Vining man has seen some interesting things in interesting places

Jim Myrvold of Vining got up close and personal to some interesting animals during a recent trip to Uganda. These cattle had just a tad bigger horns than the cows back in Vining. Contributed photo

Before being a snowbird was popular, Jim Myrvold of Vining was traveling back and forth from Minnesota to Tucson, Arizona. It began when he was a young child and started a traveling bug that would send him around the world.

Jim’s story starts with grandparents, who packed up their 1925 pickup and left Hyde, South Dakota, at the height of the Great Depression in search of a new beginning. They had lost everything. His grandpa (on his mother’s side) had to outrun a prairie fire that had taken their home. So his grandpa loaded up his family and the pick-up and found a place in rural Ottertail County near Vining, with running water and about 265 acres. Nobody wanted it because it had too much lake property and very little topsoil. The family settled there and his grandma became a teacher while his grandpa farmed.  Jim has had a connection to this farm his entire life, later making it his Minnesota home.

Jim’s mom was also a teacher, graduating from college at Minnesota State University Moorhead. 

“My mom always had that teacher look that could stop you in your tracks,” he said

His father was a WWII Veteran. Due to drinking problems, perhaps exacerbated by the war, the family split up when Jim was young.  His mom was left to raise the boys on her own. When Jim was young, his older brother had severe health problems related to a respiratory illness. The doctors were concerned and said due to these health problems he may not live a quality life.  In 1959, the year his mom graduated from college, doctors informed her that in one more year, if he stayed here, Jim’s brother could grow worse and possibly die. She had a fellow student friend who took a teaching job in Tucson. So she decided to pack up her life in Minnesota and got a job teaching in Tucson. This was back when Tucson was only a small community.  Starting right then and continuing for the next 15 years or more years, Tucson was the fastest growing city in the US.

“Tucson was a wonderful place to grow up.” said Jim. “We could ride our bikes to the city limit. Native Americans herded goats in town. It was like living in a small town.”

Jim traveled to Uganda when his daughter and son-in-law moved there. Contributed photo

The family did well in Tucson with his mom working as a teacher. His brother’s health improved immensely, some saying “it was a miracle”,  Jim remembered. His mom’s sister, Judy (only eight years older than Jim) moved with them to Tucson and was to remain a central figure in some of his later life adventures. He recalled that Judy even went to school with Linda Ronstadt. Jim was in her brother, Mike’s class.  Jim remembers traveling with his family as a child hiking in the Grand Canyon and even attending the World’s Fair in Montreal. They camped and fished all the way up and all the way back.

Each summer the family would head back home to rural Vining to stay with their grandparents. When Jim was older, around 11 or 12,  his grandpa would hire Jim and his brother out to work for the neighbors. He got paid 50 cents an hour to bale hay. Once when one of the stacks fell down, the farmer took pictures and mailed them to him when he was back in Tucson.

Jim graduated from high school in Tucson and immediately went into the service. He knew he was going to be drafted so he enlisted in the Marine Corps. He was in the war during Vietnam but did not have to go there. Instead he went to Turkey, Italy, Greece, Cypress, the Arab-Israel conflict, and Sicily. He volunteered for everything. That’s when the travel bug really started for him. He wanted to see the world.

After the service, he went back to Tucson and worked construction and other jobs. Of course, since he was used to traveling back and forth, he was back in Minnesota in the summer to work on farms and later to attend Fergus Falls Community College.  He met his wife Claudia that year and the two of them have been together ever since. After one year of college he found he could make a lot of money working in the oil patch, in Alfreda, Arizona, so the couple returned to the south west. His wife was a teacher like his mother. They had three children, two girls and a boy.  Claudia taught in Tucson until 2008. Jim was always the snowbird and would go back and forth from Tucson to Minnesota every year, while Claudia stayed in Arizona.

One summer out of the blue, his aunt Judy said, “Let’s go find our relatives in Norway, the Haywicks and the Mryvolds”. Jim immediately said, “I’m in.”

Jim during one of his travels. Contributed photo

A family member had already worked on this and had traced the genealogy of their families before they left.  When Jim was 60, he and his aunt Judy planned a trip with other relatives from South Dakota to research their family history. They were welcomed with open arms to the homes of many relatives, even though they had never met. In Norway, they met a man who was the owner of King Oscar Sardines. His relatives were a bit intimidated by one of the richest men in Norway but Jim, who was an avid fisherman, just asked him if he could go fishing in his pond. Jim also remembered a story about Stavanger, Norway where the people were all bigger than the rest of the Norwegians. He said,”I have never seen so many per capita, large people.” The reason he explained was that Stavenger was a Viking stronghold. When the Vikings would go on their raids they would capture the large women because large women could produce bigger babies.

