Ona Lighthouse
 Surname Origins
  Chapter XXI: Nelson and Agnes

        The wedding took place December 29, 1926, in the Elvick farmhouse 5½ miles south of Michigan, North Dakota. They departed on the train that day for their honeymoon in Minneapolis. Their first daughter, Eunice, was born on September 29, 1927, nine months to the day after the wedding. It would be eight years before another child would survive the neonatal period. There was a stillborn, and then in 1932 a son, Robert, who would live for only two weeks before succumbing to what was almost certainly newborn sepsis (blood stream infection). In the early years they shared the farmhouse with the Ona family, but as Eunice entered first grade the family again moved to Grand Forks. A rental house was found and for the next several years they lived there during the school year, but still spent a lot of time at the farm during the growing season.
        Their next son, Roger, was born while they lived in Grand Forks. His birth date, July 7, 1936, was in the middle of the most severe heat wave ever to hit this area. It was 109 degrees that day and the hospital had no air conditioning. The highest temperature ever recorded in North Dakota (121 degrees at Steele ND) occurred during this heat wave. In 1938 they returned to Michigan permanently. Their next daughter, Glenna, was born that year. Eunice still continued to go to school in Grand Forks, living with Rosa during the school year. The family was completed with the birth of Neil (me) in 1940. Nelson was now forty-five years old and Agnes was thirty-one.
        The years from 1926 to 1940 were very difficult. Besides being saddled with crushing debt because of the bank failure, they were to face the double catastrophes of drought and the great depression. The dust bowl days were terrible, but being a farm family they at least didn’t go hungry. Farm produce and livestock provided meat, milk, eggs, flour and vegetables. Money, however, was still chronically short. It would take the better economic times in the 1940s to turn things around.
        In 1939, the Ona family moved on to the West Coast. The depression hadn’t been kind to this family either. I can recall my mother telling me they left with $400 and a jitney car. Gudrun had always hated North Dakota. Almost from the first days she spent there, she wanted to return to Norway. The monotony of the Great Plains compared poorly to the spectacular scenery she had left. She greatly missed the mountains and the seashore. They settled in the Seattle area. When they drove over the last hill and saw Puget Sound before them, she made Hans stop the car. She ran down to the shore and washed her face in the water. She finally felt at home again. They were fortunate in finding immediate employment for both of them, and they flourished from that time forward. Within a few years they were able to buy their own home in Kirkland, Washington, and spend the rest of their days in comfort. Gudrun never again wanted to return to Norway.
        They were able to return to Norway once for a visit in 1952, but she was satisfied to return home to Kirkland. Hans was able to once again see his mother. She was ninety-one years old at the time of their visit, and she died just five years later. Hans continued working as a security guard at the Kirkland shipyards until he died in 1955 at the age of seventy-two. Gudrun died in 1973 at the age of eighty-four.
        At the start of the 1940s then, the Elvicks were living back on the farm, five and one-half miles south of Michigan. Eunice came back home after she finished the sixth grade, and Rosa sold her house in Grand Forks and from that time on divided her time between the Elvick household in Michigan, North Dakota, and her daughter, Marie’s, household in Burlington, Iowa. In March of 1941 the Elvick family and those in the surrounding area lived through a terrible tragedy that struck that part of the state. Nelson and his sister, Lillie Orvik, narrowly missed being caught in the state’s worst blizzard ever. She had come for a visit, and had been picked up at the railroad station by Nelson, and they had just gotten home when the storm struck. The weather had been unseasonably mild for March, and the forecast was for continued good weather. The storm was headed south and east from them. Then, suddenly, in the late afternoon, survivors describe a sudden, single flash of lightning and deafening thunder, and the storm struck without any other warning. What had been a clear pleasant day was turned into a blinding blizzard within a few seconds.
        Five people died within a few miles of the Elvick farm that night. Nelson’s good friends, John and Minnie Kallestad were being driven home from Michigan by a neighbor, Sever Reep. They were driving on the little used high line road west of the two Kallestad farms. The day was so pleasant that they decided to walk from the high line road to the farm instead of having Sever drop them off. They were about seventy-five yards or so from home when the storm struck suddenly. Winds of seventy-five to eighty-five miles per hour170 with blowing snow almost instantly reduced visibility to near zero, and it was difficult to maintain one’s balance because of the force of the wind. The wind speed was the same as for a category I hurricane. Most of the victims in this storm became totally disoriented as to direction. John, however, was along a fence line and knew just where they were. They crept along the fence line, but Minnie eventually collapsed and was unable to continue. Unable to carry her, John dug a shallow snow cave for her so she could have some protection from the storm. He then proceeded up the fence line to the farmstead of his brother Charles, which was a few hundred yards to the north. Charles’ wife was caring for his two children for that day. He found that Charles was not home, and was also thought to be lost in the storm. He then came up with the idea of retracing his steps along the fence line to his own farm, where he hitched up a horse to the stone boat (a sled like device used for hauling rocks off the fields). He was able to retrieve Minnie and bring her home, but she died before they reached the house.
