A Love Letter to the Great Grandchildren of Donald and Darlene Huseth  by mia hinkle

Dear Grands and Great-Grands,

You may not remember much about your Great Grandpa and Grandma Huseth, so I write this as a little glimpse into your roots and wings. Family is where YOUR story begins. Ten of Don and Darlene’s fourteen grandchildren were not genetically related to them, but that did not matter one bit to Grandpa and Grandma. They cherished each of their grandchildren and I know they would be crazy about the children of their grandchildren.

Donald Huseth was born on April 27, 1922, and Darlene Christenson was born on January 19, 1924, in west-central Minnesota. Their little baby spirits appeared on this earth right between the two Great Wars and just before the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929 that led to the Dust Bowl years and the Great Depression. They must have been destined to be pretty great people because the current events book-ending their arrival were all labeled great.

In history class, you will learn about the Roaring Twenties and in literature class, you may read The Great Gatsby. Imagine this: F Scott Fitzgerald sipping cocktails with Earnest Hemmingway, a Peugeot Type 176 driving by, and all passersby are clothed in flapper-style dresses or dapper suits with fedoras and spending every last dime on high fashion and speakeasies.

Of course, aside from jazz, style, and nightclubs, there was a fair amount of everyday life going on, not often portrayed in glamorous 1920s-era films. While the rest of America indulged themselves in glitz, glamour, and decadence, your great-grandparents quietly slipped into a little corner of rural life in west-central Minnesota.

Darlene at school, far left (1930) Stoney Brook Township District 30

The Great Depression began when Donald and Darlene were 8 and 6 years old. The Dust Bowl years followed which was a decade of the worst droughts in over 1,000 years. When I would ask my parents about growing up in the Depression, they would often remark, “Ya, we were very poor, but as kids, we really didn’t know it. Everybody was poor. We were the lucky ones because we lived in the country. We had plenty to eat, a warm fire in the cookstove, and clothes on our backs, even though some of our dresses were made from feed sacks. We even went to school if we were lucky enough to catch the school bus which was a horse-drawn buckboard. But those kids in the cities, they were the poor ones, they really had it rough. They stood in soup lines and were dependent on handouts because their cupboards were bare and their fathers didn’t have work. Rats and disease were rampant in the city causing all kinds of despair. But on the farm, we had plenty of fresh air, exercise, good food, and clean water. And books. Plenty of books. And we had family. Family is where your story begins.”

L to R: Baby Lynford and his mother Judith (Agnes’ sister), Agnes, Anders, Gloria, Darlene, Ansel

The history books will not tell you about the Huseths and Christensons and the Jenstads and the Leraas’ who came to America from Norway in the 1800s to carve out a better life for themselves. In fact, most history books even leave out the Nordic sailors who explored the eastern edge of North America some 500 years before Christopher Columbus made their way into the interior as far as Minnesota and points south and west. The Kensington Runestone is one piece of proof and is dated 1362. It was discovered just 30 miles from where our people settled at Huset Lake near Barrett, Minnesota. (Darlene’s brother, Ansel, was friends with the man’s son who initially dug the Runestone out from under some tree roots.)

Early expeditions to North America are well documented and accepted as historical fact by most scholars. Around the year 1000 A.D., the Norse explorer Leif Erikson, son of Erik the Red, sailed to a place he called Vinland (because the land was full of vines and grapes.) That was the northern tip of Newfoundland and coastal North America. Leif had been converted to Christianity by the Christian King of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason, and after Leif’s first trip to Vinland, he started preaching Christianity to the native population at the commission of the King, making Leif the first Christian missionary to the New World. Initial interactions with the North American Indigenous people were friendly with a strong trade relationship.

The Kensington Runestone, unearthed near Kensington in 1898. It is dated 1362.

Renowned for their sailing expertise, Norwegian immigrants often joined the Dutch traveling trade routes to Colonial America. During the early 1800s, many Norwegian immigrants came for religious freedom with help from the Quakers. From the mid-1800s however, the main reasons for leaving Norway were agricultural disasters like the European Potato Famine which led to great poverty in our homeland. Later the agricultural revolution also put Norwegian farmers out of work and pushed them to find jobs in more industrialized America. Between 1825 and 1925, more than 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to North America, some to the Midwest to work in agriculture and others to the Pacific Northwest to work in the fishing industry. Predominantly motivated by poverty and compounded by medical breakthroughs like the smallpox vaccine – which made it possible for more children in large families to make it to adulthood – there was simply not enough food or employment in Norway to keep up with the growing population. Norway is geographically a beautiful mountain range on the sea and consequently, only 3% of the land is suitable for farming.

Then on May 20, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act which promised 180 acres of free, fertile, flat land in return for a small filing fee to the U.S. Federal government. A wave of Europeans rushed into America, some made their fortunes and returned, but many more stayed and made The United States their new home. Over its history, more than 2 million individuals filed claims, with approximately 780,000 obtaining title to the lands. More than 270 million acres were granted while the law was in effect.

I pause here to interject a little context. Abraham Lincoln served as the 16th president of The United States from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. The Huseths arrived on American soil in 1868 just three years after the end of the Civil War. The Leraas family settled in 1891. Lincoln led the nation through the American Civil War, which was our country’s greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis. Although celebrated and beloved today, Lincoln’s ideas and leadership were enormously controversial for that century and way ahead of its time. Voters either loved him or hated him; one even shot him! His presidency succeeded in preserving the Union, abolishing slavery, bolstering the federal government, and modernizing the U.S. economy.

President Abraham Lincoln signs the Homestead Act in 1862

The Homestead Act is considered one of The United States’ most important pieces of legislation allowing citizens of all walks of life—including former slaves, women, and immigrants—to become landowners. Abraham Lincoln got a lot done for the nation, but it came with a big price. For instance, Native Americans were gravely affected by the Homestead Act. The U.S. government took their land, handed it over to strangers, and before they knew it their home was populated by sometimes ill-equipped and inexperienced Europeans who shut out Native Americans from their traditional way of life and forced them onto reservations. Additionally, part of the homestead agreement involved cultivating the land, which not only decimated the natural ecosystem which had sustained primitive peoples for centuries but decimated the land itself leading to the Black Blizzards of the Dirty Thirties. During the Dust Bowl years, the rich topsoil of the American Midwest was carried east by dry high winds so far that the Statue of Liberty was sometimes obscured from sight by Oklahoma soil swirling through New York City air. The worst dust storm of the decade occurred on April 14, 1935. News reports called it Black Sunday. A wall of blowing sand and dust started in the Oklahoma Panhandle and spread east. As many as three million tons of topsoil are estimated to have blown off the Great Plains during just that one day!

With a stroke of his pen (and the blood of 2.75 million Americans who fought in the war), Abraham Lincoln changed the lives of African slaves and our Norwegian forefathers during the same presidential term! Our people benefited greatly from the Homestead Act, indeed most immigrants who filed claims would never have become landowners without this stimulus program. The theory was that Americans, immigrants, men, women, blacks, and whites would be able to build a better life for themselves through westward expansion and therefore build the nation. In practice, this theory worked better for some than others, but that is an important story for another time.

