Gelen, Almvig create livelihoods in Spring Valley
Thursday, March 22, 2012 4:36 AM
Two fine gentlemen who had significant impacts on life in Spring Valley both emigrated from Norway - Ole O. Gelen and Gustav S. Almvig.
Born in 1847 near Kristiansund, Norway, Gelen reached the age of 21 before deciding to come to America. In the spring of 1868 he and a number of his neighbors sailed west for a new life, enduring a stormy voyage of eight weeks. The group landed at Quebec, Canada, and made their way from there to Rushford, Minn. In the spring of 1870, he made Spring Valley his home.
Gelen had learned the trade of wallpapering and painting, so we can imagine he was much in demand as the settlers began building frame houses and properly decorated their homes. He pursued this trade for 60 years and many young men learned under his steady hand, carrying on the tradition of fine workmanship.
Gelen married Carrie Ecker in 1876 and they were able to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary in December 1926. Their two children were Oscar, who lived in Minneapolis at the time of his death in 1947, and Dena, who married K.T. Soland of Spring Valley. Soland operated a monument shop on Park Street and his samples of granite and marble for tombstones and the tools for carving names and dates are exhibited at the Methodist Church Museum.
Gelen was a charter member when the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized in 1875. It was reported he was an active and interested member in all its activities; through his efforts the Sunday School was organized and for 40 years he remained one of the faithful teachers. Both the Gelens died in 1934.
One of the young men under Gelen's tutelage was Gustav Almvig, born in 1868 in the same Norwegian town as Gelen. At the age of 15, he became a sailor on Norwegian ships, crossing the Atlantic Ocean many times. Almvig decided to emigrate to America in 1885 when he was 17 years old. His oldest sister Mrs. Ole Gustad and family were living in Spring Valley, so he came directly here. Mr. Gustad worked for the only shoemaker in town, S. Benson. Almvig learned the painting trade from Gelen and followed that profession his entire life.
As soon as Almvig arrived in Spring Valley, he attended school to learn the English language. He soon met and married Anne Week, who was living in the Bear Creek community northeast of Grand Meadow. That same year, 1889, he also obtained his United States citizenship papers. The Almvigs were devoted members of the Norwegian Lutheran Church along with the Gelens, and Gus was also active in the Masonic Lodge, serving as a senior warden at the time of his death in 1937. Mrs. Almvig continued to live in the house they built in 1895, and she was alive and well at age 89 at the time of Spring Valley's centennial celebration in 1955.
The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church at 2l6 North Section was organized in 1875; the church building was dedicated in 1890. Space was added in 1932 and the name was changed to Trinity Lutheran in 1944. The Norwegian and German Lutheran churches (the latter founded in 1901) found their congregations increasing and each outgrew their facilities. In December of 1950 the churches voted to merge and form Our Savior's Lutheran Church. The new church was built at 805 South Broadway. The first pastor, the Rev. W.J. Pilgrim, had his hands full uniting two distinctive groups. We can believe both Gelen and Almvig would have been pleased to see the fruits of their labor blossom into a large, united congregation.
Trinity Church was torn down about 1952, and the Zion Lutheran building remains on South Washington as the residence of Curt and Barb Osterhus. The altar painting from Trinity Lutheran, done by Herbjorn Gausta, a noted Norwegian-American artist, c. 1890, is now on display at the Methodist Church Museum on West Courtland.