        Sever Reep had continued down the high line road, and when the storm struck, his car careened off the road into the ditch and became stuck. He struck out on foot, but with no continuous fence line to guide him he probably also became totally disoriented. He was found the next day clinging to some broken fence wire, frozen to death. Charles Kallestad fared better. He was coming from town with a team of horses. When the storm struck he let the reins go and allowed the horses to find their own way. The horses went directly to a neighbor’s barn, where they were able to safely spend the night.171
        A mile east of the Elvick’s at the Yonny farm, another drama played out. Mrs. Yonny and the hired man, Pete Schmeel, were working in the barn when the storm struck. Pete decided to try to get to the house and like so many others he became lost. He also was found the next day, one-mile away, frozen to death. Mrs. Yonny stayed in the barn all night and survived.172
        To the south another tragedy unfolded. Rosaline Anderson and Bernice Smaage, both freshmen in high school, had spent the afternoon together at the Anderson farm about ¼ mile south of the Melrose School.173 They then set out to walk across some fields to the Smaage farm about a mile away. The storm struck as they were approaching the farm, and the girls apparently became totally disoriented. A pail they were carrying was found near the farm. The girls backtracked all the way to the Melrose school where there was evidence they had tried to get inside. The school, however, was locked and the windows were too high to break in. They were found about one hundred yards south of the school, clinging to each other and to a telephone pole, frozen to death.174
        The party line telephone gave evidence of the chaos all through the night, as families desperately tried to locate their loved ones. Seventy-nine people died in the surrounding area. The next morning when the Elvicks looked out at the farmyard, there was a huge snow bank near the house. On top of the snow bank was a sheep. The sheep had survived the storm without harm. Where this animal came from is a complete mystery since no sheep were kept in the surrounding area. A few days later, Bert Swenseth, whose farm is about three miles southeast of Kallestad’s, was walking along a field near his farm, and he found Minnie Kallestad’s hat.175
        In a part of the country where severe blizzards and other hardships were commonplace, this storm still stands out. Even now, sixty years later, people there know what you are talking about if you bring up the March fifteenth storm. Although severe blizzards were known to sometimes occur even into the last part of April, the suddenness with which it struck, and the severity of the winds, caught many off guard. People that were caught out in the open were doomed. A complicating factor in this storm surely must have been the deceptively warm and pleasant weather that persisted up until the time the storm struck. The temperature, mild when the storm started, had dropped to zero by midnight. Many were probably caught out in the open without even the necessary warm clothing that would have helped them to survive. The winds were so strong that people found it difficult to breathe, and some of the victims were thought to have suffocated. The whirling snow made visibility near zero. John Kallestad was only able to get to his farm by following a fence line. For John Kallestad’s brother, Charles, this storm was the last straw. Their whole family had witnessed the tragedy. Their house was on the same farmstead as John’s. After years of battling drought, depression and the uncertainty of farming, he waited just three more weeks, and then left permanently for Spokane, Washington. [see pedigree chart
        In 1943 the Elvicks again moved into the town of Michigan. Even though I was just a three and one-half year old child I can remember the moving day vividly. I recall the astonishment I felt as we drove beyond the Front Street businesses to the residential streets beyond. I had had no idea there was more to town than that. When we stopped at what was to be our home for the next three months, I immediately spied the school playground across the street. At the first opportunity I started running across the street to the playground, I slipped and fell and skinned up my knees. I recall our new neighbor, Mildred Etzel, running out to pick me up.
        Three months later a much better house became available in the same neighborhood when the town’s doctor, Dr. Wagar, died. It was one of those roomy old houses, with secret passages behind the closets in the upper story and with mature trees that provided access to the flat landings outside the second story bedrooms. Sometimes as I grew up there, many days would go by without my brother and me ever using the doors in and out of the house. It was always up the tree to the roof of the “back shed”, then a short climb up across asphalt shingles to the landing, and in through the window. It was a perfect house for children.
