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Fairmont Times-West Virginian
April 29, 1960

Political Talk Pushed Aside As Rolvaag Discusses Father

By Ray Herst
West Virginian Staff Writer

Drum beating, soul baring and the familiar political claims that “My candidate’s best because . . .” were pushed aside here yesterday at a press conference with Lt. Gov. Karl Rolvaag of Minnesota.

Instead of politics, the conversation turned to Rolvaag’s father, the late Ole Edward Rolvaag, Norwegian-American writer who won fame with the novel, “Giants in the Earth,”—and a pleasant turn it was.

Rolvaag is touring Northern West Virginia in behalf of Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey’s campaign for the Presidential nomination on the Democratic ticket.

The Background

“No, the story is not one of my family or my father’s,” Rolvaag said as he relaxed in a chair at the Fairmont Hotel. He was speaking of the background of the novel, which is an account of American pioneer life and is considered a classic of its kind.

“Father did get some of his information from my mother’s parents and he worked on a South Dakota farm,” he explained.

The elder Rolvaag came to America in 1896 at the age of 21.

The rugged features of the Norwegian race have been handed down to the son of the author. A forceful man, he speaks with conviction. His voice is relaxing, but hypnotizing.

Fishing Family

“Did your father have much education when he came here?” Rolvaag was asked.

“No. You see, he came from a poor fishing family up near the Arctic Circle in Norway. They didn’t believe much in education and father never had much of a chance to do anything except work.” He lit a cigarette.

“When he came here he started high school—at the age of 21. Only then it was called an academy. The pioneers believed strongly in education and they set these schools up themselves.

After receiving his diploma from the academy, Rolvaag enrolled at St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota. Receiving his degree, he went back to Norway for some graduate study and then returned to this country where he began working on the South Dakota farm to get the ground for his book.

Experiences Recorded

“He got a lot of his background for the book from Mother’s family,” Rolvaag said. “Mother’s father had gone to South Dakota in the early pioneer days and established a farm. Mother was born in a sod-hut on the farm. They experienced a great deal of the things recorded in the book—grasshopper plagues, storms, etc., but it is not their story either.”

Rolvaag began working in a small college in Minnesota while working on his book and later became a professor at St. Olaf’s.

His son, the second generation of Rolvaags in America, is the first member of the family to hold the high office he does.

Lieutenant Governor

“My sister was the first successful politic[i]an, though,” he said, “she was elected to the Board of Education.”

Rolvaag himself failed twice in his bid to be elected to Congress before taking office with Minnesota Governor Freeman.

Asked if he had any aspirations to the governor’s chair, Rolvaag laughed and answered:

“I guess all Lieutenant Governors want to be governor, just like most of the U. S. Senators want to become President.”

And with that, Rolvaag successfully switched the conversation from his father and family to the real purpose of his visit here, Senator Humphrey.

Rolvaag predicted a “substantial victory” for the Senator in Marion County and “all over the state on May 10.”

He said that so far in his tour “things look good for Humphrey. We’re pretty optomistic [sic] about the race.”

Many From Minnesota

Rolvaag is just one of Minnesota’s top office-holders who are in West Virginia on behalf of the Senator. The state Democrats seem to be solidly behind Humphrey. Governor Freeman has been in the state and is expected to return later. Congressman John Blatnik and Joe Karth will be in the state along with Sen. Gene McCarthy. Mayor Joseph Dillon of St. Paul, Minn., is also expected to be through here soon.

“But of all of them, I guess I have what you might call the best job in the state. The pay isn’t much, but then the work isn’t heavy. All I have to do is preside over the state senate when it is in session. Of course, if you don’t have another job, you’re liable to go hungry.”

Rolvaag is the vice-president of an insurance company in St. Paul. He is on leave of absence for this tour.

He said he did not read all of the results of the Pennsylvania primary election which gave Humphrey’s opponent Sen. John Kennedy, a record 170,000 write-in votes.

“Kennedy’s been working in Pennsylvania, we haven’t. Senator Humphrey has only made two or three speaking appearances in Pennsylvania,” Rolvaag offered.

Concerning the religious issue in the campaign, Rolvaag admitted that it has “crept up a little bit,” but, he added “I think we solved that problem in Minnesota.”

He said that Senator McCarthy was an Irish Catholic and was elected by an overwhelming vote over the incumbent candidate, with Senator Humphrey’s help.

Rolvaag admitted however, that the presidential campaign is a little more serious and far-reaching than a senatorial campaign.

“But the religious problem is peculiar to each state.” He added that he did not believe the issue would have any bearing on the outcome in the election in West Virginia.


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