Hans Huseth (1848-1936) was 20 years old in 1868 when he landed in Quebec and made his way south and west via the Great Lakes through Sarmia, Ontario, Manitowoc and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Red Wing, Minnesota, and on to Goodhue County and finally settled in Barrett, Minnesota. He was a skilled blacksmith, farrier, (and occasional dentist), and soon he had saved enough money to go back to Norway for his brother, Knut. In time they sent for the rest of the family who arrived via the same route in 1871. Hans married Britta Chilson and they had 10 children; Melvin was the 9th born in 1892. Melvin was Donald’s father.

Hans Huseth (his grandchildren called him Fye)
Hans Huseth family (Melvin is front row far right)

Johannes Leraas (Leraas is a reference to his birthplace in Norway) came with his wife Nelline and their first baby, John, along with an older adopted daughter, Anna came to America on the Danish steamship Tingvalla in May 1891 through New York and to Grant County. In that day, people with means took care of people in need, and a young widow in their village back home could not afford to feed her three children, so Johannes and Nelline took in the oldest girl, Anna, who remained a bonafide member of the family her entire long life. Johannes was an educator and a preacher. Agnes was their 5th born of 11 children. Agnes was Darlene’s mother.

Johannes Leraas
Johannes Leraas family (Agnes is front row left)

The Leraas Farm remains in a remote area in the mountains near Bergen in Norway. The Leraas family operated the farm for 240 years! It has had many names since 1633, but when our people were immigrating to America, it was called Leraas so that is the surname they took with them. The farm is now called Leiro which means The Camp. As a working farm over the centuries, they raised sheep, goats, and cattle, and they sold cheese and butter. There were two running mountain streams, a lake with trout, and a lake outlet with a waterfall and a mill for grinding flour. It’s in a relatively flat area about halfway up the mountain near Eidsfjorden, a fjord coming in from the ocean. The closest village is Stamnes, about 5 miles up the fjord. There is not and has never been a road to the farm and it’s a one or two-hour steep hike to get there. In 1948 agricultural advancements put the farm out of business. It is now used as a hunting, fishing, and vacation site. There are two houses (used to be three), some outbuildings, part of the mill, some barns, and a church. Once a year on July 29, St. Olaf’s Day, the congregation from the local chapel hikes to Leiro to hold a worship service. Besides being one of the most beautiful farms in the area, the people gather there to honor their ancestors because Leiro is seen as almost untouched by modern times. If you plan a trip to Norway, you might want to include this hike.

A postcard of The Leraas Farm (Leiro means The Camp)
The Leraas Farm (Leiro means The Camp)

Back to the story.

Our ancestors risked a lot coming to America. They knew not what lie before them. Maps were not as precise as they are today. They did not speak the language. Weather could be a life-threatening factor. Common accidents and ailments could literally kill you. They left everything they had and everyone they knew behind and many of them never saw their mothers again. They had to pack all their own provisions for the long journey (one to three months depending on weather and time of year) by ship across the North Atlantic. It was a daunting task filled with many dangers, but they were tough and smart and adventurous. They made a way where there was no way, and they brought their own fun with them! I imagine them packing up to leave the home country for the new world, “It might not be easy, but it will be amazing!”

I tell you this, so you never take for granted those who came before you. Because of them, you can rest assured that you are well-equipped to take on the hard stuff life throws your way and you will come out victorious! It is in your DNA! Even if you are not genetically related to Donald and Darlene, you were raised by people who were, so these pearls are for you too. This is the stuff you are made of! Strong in mind and body, tenacious in spirit, rugged adventurers just like our Viking ancestors.

We come from a long line of farmers, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t brainiacs on both sides. In fact, running a successful farm takes a fair amount of genius. Darlene’s Grandpa Leraas was quite a scholar. His son Harold was a college professor holding several master’s degrees. Donald’s Uncle Ed Huseth was known to figure compound interest in his head when talking to a banker. His son Jimmy went on to become a doctor. Many of our people became teachers and educators. There are pilots and authors and nurses and entertainers and … you name it! This list goes on and on. The more opportunity and education afforded to our ancestors, the further they climbed in American society.

The first Huseths to settle in Grant County excavated a dug-out or cave into the wall of a dry lakebed and lived there while they built a barn, cleared the land, and gathered the resources to build a house and establish their homestead. This took a few years. I imagine it was freezing cold in the winter and bone-chilling damp in the spring. The small lake is now filled with water and is called Huset Lake, about 5 miles west of Barrett.

Maps of the homesteads around Huseth Lake and Cormorant Lake near Barrett in Grant County

Our American roots on both sides are near Barrett: The Huseth, Leraas, and Jenstad families all settled around Huset Lake and Cormorant Lake. The Christenson family came from the Wendell area. [Note: The earliest Huseths to sign immigration and homestead forms added the ‘h’ to the end of their Norwegian surname, Huset, thinking it made them seem more American and less foreign. Go figure.]

Hans Huseth was the first from the family to venture from Norway in 1868 at the age of 20. He came from O’Dahlen which is near current-day Oslo. His hard work, imagination, and tenacity made it possible for the rest of his exceptionally large family to join him.

Hans (Fye) Huseth

As the first settlers to the area, they withstood many hardships, one of which was gathering fuel to last the long winter. In the fall, Hans would hitch his mules at 4 am and drive to Dalton about 21 miles to the north, chop a wagon of wood, stay with a farmer friend overnight, and return home by the next evening. On one such trip, the farmer’s wife began to feel labor pains. Her husband tore off to find the doctor, but by the time they returned, Hans had already delivered twins and was warming them by the fireside! All in a day’s work I suppose.

The Huseth Homestead House

Donald’s mother was born Dora Jenstad and the story goes that she was the first Caucasian infant born in the area. This was on the east shore of Cormorant Lake on the Jenstad family homestead. The Native Americans who lived nearby came to peer at the pink-skinned newborn; they had never seen anything like it! In amazement, they pet her little bald head and touched her pale skin. Suddenly one of the young Native men grabbed the family’s only cast-iron skillet and ran away with it. Dora’s mother took chase, caught up with him, and recovered her skillet without incident! Talk about fearless! Or desperate. Or both. I imagine she knew it would be impossible to feed her family without her only skillet.

Norwegians were not the only ones who settled in that area. When Dora was a little girl, she and her brothers walked to school on a country road. Family lore has it that if they encountered Swedish schoolchildren, they would make them walk all the way to school in the ditch! It just goes to show that mankind (even, and come to think of it, especially children) will invent someone to lord over, even if they appear exactly the same. It must be something in our original sin nature. The settlers in this community were all immigrants, all farmers, all poor, all Caucasian, all Scandinavians, all learning the English language, and all going to the same school. But by golly, they were determined to be prejudiced against the Swedes! What in the world?

