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The Fargo Forum
A Special To The Forum, Published In Two Parts
Sunday 16 January 2005, Sunday 23 January 2005
Written and contributed by Curt Eriksmoen; edited by Jan Eriksmoen

Norwegian Immigrant Founded 18 Churches In N.D.

Did you know that . . .

One man who lived and worked in North Dakota founded 18 church congregations, four schools, a highly respected college and an active Lutheran synod. He was also the father of a major-league baseball player. This man was Bjug Harstad.

Bjug (pronounced Bee-you-g) Aanodson was born Dec. 17, 1848, on a plot called Gangshei, a part of a larger farm named Harstad that was connected to the village of Valle in Setesdal, Norway. Valle is in the south-central part of Norway about 60 miles north of Kristiansand. Bjug had nine siblings.

He was the second-youngest, and his parents were poor tenant farmers. His father, Aanond, tried to supplement the family's income by tanning sheepskins and repairing shoes. In 1861, his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Seneca, Ill., where Aanond died that fall. Kittil, Harstad's oldest brother, had immigrated to the United State six years earlier and worked to earn passage for the entire family to come to America.

In 1865 the family relocated to Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota. That fall, Harstad's pastor in Harmony, Minn., helped him enter Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Harstad walked the 25 miles to enroll. While at Luther College, President Lauritz Larsen asked Harstad his name. "Bjug Aanondson," he replied. "But what farm did you come from in Norway?" queried Larsen. He answered, "Harstad," and from then on his name was Bjug Harstad.

Harstad graduated from Luther College in 1871 and enrolled at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Concordia was part of the Missouri Synod branch of the Lutheran Church, and he developed a deep appreciation of this synod's theology and practices.

After being ordained a Lutheran pastor in July 1874, Harstad traveled to the Goose River area of Traill County in Dakota Territory to begin his missionary work. He spent a part of the first year living in a dugout carved into the slope of a hill. In time, several of Harstad's siblings joined him in eastern Dakota. His brother, Gjermund, was elected to the Dakota Territorial legislature in 1887 and again in 1889.

Harstad, by this time a pastor, made friends with members of the Ingebret Larsen family, who were some of the earliest Mayville homesteaders. He spent much of the next four years staying with them, spending his first two years in the Goose River area establishing congregations in eastern Dakota and western Minnesota.

In the Dakota Territory, Harstad started churches at Gran, Bruflat, Hillsboro, Mayville, Hatton, St. Olaf, Bang, Norman/Clifford, Terry, Galesburg, Cummings and Highland. In Minnesota, he started churches in Hendrum, Bygland and East Grand Forks.

Most of the initial services were held in people's homes until churches could be built. Harstad would travel from church to church by horseback or skis, and services were held every three weeks on a rotating basis. He conducted his sermons in English, Norwegian or German, depending on which language was the most prevalent in the community.

In 1877, Harstad sent for Guro Omli, a young woman he knew from Harmony, Minn., and the two were married later that year. It is speculated by Harstad's descendents that relatives in the Harmony region arranged the marriage. Guro was 10 years younger and had also emigrated from Norway with her family. Together they had 11 children who shared an interest in music and sports.

After the churches were built, Harstad oversaw the construction of schools.

On November 19, 1878, he began the Franklin Academy four miles east of Mayville in Dakota Territory. Classes ran for four months and the cost was $10 per pupil. Students were taught English, religion, history, reading, arithmetic, geography, penmanship and other subjects.

In 1880, Harstad opened a school for his congregation at Gran, and in 1889 he began the Bruflat Academy in Portland. To finance Bruflat, Harstad organized the Norwegian Lutheran Congregation Stock Co. and sold shares. He also received an endowment from James J. Hill, president of the Great Northern Railroad, to start the school.

Sixteen days after North Dakota became a state, Bruflat opened its doors and classes began. John G. Halland, also from Norway, was hired as school superintendent. Halland attended Luther College and the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and graduated from Valparaiso (Ind.) University and the Chicago School of Psychology.

He was a superb educator who was elected North Dakota superintendent of public instruction in 1896 and 1898, and served as a history professor at North Dakota Agricultural College, now North Dakota State University, from 1902 to 1910.

The Bruflat Academy could be considered the first high school in North Dakota. The only other institutions in North Dakota to offer high school courses at the time were schools associated with colleges and universities.

The academy was for eighth-grade graduates from country schools in the Mayville area who wanted to learn English and current business practices. One of the graduates was Norman Brunsdale, a three-term North Dakota governor and U.S. Senator during the 1950s.

Besides the schools and churches, Harstad was heavily involved in Lutheran church politics. He belonged to the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Synod and served as president of the Minnesota district from 1884-92.

In 1890, the synod commissioned Harstad to establish a Lutheran academy among Norwegian settlers in the Puget Sound area of northwestern Washington state near Seattle. The name of the settlement where the school was to be established was called Parkland.

After commuting between Mayville-Portland and Parkland, the Harstads moved west in 1891.

The Ingebret Larsen family and a couple of Harstad's brothers and their families decided to join Harstad. Together they traveled to Silverton, Ore., where the Larsens put down roots to establish another Norwegian community. The Harstad clan headed north to Parkland.

