of Minnesota. Several times she ran for state offices but was never elected. She was a crusader, always stumping for some cause- including women’s suffrage. She was the power behind the organizing of our Williamson Reunion. Next summer will be our 36th reunion. Wilfred sang at our wedding.

Aunt Anna was a truly lovely person, a gifted teacher, had a beautiful contralto voice, a very stylish gracious person, devoted wife and mother. She married Otto Johanson and they had 4 children, Charlotte, Oline, Bud and Maurice. They have been very close to us and we love them. They lived on the old homestead near Badger. Aunt Anna died in the prime of life from cancer; we all grieved for her.

Christi Olina, my mother, was the youngest and Grandpa’s pet. When she was small she couldn’t say “Christi Olina” but called herself “Ena” which quickly became Ina. She was known as Ina all her life. She was the pianist for the family and also had a good voice. She was a natural leader. She had been a student at Tobin College in Fort Dodge and also at Jewell College, and she gave piano lessons. After her marriage to Dad on June 30, 1909, they lived with Grandpa and Grandma Ritland on the Ritland farm until James was born. Mama always spoke very highly of my Grandpa Ritland. He was a fine man, honest, pious, hard working and had the respect of the community. When James was a baby they bought the farm one mile south of McCallsburg where they lived for 28 years and where I called home until I was married. I have wonderful memories of my years at that dear humble home. They sold this farm in 1938 and moved to McCallsburg. When World War II broke out they moved to their farm northeast of Zearing. Dorothy graduated from the Zearing High School. At the close of the war they sold the “East Place” and moved to a nice home in Roland where they spent the rest of their days in pleasant retirement. They loved to travel, especially to visit their children. They traveled to Kansas City to see Curtis and Family, to Sioux City and Denison to see Dorothy and me, and out west to Spokane to James’ and Seattle to visit Ruthie. Leonard and I took them once to New Orleans to see Raymond when he was teaching at Tulane University. They loved it all and how happy we all were to have them come.

Mama loved to entertain. She had many lovely coffee parties, setting a beautiful table with her best linens, silver, crystal and china. She had huge crowds for Sunday dinners for relatives far and near. One of the high points in her life was her visit to Norway one summer with Aunt Susie. They were there 2 months and had the time of their lives and the relatives enjoyed them so much. They told me so when I was there many years later. An interesting sidelight is that they said Mama spoke the old or biblical Norwegian. The language has been changing and now they speak the “new Norwegian.”

(continued on Part 2)