Dora and Melvin Huseth

Many years later, when Dora was an old woman, her nephew brought home a Japanese war bride after World War II. One day Dora got word that the clerk at the drug store in town was refusing to serve the young bride. She stopped what she was doing, and drove WAY TOO FAST to town, where she read that clerk the riot act and let him know in no uncertain terms that from now on they would be treating Yoshi just like everyone else, no discussion! And they did. I tell you this to say that we all do some things that, in time, we come to regret. If you make a poor decision and treat someone unfairly at some point in your life, it’s never too late to admit your poor judgment and change your ways. It’s called growth. Always be nice to those in need of a kind word or helping hand.

Melvin Huseth married Dora Jenstad in October 1913 and they had four children. Burnell was born in May 1914, he married Beth and they had two children: Lyle and Beverly. Evelyn was born in October 1919, she married Cecil (Whit) Whitworth and they had two children: Ellen and Thomas. Donald was born in April 1922, he married Darlene Christenson and they had five children: Carlton, Richard, Marilyn, Janet, and Solveig. Delaine was born in February 1924, she married Monroe Olson and they had two children: Gary and Linda.

Left to right: Burnell, Evy, Dora, Melvin, Delaine, Donald Huseth
Huseth Five Generations: In the back, Burnell, Llyle, Mark, and in front Melvin holding Erick
Evy and Whit, Tom and Elly Whitworth
Delaine and Monroe, Gary and Linda Olson
Left to right: Donald, Darlene, Hans, Dick, Mia, Holly, and …….. Solveig added later

Darlene was popular and kind, a rare combination for a pretty girl. She loved people and could easily talk to anyone. Her family was living on the Lee place near Barrett and she was a junior in high school when she met Donald, “and” as she later reminisced, “that was that.” She was 21 and he was 23 went they wed in 1945.

Donald and Darlene Huseth, Engagement picture 1944

Darlene’s mother’s name was Agnes Matilda (1895-1963), and her parents were Johannes (1857-1942) and Nelline (Vikaunet) Leraas (1866-1939). They were married in Norway in 1885, immigrated to Barrett in 1891, and raised 11 children there. Nelline had been raised in a large lovely white house with the Norwegian Sea at its face and the mountains at its back. She was a schoolgirl when a young schoolmaster came to the area and was so taken with her lovely red hair and her mental quickness that he waited for her to grow up and he married her. That was Johannes, Darlene’s Grandpa Leraas. He was very bright and excelled at bookwork. His knee had been injured when he was a child, and he was bedridden for much of his childhood; as a result, he became the most educated person in the family. Unable to do any heavy work growing up, he read early and well and he loved learning. The family-owned very few books but they did have a Bible which he read over and over again. He spent his life as an educator, pastor, and cantor (song leader) in the Lutheran faith. He was well-known as an engaging storyteller and an inspirational teacher. He liked to tell stories about the Norse Kings and heroes who had shaped Norway’s history. His great-grandfather told stories about the hard times in Norway during Napoleon’s time when the people had to only bark, bread, and fish to eat.

Johannes and Nelline Leraas family

After they immigrated to Minnesota, in addition to traveling around the region as pastor of several churches, Johannes would teach winter school. This was a religious instruction class held during the six weeks after Christmas when country schools were closed due to weather. Between 20 and 30 children would come to their home and stay for weeks to receive religious instruction and catechism class. Nelline would feed and bed the whole bunch! No wonder Johannes was crazy about her!

Johannes Leraas parochial school

Polio struck two of Johannes’ and Nelline’s children: Agnes and Joe. Polio was bad but the Spanish Flu was worse – so virulent – so random. The Spanish flu was unlike anything anyone had seen before. It struck the old, the young, the healthy, the infirm, the rich, the poor, babies, children, anyone. Harold was the youngest and remembers, “Ten people were living in our home, and nine were down with the Spanish Flu; only one was well enough to care for the others.” The Spanish Flu of 1918 took Joe, Anges’ brother. He was just 25 years old. Pneumonia had settled into his lungs and he was dead within three days. One day he told his dad that Jesus was in the house ready to take him home. The next day he was buried, within 24 hours which was the Spanish Flu mandate.

Darlene’s mother was Agnes. She had polio as a child which left one leg weak, and she fell easily. She also had blood poisoning as a young mother, which left her with a deformed finger and limited use of that hand. Once she recovered, it didn’t slow her down much. She was a quick study, learning to read fluently when she was just four years old. She had a strong and melodic voice and a raucous laugh and was lively and energetic. She never lost her love of books and passed those traits along to her kids. She loved her flower gardens. During the war years when her sons, Ansel was in WWII and Anders was in Korea, she said she watered her gardens with tears shed over her sons in such danger. It was said that she was the best person to ever enter the Solem Church, just because she talked to newcomers. She had a heart of gold and opened it to everyone she met.

Agnes (Leraas) Christenson
Harold (Agnes’ youngest brother) and Helen Leraas, Solveig, John, and Judy

Darlene’s father was Theodore (Tody) Christenson. Tody‘s dad was Anders Christenson (Darlene’s youngest brother is named after him). Anders was a well-to-do businessman who had built and run many successful businesses in Wendell including the hotel, the meat market, the harness shop, and the livery stable. He died of cancer when Tody was 17. Tody was the youngest in his family and according to Donald, who adored his mother-in-law and did not like how Tody treated Agnes sometimes, he was spoiled and temperamental. He would often leave her with all four children and the farm work to go soak his sore bones in the hot springs in Arkansas or the mineral mud baths in Chaska. In all fairness, Tody had survived six months in bed with rheumatic fever in 1930. It is said that “rheumatic fever licks at the joints, but bites at the heart” and Tody suffered from both for many years after he recovered. Over the years Tody tried his hand at a few occupations. Farming didn’t quite suit him. A career in sales was more his style. He was a big, loud, friendly man, but quick-tempered we are told.

Theodore (Tody) Christenson

I pause here to tell you a little about Gunhild Christenson, Darlene’s paternal Grandma, Tody’s mother. While you are growing up and things look too hard and you feel like giving up, I want you to find this little essay and re-read this section:

Gunhild was born in Norway in 1854. At age 13, her occupation was to herd cattle to the mountains near her home and make cheese from the milk to sell. One day she got so frustrated with the herd, she slapped a cow way too hard, and it damaged her arm. It withered her hand and her arm got stiff; she had no use of it for the rest of her life. When she left Norway all by herself, she traveled for 13 weeks by ship, all her food and provisions for the trip and all her possessions in one trunk. At first, she lived in southern Minnesota working for a farmer and his family. He was not a very nice man. He prohibited her from washing the bread bowl after it had been used, of all things. He also threw her Bible on the roof of the house she couldn’t reach it. Gunhild could not wait to get out of there! She married Anders Christenson, and moved to Wendell where they raised 11 children. Christian was the oldest and Tody was the youngest. One of their children, Ole, was born in a dugout in the side of a hill near the Mustinka River. When she was heavy with child when and it was nearly her time, there were rumors of Indians nearby, so to play it safe she walked a mile to the dugout, had the baby, and walked home the next day. When the Indians came by the house, everyone was afraid, but Gunhild knew they didn’t want to hurt anyone. They were hungry and only needed food for their children. Her observation of the whole ordeal: Indians are just like Norwegians; the women do all the work!

