When Lloyd Svendsbye's father was dying, Svendsbye asked him a question.
"I visited him a few weeks before he died," Svendsbye recalled. "I asked, 'Is there anything in life that you are particularly proud of?' He didn't take any minute for reflection. He said, 'I paid all my debts.' That showed how deeply the need to pay his debts was rooted in his (mind)."
Svendsbye, a retired college president from St. Louis Park, Minn., who grew up in tiny Hamlet, in Williams County, used his father's last words as the title of his new book, "I Paid All My Debts."
Submitted Photo •
Lloyd Svendsbye will sign copies of his new book from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday at Main Street Books in Minot. Main Street Books is located at 106 South Main Street.
The book tells the story of two Norwegian immigrant families, his father and his maternal grandparents, who came to live in Hamlet in the early years of the century.
His maternal grandparents emigrated to the United States in their 40s, "which is very old for immigrants," said Svendsbye, and had to borrow the money for everything from their trip across the Atlantic to the horses, cattle and plows they needed to farm the land. In 1928 the bank foreclosed on them and "they had to move across the road to a two-room shack where they lived out their lives partly as a ward of the state."
Svendsbye's father emigrated to the United States in 1904, the same year as his maternal grandparents, though they came from different parts of Norway. The families ended up living across the road from each other.
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"The first two years he seeded by throwing the seed on the ground and he harvested it with a scythe," said Svendsbye. "In 1907 he bought his first binder ... he was in debt until five years before he died. He was in debt from 1907 to 1962. Then, as you know, there was the Depression and there was the drought. He wasn't able to begin repaying his debt until the rain returned in 1940."
His father was incredibly tenacious, Svendsbye recalled, and believed in the importance of honor. His parents encouraged a good education and helped Svendsbye as much as they could with his college education at Concordia. They loaned him $1,800, which he eventually paid back, and he paid for the rest of his education with scholarships and by working.
Svendsbye recalls that when he started school in Hamlet there was a 12-grade school and when he graduated from the eighth grade it was a one-room school. He graduated from nearby McGregor High School in 1947.
"Despite the smallness of the schools we got a good education," Svendsbye said. "I got my doctorate from one of the best schools on the East Coast and I have never regretted that I went to a one-room school ... I think back on those teachers with such appreciation. My high school English teacher in one sense made it possible for me to write that book because she taught me how to write correct sentences."
Svendsbye was ordained and served as a pastor for a year before he went into academic life. Svendsbye returned to teach religion in 1957 at Concordia College in Moorhead after he obtained his doctorate. He then went on to become editor-in-chief at Augsburg Publishing House in Minneapolis, later became academic dean at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., from 1971 to 1974, was president of the Luther Seminary, an Evangelical Lutheran Church seminary, in St. Paul from 1974 to 1987, and was president at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D. from 1987 to 1992, when he retired.
Svendsbye and his wife, Annelotte, have also maintained close ties to his relatives in Norway.
"I have 150 relatives in Norway and I've met 135 of them," said Svendsbye, who speaks very little Norwegian. "Almost all of my Norwegian relatives speak English. They were very understanding when I tried to speak Norwegian. They were very understanding about all of my mistakes."
Svendsbye and his wife have traveled to Norway three times, he said, and visited some of the places his father and grandparents were from.
Some of his nieces and nephews were curious about the family history and asked Svendsbye to write about some of his memories. Svendsbye wrote some memoirs to distribute to his family members, but wondered how accurate his memory actually was. Fortunately, his father had preserved many of the family records in the trunk he brought from Norway, so Svendsbye was able to check his own recollections against the documents.
"My memory was pretty good," Svendsbye said.
He decided the memoir would make a good book, which was published by Lutheran University Press in Minneapolis.
Svendsbye said he's looking forward to talking about the book and sharing it with people at Norsk Hstfest.