Another trip he went on with his aunt Judy and the relatives from South Dakota was to Israel to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. In the Holy City of Nazareth they found an artesian well that would only sustain 12 families. People waited in line to get a cup of water and pour it on themselves. Jim said “there was something about it, I swear, you would feel the hair stand up on your arms.” He also saw where John the Baptist baptized people.  They were in a five star hotel in Jerusalem and right down below them they heard gunshots from their window. Later they were to find out that the Pakstinians were throwing diseased rats at the soldiers and the soldiers opened up fire on them.

Shortly thereafter when they got home from the Holy Land tour, his aunt Judy had a mini stroke.

Kampala, Uganda. Contributed photo

“She never really got better, seeming to suffer from more mini strokes,” he said. But then she got a reprieve from her illness and said to Jim, “The relatives in South Dakota want to go to Tanzania to work with Lutheran Global Relief. Do you want to come?” “I’m in”, said Jim. Unfortunately however, Judy had another stroke and was unable to make the trip.  So Jim had to make that trip without her. The missionaries who arranged this trip told the group there were more Lutherans in Africa then ever. They didn’t even have to go through customs in Tanzania because they were Lutherans, bringing supplies. They went to remote Maasai villages and brought supplies to schools and hospitals.  They stayed an entire month in Africa and went on safaris to the Great Rift Valley and Tanzania National Park. Jim said, “I was even charged by elephants even though there was only a one and 10 chance of getting hit.”

After his trip from Tanzania, a few years later, his daughter Amy and her husband Ron (who worked as an intelligence analyst in the Air Force) was offered a job in Kampala Uganda. Amy said, “I won’t go unless dad comes with me.” So Jim said, “I’m in.” He spent five months in Uganda with his daughter and son-in-law.  Kampala is the capital and largest city in Uganda. It is one of the most rapidly growing cities with a population of more than 1.6 million people. They call it the pearl of Africa because it sits right in the center. Jim recalled that the people who lived there were either really rich or really poor which you could tell by the homes they lived in.

During his travels, Jim visited communities that looked far different than his two home bases, Vining and Tucson. This is a scene from Kampala, Uganda. Contributed photo

The most exciting thing about the Uganda trip to Jim was the animals, which he loved. There were marabou storks that covered the rooftops which were not afraid of people but you wouldn’t want to get close to them. Of course, farm animals were everywhere in the city, including goats, chickens and enormous big horned cattle. They butchered some of the animals right in the middle of the street and hung out the meat without any refrigeration.

“The butchers would use handheld brooms to swat away the flies from the meat. They would leave the tails of the animals on the meat so you knew what you were buying,” his daughter, Amy, recalled.

Poisonous snakes were common.  Basically there are 6 poisonous snakes in Uganda that can be fatal, puff adder, Gaboon viper, Jameson’s mamba, black mamba, forest cobra and black-necked spitting cobra.

“Someone my daughter knew let their dog out and a cobra followed the dog back in the house,” said Jim. “In Kampala, two Chinese men were famous for catching venomous snakes. People would call them to catch them from their backyards. One day they encountered a six foot long cobra who struck them both so fast they did not see it. The venom was so poisonous both men died quickly.

Jim had an interesting adventure, even spending some time in a cage with cheetahs. Contributed photo

One of the highlights of Jim’s trip was going to an Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Centre – Entebbe Zoo. It was a behind the scenes zoo where you actually got to go into the cages and pet the animals. He said, “You would be surprised what a cheetah really is like up close.” He was able to get up close and personal with rhinoceros, giraffes and elephants. Jim remembered a story about a rogue elephant which came into the city and caused damage,  hurting and even killing some.

After this five month adventure, Jim had to head home. His daughter Amy remained in Uganda for a year and a half longer. She worked for Dr. Tom Mutyabule at Pan Dental Surgery in Kampala, Uganda. She said it was “one of the best experiences in my life. They had every high tech piece of equipment we have in the U.S.”

Jim has probably not finished having traveling adventures. He and Claudia continue to travel to warmer climates in the winter time. This year they are staying with Amy and her family in San Antonio, Texas.  It is spring now and time to head back home. But, due to the coronavirus he is not sure when he will be able to get back to Vining. Whatever happens he will keep his good sense of humor and have more stories to tell.

Special thank you to Amy Myrvold for the pictures and all her help in making this story happen while we shelter in place.