        Again, I remember very well the day of the move, with Eunice and my parents carrying boxes and boxes of possessions kitty corner across the street to the newly acquired house. I recall it as a day filled with excitement. For my parents, also, it must have been a happy day. For the time being it freed them from the day to day drudgery of farm life. Even with the move into town, my father continued to farm. Because this was still a large farming operation, it had been necessary to continue to work hard to keep it going, even when it was bringing in very little money. Mother, especially, had it hard during the periods when it was necessary to have hired help. In addition to taking care of four children, she had to cook for the family and work crew, take care of the large vegetable garden, and take care of the poultry. Her workday lasted from 5:00 AM until 10:00 PM, and was exhausting. She baked bread every day, using a wood-burning cook stove. She had to kill, pluck and clean chickens and/or turkeys, when we had them for dinner. The vegetable garden, which was located in a vacated barnyard, and was therefore exceptionally fertile, provided for us all year around. What wasn’t eaten fresh was canned.
        One convenience our family had on the farm that very few others had was electricity. Rural electrification didn’t come to that part of North Dakota until 1948. However, we had a noisy generator in the basement. I recall a bank of storage batteries against the west basement wall. I was afraid of the generator because of the noise, and I recall one occasion when I had gone to the basement by myself, and the generator started. I became hysterical and mother had to rescue me from the outside cellar door, because I wouldn’t go past the generator. Electricity, though, was certainly a big convenience, even though it was used only for electric lights and radio. We didn’t have an electric refrigerator until we moved to town. One of the memories I have of living on the farm is of everyone huddled around the radio listening to news about the war.
        After the move into town, my father began working full time as a crop insurance agent for the Department of Agriculture in the neighboring town of Lakota. The farm became a part time operation and some of the land was rented out.
        V-J Day was a memorable time for all of us. On August 9, 1945 the family was eating supper (the evening meal didn’t become dinner until much later), when a loud explosive type noise was heard. We rushed outside to see what caused it, and incredibly didn’t see any immediate cause. We finished supper a few minutes later and went to the front yard to mow the grass, and were greeted by the site of a massive train wreck, visible across some vacant lots just one and one-half blocks away. The Empire Builder was the main passenger train between Chicago and Seattle, and it had been traveling in two sections, supposedly twenty minutes apart. Going west from Grand Forks the forward section had trouble with a hot box on the engine tender, and had made several stops. It had made a stop again in Michigan, and failed to signal the second section of the train, which then plowed into it at almost full speed.
        We all piled into the car to get there as fast as possible. It was a ghastly sight. The engine of the second section had telescoped through the rear one and one-half cars of the first section. The last car in the first section was the dining car and it was dinnertime. I have vague recollections of some of the injured already laid on the ground near the tracks, and there seemed to already be vast numbers of people milling about. Dad immediately ordered us children to go home. At home we could see the wreck until it got dark, but not the details of what was going on. Later in the evening some of the injured were brought to our house. One was a 92-year-old lady, with a large “bump” on the head.
        At this time, the nearest medical facility was forty miles away, and the townspeople gave what first aid they could until medical help could arrive. Ambulances and private vehicles took some of the injured away. During the night another train was brought in, and when I woke up the next morning, the injured people in our house were gone, and all but the wrecked sections of the train had been removed. My cousin, Wayne Orvik, was one of the volunteers that had worked with acetylene torches in an attempt to free some passengers, who were caught in the wreckage.
        The death toll was thirty-four. The Interstate Commerce Commission Report listed the injury toll as 309. Many of the dead and injured were soldiers returning from Europe after surviving WWII. A few weeks later my cousin, Wayne Orvik, who had worked with an acetylene torch to free some of the victims died suddenly. A healthy young man, just newly married, and still unaware that his bride was pregnant, he was found dead of unknown causes. Although probably unrelated, it was sometimes speculated that the ordeal of working with this train wreck might have been a contributing factor.
        I recall vividly the day after the wreck, when I was with a group of neighborhood children that went as close as we dared and watched in fascination as cranes began removing the wreckage. By the following day it was gone. A coroner’s jury a few days later returned a verdict of negligence against the conductor, engineer and flagman of the first section.
        V-J Day was just five days after the wreck. The town newspaper describes the celebration as somewhat subdued, because of the recent tragedy. However, my memory is one of unrestrained celebration with the fire sirens wailing, the church bells tolling and the neighborhood kids running around yelling, “the war is over!” The mood quickly turned more somber again with Wayne Orvik’s death. I wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral, but I did view the body as it lay in state at their home. It was a strange, but peaceful scene for me. Wayne’s parents, Kohn and Lillie Orvik, now lived in Spokane, and Wayne had been living just a few blocks from us, and he had been closely attached to our family, and especially to my father. It was a sad occasion, and was devastating to his wife, Sylvia, and to my aunt and uncle, Kohn and Lillie.