This column will be concluded next week as we examine the remarkable accomplishments of Bjug Harstad in establishing a school that later became a noted university, his involvement in the fight over the unification issue of the Missouri Synod, and the interesting careers of some of his descendents.

N.D. Minister Founded College In Washington

A former North Dakota pastor who organized 16 churches in the Red River Valley and three schools in North Dakota later started a well-respected college and played an active role in establishing a Lutheran synod that exists to this day.

Last week's article focused on the early influence of the Rev. Bjug Harstad in establishing churches and schools in the Red River Valley, particularly in the Mayville-Portland area of Traill County.

From 1890-91, Harstad commuted extensively between his home in Mayville and Parkland, Wash., where the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- popularly referred to as the Norwegian Synod -- commissioned him to establish a Lutheran academy. Harsad traveled cheaply on the Great Northern Railroad because a pass was issued to him personally by James J. Hill, owner of the railroad.

In January 1892, masons laid the first bricks for the Lutheran academy, which later became Pacific Lutheran University.

The purpose of the academy was to help immigrants adjust to their new land and find jobs. It opened in 1894, with Harstad serving as the first president. The first years were tough for the fledgling academy because of the country's economic woes.

The discovery of gold in the Klondike region of Canada's Yukon Territory drew Harstad's attention. In 1898, he went on an 18-month expedition into the Klondike to look for his school's fortune.

He returned empty-handed, although he did report that the venture improved his health. The school survived when contributions increased as the nation's economy recovered.

The academy became a college in the 1920s and was renamed Pacific Lutheran College. The name of the main building on the campus was changed to Harstad Hall, which was added as a National Historic Site in 1984.

In the early 1900s, Lutheran churches in America were involved in some major movements, with many of them heading toward a merger.

The United Lutheran Church, the country's largest Lutheran church organization, was organized in 1918. It represented about one-third of the Lutheran membership in the United States; several independent synods accounted for the rest. Efforts to unify Norwegian Lutherans began as early as 1890.

Most of them came together in 1917 when three church bodies -- the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Harstad's church body), the United Norwegian Lutheran Church and the Hauge Synod -- united to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

A minority within NELCA was not pleased with what they viewed as a "theological compromise" regarding the role of conversion, and refused to go along with the merger.

This minority elected Harstad as their interim president in 1917. In 1918, this group of 13 pastors formally organized itself as the Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church, later to become the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. This happened in Lime Creek, Iowa, in June 1918. Harstad was again elected president, serving in that capacity from 1918 to 1922.

Tragedy struck in 1920 when a fire destroyed the Harstad home in Parkland, including Harstad's theological library and all of his personal papers. With help from synod members' contributions, he rebuilt his house on the same foundation.

Harstad died June 20, 1933. A friend eulogized him with a quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson: "He never sold the truth to serve the hour, nor paltered with Eternal God for power."

Meanwhile, some of Harstad's children were becoming well known.

Three of his sons -- Oliver, Ingvald, and Oscar -- signed professional baseball contracts. Oscar Theander, better known as "Doc" or "O.T.," excelled in the sport. After a distinguished minor league career in Vancouver, he joined Sam Jones to become one of the workhorses out of the Cleveland Indians bullpen in 1915. The first batter he faced in the major leagues was Ty Cobb.

Although primarily a relief pitcher, O.T started seven games. His crowning achievement was outdueling the great Walter Johnson in a complete game victory. According to his nephew Mark Harstad, Oscar had a "monster curve" he developed at the age of 12 or 13. This may have ruined his arm prematurely because he developed arm problems after the 1915 season and quit professional baseball and became a dentist.

Two of Harstad's children, Aanond and Torbjor, died as infants when Harstad lived near Mayville. The oldest surviving son, Theodore, went into the lumber business and two of his daughters, Dorothea and Lydia, became nurses. George and Oliver returned to North Dakota in the education profession.

George was principal at Bruflat Academy in Portland, N.D., in 1912-13, as well as in Wilmar and Fairfax, Minn. Oliver was a school principal in Mohall and McVille, N.D. Adolph, the youngest, followed closely in his father's footsteps. He graduated from Concordia at St. Louis like his father and was a Lutheran minister in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Like his father, he served as president of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, heading it from 1946-50.

Ingvald was a mining engineer who was sent to Chile to negotiate and explore the vast reserve of nitrates possessed by Chile. He died in the city of Coquimbo in 1941 after being assaulted by a hot-tempered bully.

Most of the focus in this two-part article took place from 1874-91 when Harstad was in North Dakota.

Largely because of his work in establishing churches and schools in eastern North Dakota, Harstad was responsible for attracting large numbers of Norwegian settlers into the area during the last 25 years of the 19th century.

By 1900, many townships in Traill County were 90 percent or more Norwegian, the highest in North Dakota. Today, 30 percent of the people in the state claim Norwegian ancestry, the highest of any state in the nation.

Without Bjug Harstad, the ethnic make-up of this part of North Dakota may have been very different.

"Did You Know That" is a Sunday column that focuses on interesting people, places and events that had an impact on North Dakota, or even the country. It is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at:

Many of the Harstad Family are buried at Parkland Evangelical Lutheran Cemetery, Pierce County, Washington.

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