These were the dry years when Gunhild was a young woman; she herded the cattle two miles for water leading Christian, her oldest, and carrying Ole the baby. She tended 200 chickens, 2 sows, and 2 cows. She did all her own chores, including the milking with only one arm. She also shucked grain, cooked, and kept house, all in the same day. Just imagine all the diapers she changed, and washed, and dried, and changed again, for 11 babies! With one arm! She always made currant wine to have with her friends at Christmas time. Her husband was an entrepreneur, so she was home with the children and the farm work. After her husband died, she moved to town but that lasted one day. She moved back to the homestead where she lived with Tody and Agnes until she died. Ansel remembers, “She spoiled us kids rotten, God rest her soul.”

Tody and Agnes got extremely sick and both almost died in 1930, Tody of rheumatic fever and Agnes of blood poisoning from a little prick on a rusty piece of screen. Back then, nearly anything could kill you. It was a very rough winter and they were bankrupt by spring. The children had to stay with relatives while their parents recovered. Gloria spent a lot of time with Grandma [Gunhild] Christenson, and truth be known she was her favorite. Gloria was tall and pretty and that was important to Grandma. All the Christensons were tall, healthy, and good-looking, but were sometimes blunt, even ill-tempered.

For instance, many years later I remember my mother hand-delivered my high school graduation picture to her Aunt Annie, Tody’s sister. She was very old by then. Aunt Annie took one look at my 1972 long smooth hairstyle, shoved it back at my mother, and said, “What’s this? She looks like a prostitute! All that long straight hair hanging down!” Nothing surprised my mother coming from Aunt Annie anymore, but she was taken aback by that comment. Our mother thought her daughters were the prettiest girls ever born!

Mia graduation photo 1972
Mia during senior year, in the newspaper regarding United Nations awareness

Tody and Agnes lived with Grandma Christenson on the Christenson homestead near Wendell for 11 years after they were married. During that 11 years, five children were born to Agnes and Tody: Ansel (1921) was the oldest, then a full-term baby girl was stillborn, then Darlene (1924), then Gloria (1927), and Anders (1929).

Left to right: Agnes, Gloria, Ansel, Anders, Darlene. Tody Christenson
Darlene’s baby picture

In 1931 Grandma Gunhild Christenson died and Tody’s family moved to the Sand place. Anders was two years old. Darlene had fond memories of living at Grandma’s and often commented how beneficial it is for children to live in a multi-generational home. She was not so sure how the women liked it, but it was great for the kids!

I suppose all old farmhouses had mice and the little vermin are a teencie bit startling to everybody, but Darlene was especially afraid of mice. She felt they were always looking at her, even the dead ones. Donald would later remark, “Your mother was so afraid of mice, she could hear a mouse walk across the lawn!”

When Tody and Agnes’ kids were teenagers, Sunday morning was for church, and Sunday afternoon was for fun. There were horseback riding and picnics and ballgames and a lot of kids coming and going at the Christenson home. Ansel had a horse named Jerry, who he trained to do amazing tricks on command. That big old horse could sit on his haunches and put his front legs next to a card table, appearing to play cards. He could also kneel down with his head on the ground and his hindquarters in a standing position, allowing Ansel to stand up on his hind end. The crowds would go wild!

Ansel and Jerry
Ansel and Jerry

Ansel and his buddies started a saddle club and began to put on shows for the neighbors so Jerry would have someplace to perform. Ansel remembers the line-up of one show: The Bunion Busters Orchestra played polka music along with the Crazy Cadet Singers, Edna Haggert played accordion, Lawrence Thompson did roman riding and rope tricks, Gordon and Roger were trick riders, and the headliner was Ansel and his trick horse, Jerry.

Tody was quite a good horseman too: Ansel remembers his dad could pick up his hat from the ground at a full gallop. Gloria and Darlene would sell refreshments and lunch. Agnes would make white cake with whipped cream and Kool-Aid, which made any event festive. Tody sold tickets and policed the event. At 25 cents per ticket, they never made much money, but they had a great time. Ansel and Jerry went on to tour the rodeo circuit throughout Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

Tody and Flika

This family was the definition of “you bring your own fun with you!” In today’s climate of so many things to keep us entertained like TV, video games, computers, movies, sports, etc. we would do well to choose things that require participation and creativity and not just watching.

In 1942 Ansel enlisted in the Army Cavalry. He never even got close to the Cavalry but was assigned to Artillery and learned a lot of new things like driving big trucks and working in the mess hall. In 1944 Ansel went to war in Europe and in 1945 he was in Germany at the Battle of Metz and The Battle of Ziegfried. By April there were rumors the Germans were giving up and by June Ansel was back home on furlough. He thought his next stop was Japan, but things changed, and he was discharged in September 1945.

Ansel Christenson

I pause here to let you know what a sweet, kind, positive, human being Ansel was. He never said an unkind word about anyone, even those who might have had it coming. So his phrase, “things changed and I was discharged in September 1945” made me wonder. I googled what happened in WWII between July and September 1945 and found the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened in August. But for Ansel, “things changed” and he got to come home. Never an ill word about anyone or anything.

Ansel and Doris Christenson

Ansel married Doris Stahl in 1952, they had no children. I seem to remember hearing that Ansel had mumps as an adult which was known for leaving men sterile. Lucky for us they treated all their nieces and nephews like their own kids!

Anders enlisted in the Army in 1949 where he learned to fly. He served in Korea and was discharged in April 1952. He became a teacher and a pilot, married Jean, and had one son, Charles.

Anders Christenson
Anders, Charley, and Jean Christenson 2019

Gloria moved to Tacoma to go to college, lived with Uncle Herald and Aunt Helen, and met Frank Witt who had just been discharged from the service. They graduated from Pacific Lutheran University, married, and had three children, one of whom went on to change federal law as it pertains to LGBTQ people serving in the US military. Frank and Gloria just celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary in 2020.

Gloria and Frank on their wedding day 1949
Margaret, Chris, and Virginia Witt (Frank and Gloria’s children)
The West Coast Leraas Cousins 2019
Turi, Mia, Latife, Meriam, Margie, Katrina, Hope, Solveig, Judy, Virginia, Holly, Anikka, Gloria, Laurie

Darlene attended Normal School in Glenwood in 1942 and then taught for two years in a one-room schoolhouse. What is Normal School you ask? The first normal school in America was established in Vermont in 1823. Most such institutions changed their names to teachers’ colleges during the 1930s. Normal Schools derive their name from the French phrase ecole normale. These teacher-training institutions, the first of which was established in France in 1685, were intended to set a pattern, and establish a norm, after which all other schools would be modeled. And now you know.