        Eunice left home that fall, bound for college, and I started school in first grade. (We had no kindergarten at that time.) It is here that my own life’s story begins, and so it is at this point, then, I will bring this family history story to an end. Hopefully it will be continued sometime in the future by another family member still to come, who is as fascinated by family history and history in general as I have been. Before I sign off, though, there are some loose ends to tie up.
        My grandmother, Rosa Elvick, continued to live with us until her death at the age of ninety-one in 1950. She led a long and colorful life, and left behind a collection of priceless heirlooms in the many pieced quilts that she worked on all her life, and which she gave to her children and grandchildren. After a life of hard work and many personal disappointments my father died of cancer in 1959 just a week short of his sixty-fourth birthday. He is remembered with love and gratitude by all his family for his selfless devotion and dedication to us all. I am thankful that he was able to enjoy a few years of restful retirement before he died. My mother was widowed at the age of fifty, and she lived on to be eighty-three. She worked many years as a nursing assistant, and for a while she was a housemother for a sorority at the University of North Dakota, and at Glacier National Park in Montana. In later years she moved nearby her children, first in Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota, then in Denver, Colorado, and finally in Folsom, California. She died in nearby Sacramento in 1992 at the age of eighty-three. She is fondly remembered by her family for the life of hard work and sacrifice that she endured as she struggled to raise her family.
        Nelson’s sister, Marie, who married Dr. J. H. (Hal) Murray in 1930, settled with her husband in Burlington, Iowa, where he practiced medicine until he was eighty-seven years old. They raised four daughters. Dr. Murray died in 1993 at the age of ninety-four, and Marie died Nov. 7, 2000, at the age of ninety-six. They are both buried in Burlington, Iowa. She is fondly remembered for her devotion to her family and church, and for her great musical talent, which she used in the service of her church and which she passed on to her children. Nelson’s other sister, Lillie, who married Kohn Orvik about 1921, moved to Spokane, Washington, with Kohn and their daughter Marjorie (Marge) in the early 1940s. They suffered the premature death of their only son, Wayne, in 1945. Lillie is remembered by all who knew her as a true lady, who was completely devoted to her husband and family. They endured hard times together, but good times as well. Kohn died in 1965, at the age of sixty-eight and Lillie in 1985, at the age of eighty-seven, and both are buried in Spokane, Washington.
        Agnes’ brother, Henry, married Kirsten Buck, a Norwegian telephone operator. She was originally from the land of the midnight sun near Tromsø in the far north of Norway, but she was working in Oslo when she met Henry. Henry was on his way to visit Ona just after WWII and they met on the train. They settled in Kirkland, Washington, and raised two daughters. Kirsten, tragically, died of cancer at the early age of forty-eight. Henry died in 1984 at the age of seventy-four. I always marveled that Henry, born and raised in the United States, had a Norwegian brogue all his life, while Kirsten, born and raised in Norway, spoke English without an accent.
        Agnes’ youngest sister, Gladys married Helmer (Ham) Aasheim in 1940. Ham was an OSI officer in the Air Force. He served in the Aleutian Islands during WWII. During their marriage they had tours of duty in Minneapolis, Detroit, Washington DC, Turkey, Anchorage, Alaska and Travis AFB in California. They suffered through the Good Friday Earthquake when they lived in Anchorage. They retired to Napa, California. They raised three children. Glady died in 1989 at the age of seventy, after a prolonged, chronic illness. Although confined to her home, and often to her bed, she carried on a voluminous correspondence with her friends and extended family by mail. She is greatly missed by all. Her husband, Ham, died in 2006.
        Agnes’ other sister, Gen, married a naval officer and pilot, Everly Cox. Everly flew transport planes in the battle of Guadalcanal in WWII. After the war he became a teacher and school administrator, and served on the city council of the city of Kirkland, Washington. He was also career naval reserve. Gen died in 2005 and Everly died in 2008. They made several trips to Norway, and they maintained contact with family there over the years. They have two children who live in the Seattle area, and several grandchildren, scattered along the West Coast. Until her death in 2006, Gen had become the family matriarch. Before Gen it had been Ruth Jegthaug in Bud, Norway who had died in 2001 at the age of 96. Even at the age of 91 when my sister, Glenna and I interviewed Ruth at her home her long term memory seemed good, and she could still tell about the day her sister, Astrid, left for America. The honor of family matriarch now descends upon Marjorie Sims who at age eighty-four is the oldest member of the immediate family. She maintains a home in Spokane, Washington maintains close contact with her children and grandchildren who live nearby.

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