Cyrus farmers won tractor, big trip to DC in 1944
By Katie Erdman
Anton and Rosetha Ettesvold of Cyrus were typical Minnesota farmers during the 1940s, but their life took a very untypical turn in 1944. That year they were thrilled to win a trip to Washington D.C., a brand new tractor, and a visit to the White House. But not all the news that year was great. As they were preparing for the trip of a lifetime, tragedy befell the family.
Anton immigrated to the United States from Norway in 1869 and helped his father establish a homestead near Cyrus. He was the second son and later was the only one choosing to farm. He eventually purchased the farm that he had helped cultivate from prairie to farmland. His parents retired in 1905 and he became the owner of the land.
Rosetha also immigrated from Norway and her parents homesteaded near Atwater. She attended classes at the Glenwood Academy for a three-month teacher training. She taught in Stevens County rural schools and that is how the couple met. They were married in 1905, the same year Anton purchased the farm.
The couple farmed the land and raised their 11 children. They were Maynard, Rudolph, Clarence, Mildred, Werdna and Winfred (twins), Earl, Thelma, Nina, Rose Marie and Kermit. The children grew up on the farm and attended school in Cyrus. Two of their grandchildren Jere and Curtis, continue to live in the Cyrus area.
In 1942, life changed for the people of the United States when the country entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Five of the Ettesvold children entered the war serving in various divisions and their daughter-in-law, Charlotte, also served. Later, the youngest son, Kermit, would serve in the Korean war.
Through the years, Anton began to get involved in Community Service organizations. He was elected to the town board of Framnas Township. In 1941, he was elected to the first of three terms on the Stevens County Board of Commissioners. He was a member of the Stevens County Welfare Board and helped organize the Township Officer Association. During the depression of the early thirties he was Director of Relief for Stevens County and later was a member of the state committee of the Federal Farm Tenant Organization, which helped tenant farmers buy farms with federal loans.
He also served on the Cyrus School board when the country and town schools consolidated. He was involved with the Cyrus Mutual Telephone Company, Cyrus Farmers Elevator, Farmers State Bank and Cyrus Farmers Shipping Association.
This involvement did not go unnoticed by his peers. In 1944, radio station WNAX at Yankton, South Dakota, sponsored a competition to select the Midwest’s “Typical Farmer.” Nominations were made by farm organizations, county agents and banks. Anton was nominated by the Cyrus State Bank and the Morris State Bank.
On Labor Day weekend of 1944, the couple was interviewed on the radio station. There was one representative from each of five different states. A committee of judges examined the records and selected Anton as the “Typical Midwest Farmer.” The title and honor came with an Allis Chalmers tractor and an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt into his fourth presidential term in January 1945.
As Anton and Rosetha prepared for the trip they received many congratulatory telegrams. However, one telegram arrived in late September that changed their lives. They were notified that their oldest son, Maynard, had been killed while fighting in France. He was interred in France at the Epinal American Cemetery. The couple was presented with a special flag featuring six blue stars, one for each child serving, and one gold star for their son who died.
It was devastating for the couple and their family as they continued to worry about the remaining children fighting in this war. Life went on and they prepared for their trip. Accompanying them were their two youngest children, Nina and Kermit. Enroute to Washington D.C., they stopped at the Nicollet Hotel in Minneapolis where they were honored at a dinner and presented with the Allis Chalmers tractor.
The next two weeks were very busy as they were given the full treatment in the nation’s capital. They were guests at numerous banquets, receptions and teas. They visited historic sites and attended the inauguration and a luncheon at the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt conducted them about the White House and introduced them to the President.
Rosetha was able to attend a luncheon that was served buffet style and learned that typically the attendees would stand up to eat. Disdaining the White House niceties, Rosetha picked up her plate of food, set it down on a marble slab in a corner and settled herself into a chair. Everyone else in the room remained standing.
This did not escape the eyes of the press as a story in the New York Times the following day read: “One woman who looked on with envious surprise, introduced herself to Mrs. Ettesvold. ‘My father gave $5,000 to this campaign,’ she said, ‘and here I am standing up.’ To that, a little farm woman, who is famous for her bread baking, replied, ‘We always sit down to eat in our part of the country.’” The story appeared in newspapers and news magazines all over the country and of course followed them back home. At one of the many dinners honoring them, Rosetha stood up to eat her meal.
Anton and Rosetha were featured in several newspaper and magazine articles including a three-page picture story in Life magazine. They returned home to Morris where they were greeted by a large group of people. In 1946, Anton and Rosetha retired from active management of the farm and sold the farm to their son, Earl. It is now farmed by grandson, Jere and his wife Joyce Ettesvold.
Anton and Rosetha had their story told in a Hall of Honor video that can be watched at the Stevens County Historical Museum or on the museum website.
Their story may not be totally ‘typical’ of all Minnesota farmers in the 1940s but is one that emphasized a strong work ethic and positive thinking through all types of situations. Their faith got them through the difficult times and hard work through everything else.