Darlene in Glenwood, July 4, 1942

Darlene enjoyed teaching in a one-room schoolhouse near Barrett for about two years. She carried the firewood, stoked the fire, shoveled the steps, and prepared the lessons before the children arrived in the morning. In the winter when the roads became impassable, she used cross-country skis or snowshoes to get to school in the pre-dawn hours. In those days women who were married were prohibited from teaching school so she quit when she got married. Those were the rules and no one questioned the rules, although it seems strange to think of it now. Equal rights for women have always been hard-fought, but even slower to take hold in the remote areas of our nation.

It was March 25, 1945, and on the other side of the world, Winston Churchill briefly crossed the Rhine River near Wesel in an Allied landing craft, symbolizing Britain’s crossing into Germany, something no foreign army had done since the age of Napoleon. The Second World War dominated headlines around the world, but on that rainy Sunday afternoon just a few months before the end of the War, Donald and Darlene were quietly married in a little white clapboard church in Grant County: Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lien Township.

Immanuel congregation, Lien Township, 1896

Here is a little snapshot of their wedding week. Their words, not mine: hilarious and tragic: The week before the wedding it rained, rained, and then rained some more. The day before the wedding, Donald was at the Barrett place rushing to get the house ready for his bride. He had painted the floor in the kitchen, and he was so proud that it looked so shiny and clean. That morning he had to shovel 350 bushels of grain by himself; his partners knew it was his wedding weekend but didn’t bother showing up to help him. That sort of irked him.

Donald went into the house to light the stove, got distracted, and by the time he came back into the kitchen, gallons of fuel oil had leaked all over the kitchen floor, and when he tried to wipe it up a lot of the paint came up with it. That irked him even more. Darlene returned from Glenwood with the flowers and the wedding singer. Donald noticed there was a quarter-inch bolt in one of the tires of her dad’s Packard. It had been raining for days and the ground was soft and muddy which made changing the tire downright dangerous. What an irksome day from start to finish, Donald remembered.

Donald, Gunder (his mother’s brother), Burnell (his brother)

The wedding was set for Sunday, March 25: More rain. Rain. Rain. Mud. Mud. And more mud. They got up early to drive to Revered Sandburg’s home to ask Mrs. Sandburg about playing piano for the soloist. Mrs. Sandburg was a little pouty and would not cooperate, so that was a wasted trip on an already busy day, during a time of gas rationing. The wedding itself went well. Reverend Sandburg officiated the ceremony at Immanuel. He had been the pastor to confirm Darlene and would go on to baptize their first four children. Donald’s mother and dad (Melvin and Dora) were living in California at the time, so they were not at the wedding. The groomsmen were Donald’s brother, Burnell, and Darlene’s brother, Anders. Darlene’s bridesmaids were her sister, Gloria, and her cousin Charmae. They had two flower girls, Darlene’s cousins Arlou and Verlie Ann.

Darlene wore a slender-fit white satin gown that Olga Newman had made just for her. It was adorned with pearl beads that had been part of her mother’s wedding gown (Dick’s girls, Dawn got the beads and Dayna got the wedding dress when Darlene passed in 1998). Wedding fashion had sure changed since her Grandma Nelline Leraas was married in Norway just 60 years before. Nelline was a beautiful 19-year-old bride with stunning red hair and wore a black tight-fitting homespun dress trimmed with small buttons. Sixty years later, Darlene was in a simple white satin gown; she looked like an angel and when he saw her, it took Donald’s breath away.

Darlene on her wedding day 1945

However, they laughed about the wedding pictures for years to come. The photographer took all the wedding paraphernalia (candelabras, flowers, etc.) and lined them up on the altar, and then arranged the members of the wedding party like they were in a police lineup. Darlene remembers thinking how beautiful and handsome and young and healthy they all looked on her special day, but the photo makes them look like they were at a funeral. Or a police lineup.

Donald and Darlene Huseth (1945 police lineup)

In the words of Donald, the honeymoon was tragic. Rain. More rain. Mud. More mud. A friend gave them a ride to Alexandria after the reception where they caught the Greyhound bus to Minneapolis. They hadn’t really paid attention to the time and date and when they made the plan and when they arrived late on their wedding night, they were reminded by every weary hotel clerk that the Minnesota State Basketball Tournament was going on and there was literally NO ROOM AT THE INN. Anywhere. Donald remembers helplessly standing outside the bus depot on First Avenue, tired from the big day, hungry, with no place to stay, when suddenly out of the blue, who should come walking down the street toward them but his Aunt Esther (Aunt Esther was married to Tony who was Dora’s brother). “Well, hello! What are you two newlyweds doing here?”

Long story short, the lovebirds spent their first night of wedded bliss in Donald’s Aunt Esther’s spare room. The next morning, she prepared a lovely wedding breakfast for them and they caught the bus to St. Cloud where they checked into the only hotel room they could find. It seemed a little sketchy, but it was the best they could do. Donald remembered tossing their suitcase onto an overstuffed chair and the dust billowed into the air like a cartoon dust cloud. He went to the bathroom to open a window and found the window already open and the bathtub coated in soot. By now things were getting comical. They went out to a fancy chicken dinner and the chicken was so tough that they each grabbed a leg and pulled with all their might but still could not pull it apart. By now they were in fits of giggles. The next day the skies cleared, and it was time to get back home. The best part of the honeymoon is the giggles they got every time they shared that story over the next 54 years.

Sometimes we build something up in our minds and when things go wrong it can be a huge disappointment. A wedding, a first date, a holiday celebration, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or even a meal. We’ve all been there. It’s best just to laugh it off and move on. Maybe a story that makes us laugh is the best that day has to offer.

After the crazy wedding weekend and the dreadfully funny honeymoon, the newlyweds moved into the old farmhouse on what is affectionately known as the Barrett place. She was no stranger to hard work and once she married, she took on the life of a farm wife with a vengeance. Whether on paper or not, she was most certainly a full partner in the family farm business. Over the next 17 years, she would have five healthy beautiful blonde babies but still helped in the fields during planting and harvest, kept a clean house and a nice garden, tended her mink traps, prepared three meals every day from scratch for hungry children and hired men, and still had the energy go out dancing on Saturday night. Because why? You bring your own fun with you! That’s why. The Barrett Pavilion was the place to be. Local bands and more famous celebrities like Lawrence Welk, Whoopie John, Gordon Leraas Band, and Ferlin Husky, would often perform. She was resourceful and strong and would do anything for her family. She was an expert shot and won more trophies than Donald at Rifle Club.

Donald had been farming full-time with his dad and his brother since the tenth grade. He remembers working in the fields that summer; the first day of school came and went and no one said, “Hey Donnie, it’s the first day of school. Come out of the field. Wash up and go to school!” Not his dad, not his mom, not his sisters, not his teacher. So, he just stayed in the field. He was happier there anyway. He did not like school. The kids and teacher alike called him “Dumb Donnie” and taunted him when he missed a question.

Donald on his Confirmation Day

I share this sad detail to let you know those words cut him deeply and continued to have an impact throughout his life, even into his many successes and old age. Here is a little hint for a happy life: always be the hero and stick up for the one the others are picking on. Never join in.

Donald and Darlene rented 80 acres near Barrett; that’s where their first four kids were born: Carlton in 1946 (we call him Hans), Richard in 1947 (we call him Dickie), Marilyn in 1954 (they call me Mia), and Janet in 1955 (we called her Holly.) Solveig came along when we lived on the Evansville place, we call her Solveig.

Darlene with Hans (right) and cousin Sylvia Huseth (left)

The old drafty farmhouse on the Barrett place with painted floors was a five-star luxury hotel for gangster mice who thought they ran the place. They frightened the living daylights out of the young bride. Hans remembers, the house had electricity and a cistern under the porch, but no running water or plumbing. In winter, a glass of water would freeze by morning in the bedroom Hans and Dick shared. The boys remember carrying fresh water in and wastewater out every day. Always farming in the summer, Donald had winter jobs as well, such as running telephone lines to rural homes and cutting huge ice blocks out of Barrett Lake for Soo Line Railroad cold cars.

Donald’s winter job, ice harvest, Barrett Lake, Soo Line Train

I remember my folks talking about a big controversy, something having to do with electricity. It seemed some politicians in DC wanted to free up some federal funds to run electrical infrastructure into rural America. Most farmers back then were Democrats, but not all. Darlene’s family had been raised Republican. Donald’s family was raised Democrats. There would be fist-pounding screaming matches around the pros and cons of farms having access to electricity.

Can you even imagine?! Some politicians simply did not think the change was necessary! Others thought it was bad for the American way! The Rural Electrification Act was drafted in 1936 by two prominent New Deal policymakers, who paid a price for their bi-partisan legislative work aimed at improving the lives of rural Americans. One was booted from his party and had to run as an independent in the next election. He won anyway, even though powerful pro-business Republicans, such as Henry Ford, called them “socialists” for supporting public electric power.

It is absurd to think of people today living in rural areas of the wealthiest nation on earth with no electricity. Next time you hear pro-business politicians labeling a program or an opponent as “socialist” because they want to improve the lives of the underserved, think back on this moment in history. How silly! By choice or by chance, change is inevitable in this life. Why not make the change that is good for the people who need a helping hand and be on the right side of history? It makes me wonder about the “big controversies” those ninnies in Washington are bickering over these days. Many of those fist-pounding filibuster fights will undoubtedly go the way of NO MARRIED WOMEN SHALL TEACH SCHOOL and NO FARMERS SHALL HAVE ELECTRIC LIGHTS. But I digress.

In 1956 Donald and Darlene moved off the Barrett place but kept farming it and bought 180 acres near Evansville; that is where Solveig was born in 1962. The winter before they moved, Donald spent every waking hour remodeling that house for his family. He converted a back bedroom into a kitchen, ran plumbing and power to it, built plenty of kitchen cupboards, sanded and polished the hardwood floors, updated the bathroom, and started construction on a garage. There were enough bedrooms for all of us and heat registers in the bedroom floors so a water glass would not freeze overnight. Dick remembers thinking the house felt so huge and opulent with its colonnades and shiny hardwood floors. Donald was a skilled carpenter, plumber, electrician, machinist, farmer, and soon-to-be pilot.

Evansville place 1955

Over the years, Donald and the boys farmed up to 700 acres, but it was never enough. They eked out a living for the family of seven from 1945 to 1965 and then made the official move to the Cities. After the move, they rented out the Evansville place for a number of years and then sold it in the 1970s — just before the price per acre went thru the roof! Just their luck.

House on the Evansville place 1955
Remodeled kitchen at the Evansville farm. Right to left: Dickie, Holly, Mia, Hans

Farming was and still is an expensive and risky endeavor. Donald used to joke, “Did you hear the one about the farmer who won the $50 million lottery? When the reporter asked him what he was going to do with his winnings, he said, “Well, I guess I’ll keep farming until the money runs out.”

Hans and Dick both got to grow up in the country and they graduated from Evansville High School in 1964 and 1965, but their roots remained in Barrett. Their coming-of-age years are engraved with the farm: planting and harvest, driving that old red International Harvester Farmall tractor and the 1949 green Chevy pick-up, working with cattle and pigs and chickens, riding horses, hunting, fishing, and trapping. These were simpler times. Hans remembers our telephone was on a party line and our number was two longs and a short. Families had to wait their turn to make a call and make it quick because someone might be trying to get through. Dad was a Chevy guy and in 1960 he bought his first brand new Chevy Impala; none of the other boys at school had such a cool car, Hans recalls.

Hansie and Dickie
Hansie and Dicky
Donald on his Farmall

Donald learned to fly the year I was born in 1954 and by 1955 he began crop spraying in his spare time after he had logged about 200 hours. He was a fearless but commonsense pilot. Flying was his destiny. Even after he crashed that little Piper Cub, there was no turning back.

He retired with 22,000 hours in the air as an FAA Designated Examiner in 1992 but continued teaching seaplane and instrument ratings for another decade. I think Holly still has those dozens of logbooks around somewhere. Donald was especially known for teaching the old ways. He once told a crowd at an award ceremony in his honor, “You can’t teach experience. You acquire experience. When we teach people to fly an airplane, we are teaching them how to safely acquire experience. If we are taught to feel the airplane, to really hear it, then we begin to understand. And when we begin to understand why an airplane flies, we become pilots.” Which is quite different than those airline computer operators, he would sarcastically add under his breath. Donald would have loved the Sully Sullenberger story. He was a real pilot. Donald hated the John-John Kennedy story and nailed that investigation a year before the findings were released. Bottom line, the president’s son should never have been allowed to fly in that soup (pilot-speak for fog.) He was only cleared to take off because of his celebrity status. Weather does not care one bit about celebrity status. Weather cares only about the laws of physics. Weather is completely unforgiving.

Donald Huseth, retirement article in the Minnesota Flyer June 1992

Many years later, I was a teenager, and it was just beginning to dawn on me just how much nerve it must have taken for my Dad in his forties to uproot the whole family from the only life generations of his people had ever known, to embark on a brand-new life, I asked him, “Dad, when did you first know you didn’t like farming?” He paused, looked up into the right-hand corner of the ceiling, and replied, “Hmm, I guess when I was about 8 years old.”

Donald was always a pilot at heart and thankfully he got to live the last half of his life in the air: first as a crop duster, then as a flight instructor and ground-school teacher, then as an FAA Designated Examiner and expert witness for court cases and insurance claims. He was also co-owner of the Beech-Aero Club at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie. He mysteriously kept passing his physicals and didn’t give up his pilot’s license until he was 80 years of age.

Of all of his five children, only one took a fleeting interest in flying. Solveig started lessons when she was 17 and soloed at 18. She had a harrowing experience during her solo cross-country certification where she found herself lost and all alone in a Beechcraft Sport at 15,000 feet. Heart beating in her throat, she kept her cool, “What would Donald do?” Just then she saw a town in the distance, reduced altitude, and flew close enough to the water tower to see the name on it. “New Ulm. OK, good. Got my bearings back. And now, back to the airport.”

Donald was a very well-respected and sought-after flight instructor because he had superb technical skills, an almost mystical sense of the weather, and a lot of common sense. He was an exceptional teacher. It was sadly ironic that he had a sort of mean habit of making fun of teachers when he had one too many. I imagine that may have been rooted in the old childhood trauma of that one-room schoolhouse, “Dumb Donnie! Dumb Donnie!”

Donald was happiest when he was flying airplanes. AND when he was telling stories about flying airplanes, the smoke from his Marlboro twirling skyward like elusive aerobatic barrel rolls.

They say the best revenge is a life well-lived, and in the end, Donnie got to live his dream of soaring through the clouds. For a living! He moved his family off the farm and into the burbs, traveled for fun to interesting places around the globe like Banff & Lake Louise in Canada, Washington DC, New Orleans, Mexico, New York City, Europe, Seattle, Indianapolis, Hawaii, Arizona, Florida, Nicaragua, Black Hills, Las Vegas, Alaska, California, Colorado Springs, and Norway FOUR TIMES. He got to grow old with his loving family around him. He did not let those mean kids in that one-room schoolhouse have the last word. He overcame the best he could.

Life on the farm was a complicated combination of community and isolation, hard work and hard lessons, and adventure and solitude. If you asked any of us, I am sure you would hear vastly different perspectives from our differing roles and decades. We had a little dog named Sparky in the 1960s and that pup was legendary in the number of stories he could generate around a dinner table long after he was gone. He brought us much joy. There was a lot of fun for kids growing up the way we did. There were puppies born under the granary. There were several colts born on the place. There were trees to climb and woods to explore. Darlene’s Uncle Harold once wrote about the Huseth home, “This is a busy, funny, crazy, fun, and cordial place where you can feel welcome any old time.”

But here is one tough memory I will never forget. It was a warm summer evening in the summer of 1961, and our parents were away. Hans was at Uncle Ansel’s and heard the story on the local news along with Ansel and Doris. Dick and Linda were home with Holly and me. Our neighbor, Osborne, came to tell us that our dad had crashed his Piper Cub and had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. The rest of the night is a blur – I was so little. I remember our Dad was gone for a long time. When he came home it was autumn and he was in a body cast. He had spent months in traction in the hospital. The neighbors rallied together and helped bring in the harvest. Only one asked for reimbursement of his gas money. This was a tight-knit farming community, and they all loved our folks.

Donald and his first Piper Cub Single Engine

Donald could not move from his neck to his waist all winter, but he slowly built a wall unit in our living room consisting of a brick gas fireplace with bookshelves and cabinets on both sides. He would sit on a little stool in front of the fireplace and Holly and I would carry bricks one at a time from the kitchen sink where our mother was washing and drying each one by hand. When it was painstakingly finished, I remember it was golden oak and a thing of beauty.

Solveig’s Baptism Day in 1962, Sponsors Beverly Huseth, Dick Huseth, Linda Olson, and Carlton Huseth posing in front of the wall unit Donald built while recovering from the plane crash

Darlene had also been in the airplane when it went down, a secret they both kept into their 70s. She had broken her tailbone but could not go for medical help since he was certain to lose his pilot license if word got out that she was illegally a passenger in his crop-dusting plane. So, she suffered in silence, except when sobbing into a wet washcloth as she soaked in Epson Salts bath. As I say, she, like many pioneer women before her, would do anything for her family. That little airplane and her husband’s pilot license were their tickets off the farm, and she was not going to mess that up with a trip to the ER.

Our cousin Linda spent many summers and holidays with us up north, sometimes at Grandpa Huseth’s farm and sometimes at our farm. This started when she was 7 or 8 years old. She preferred life in the country to living with her parents in Crystal, a northeast suburb of Minneapolis. She was between Hans and Dick in age and we all looked forward to her coming every spring. She was a big help to Darlene, who told us many years later that she loved Linda with a mother’s love. She was definitely one of the family. Holly and I loved to have a “big sister” around. I remember she bought a bay gelding named Amigo and nicknamed him Fred, kept him at our farm for a few years, then took him back to the Cities with her when she graduated. He was a good old horse, the perfect companion, and he lived for decades thanks to Linda’s expert care. I picked up my love of horses from Linda. She taught me so much.

Hans remembers that when they got a little older, he and Dickie would walk a mile to a neighbor’s house to watch TV because the Huseths were the only people in the area without a TV. They didn’t get one until Hans was 16 years old. Dick remembers at some point, wanting to purchase another horse (he had more than a few by then), but Dad said the money was tight. As a family, Donald said they could make a choice: another horse for Dickie or the family’s first TV.

    Mom called a family meeting, “We can get a TV or we can get a new horse for Dickie. Let’s vote. Who wants a TV?”

    Dad said, “I do.”

    Hans said, “I do.”

    Dick said, “I don’t! I want another horse.”

    Mom said, “OK that settles it, we’ll get another horse.”

    And they did.

Even then, I think she was sneakily orchestrating any means necessary to keep us outside playing and learning and not in front of the TV. Finally, she couldn’t hold out any longer. If Hans was 16 when we got our first TV, I was 8 and I vividly remember the first show we watched. Bonanza.

In August 1965, I had just turned 11 in June and Holly was 9. We were full into Beatlemania thanks to our Minneapolis cousins, Elly and Tom. We begged and begged and finally, our Mom gave in. The tickets were $4.50 each and the concert was at Metropolitan Stadium where the Mall of America currently sits. Holly and I boarded the Greyhound bus in Evansville and rode ALL BY OURSELVES all the way to Minneapolis. Uncle Whit picked us up at the bus depot and took Elly, Tom, Holly, and me to the concert. What an experience! We heard the first note and after that, only screams of the girls around us. OK, a show of hands, who reading this essay right now, is putting their little girls, ages 9 and 11, on a Greyhound bus, unaccompanied, for a four-hour bus ride, to see a rock ‘n roll concert, all by themselves? Anyone? Anyone?! It surely was a different time!

Ticket Stub to Beatles Concert

In the fall of 1965, Don and Darlene moved us to the Cities: Chaska for a year, then Chanhassen for the rest of their lives. We were ages 3, 9, and 11, and the boys, off to the military and to college, had moved on by then. Hans and Dick were big strapping capable farm boys but joining the Army proved to be quite an eye-opener. They sort of felt like Gomer Pyle arriving at boot camp. They both remember it was jarring to crash into the great big world of 1960s America.

1964: Front left to right: Darlene, Solveig, Mia, Donald, Holly, Back left to right : Dickie, Hans

Donald was 43 when he traded his coveralls for aviators and began to teach rich people how to fly. He was 8 years old when he knew farming wasn’t for him and that flying was his future and he was 43 when he made it happen; 35 years is a long time to wait for your ship to come in.

Donald in his aviators

Darlene was 41 when she left rural life became a teacher’s aide at Minnetonka East Jr. High School and, after 20 years out of the classroom, she discovered she had a way with Jr. High kids. She loved them and they loved her. She enjoyed a long and happy career at East making a difference in those young lives. Just like her Grandpa Leraas, teaching was her calling and she relished every minute! Those 13 years were entirely wonderful followed by one year at Minnetonka High School, which was entirely miserable, and yet she persevered. She then took a year off from teaching and worked for Dick selling Electrolux. She loved it. It was something completely different. After that, she worked for five years at Excelsior Elementary as a health care para in the school nurse’s office. Again, she loved this job and all the people she worked with. I think this is where she developed a close group of friends and they called themselves The Star Chamber. After the 1983 movie. Look it up. It’s just a little frightening. She retired after 20 years, and five parties were thrown in her honor! Darlene was so loved by her tribe.

I pause here to share Donald and Darlene’s ages (43 and 41) at the beginning of their second act. I want you to know that, in your 20s, that relentless feeling of restlessness can often consume you to the core and make you feel like a willow in a windstorm. Be patient with yourself. Don’t be afraid to make some mistakes along the way, for mistakes are the greatest teacher — if we learn from them. Learning from our mistakes deepens our understanding of ourselves and everyone around us. It gives us empathy and grace toward our friends and our children. And please KNOW that 40 is just the beginning of the second act of your beautiful story.

Look at it this way: Donald was 8 years old in 1930 when he knew farming wasn’t for him; it was the first year of the Great Depression and almost a decade before Pearl Harbor. Donald was 43 in 1965 when he moved the family off the farm to pursue aviation full-time; news of Viet Nam and the Rolling Stones blared across the airwaves.

Oh, how the world had opened up for them during those years! They imagined a better version of themselves and then – they showed up – every day. I make this comparison to tell you never to give up on your dreams. But it’s important to show up every day. No matter how long it takes. Perhaps you need the time to prepare for the next step, but more likely the world needs time to prepare for you and open up for your dream.

We always went to church because it was important to Darlene. She was a loyal and faithful parishioner. In all, she attended 4 churches in all 73 years on this planet. Confirmed and married at Immanuel Lutheran in Lien Township near Barrett, she was a member of Lincoln Lutheran on the other side of Barrett after the move to Evansville, she attended St. John’s Lutheran in Chaska when we moved to the Cities, and finally, we were charter members of the Lutheran Church of the Living Christ in Chanhassen where there was standing room only at her Memorial Service in 1998. When a pastor would be assigned to the church she was attending and he just wasn’t her cup of tea, she would quietly just wait him out, “I’ll be here long after he is gone”, she’d think to herself.

She loved getting to know the people at church. She came up with the idea of throwing “pew parties” where she would invite the people who sat in her pew, the pew behind her, and the pew in front of her, to a dinner party. She became infamous for her Sauerkraut & Nifflies recipe. After the party, she would move to the other side of the sanctuary and start all over again making a whole new set of friends. Four dinner parties per year and she soon knew everyone in the church.

Darlene made friends easily, and some of her best friends she made at church. She volunteered with Sunday School and VBS and attended Bible Study. She joined a quilting group, and those women were her lifeline near the end of her life. She was a joiner, always interested and interesting.

When we moved to Chanhassen, we lived at 7332 Frontier Trail in Sunrise Hills. It was the 1960s and the only hard and fast rule was to be home before dark. The neighborhood was full of kids our age and we made the most of it. Oh, how we loved Lotus Lake and all the fun it had to offer! We had a little speed boat we christened The Silver Bullet. It had a 35hp motor and we would zip across the clear glass lake on two skis and then one, the wind in our hair and sun on our shoulders! We had a little sailboat and an old aluminum canoe. We definitely got our money’s worth out of those lake toys! The neighborhood maintained (and still does) a beach lot, fishing dock, and diving raft, where kids basked in the summer fun, our skin oiled with Bain de Soleil and our hair dripping with Sun-In.

7332 Frontier Trail, Sunrise Hills, Chanhassen, MN
Lotus Lake

It occurs to me now, how very far away Lotus Lake is from the cave dug into the side of the Huset Lake bed where our people settled upon their arrival at their destiny. What would they think if they could see these little blondes in their two-piece swimsuits slalom ski round and round the edge of Lotus Lake?!

They might say, “Just look at them! The world has gone to hell in a handbasket! Put some clothes on and get back to work!”

Or they just might say, “Just look at them! They are our wildest dreams come true!”

Mia, Holly, and Solveig graduated from Chaska Public School in 1972, 1973, and 1980. The Sunrise Hills Huseth home was known for flying the Norwegian flag beneath the Stars & Stripes on a flagpole in the front yard on special occasions and on Norway’s Constitution Day, the 17th of May. We served lutefisk and lefse every Christmas dinner; the voices of our ancestors whispering to our souls with each bite.

Donald and Darlene welcomed their first grandchildren into that house on Frontier Trail. Darlene wove a myriad of rich traditions into the visits of her grandchildren: King for a Day, Queen for a Day, the Surprise Drawer, lots of reading and storytelling, Christmas Eve dinners and the best entertainment in town, fishing excursions to Lotus Lake, chocolate chip cookies, and fresh raspberries right from the garden; her voice whispering to her grandchildrens’ souls with each tradition, “The bond of family is strong and cannot be broken. Family is where your story begins.”

As the family grew, some of the grandchildren were not of her blood, and yet, her voice was steady and still whispers to each one, “The bond of family is strong and cannot be broken.”

Donald giving a historical tour of the Kensington Runestone Park with grandsons,
Walker & Jackson, Mia’s kids

And sometimes, when the great-grandchildren of Donald and Darlene Huseth are very still and listening very closely to the old stories, or zipping around the edge of a clear glass lake on two skis and then one, or trying lefse for the very first time, or boarding an airplane for the next adventure, or sticking up for the underdog, or having cookies and raspberries after school, they too will mysteriously feel the voices of the past whispering into their souls, “Our family bond is strong and cannot be broken. Family is where your story begins.”

References and Further Reading:

  • The Leraas Family in America by Dr. Harold J. Leraas (1979)
  • Leraas Family History, compiled by Steve and Linda Leraas Ray (2019)
  • Audio Tapes recorded by Darlene (Christenson) Huseth (1994)
  • Minnesota Flyer Trade Magazine (June 1992)
  • History.com
  • Tell: Love, Defiance, and the Military Trial at the Tipping Point for Gay Rights by Major Margaret Witt and Tom Connor
  • Lineage & Family Memoirs by Jan Dybdahl
  • Ansel Christenson by Ansel Christenson
  • The Dust Bowl Years, a documentary by Ken Burns
  • The Civil War, documentary by Ken Burns

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