Pastor Ole Paulson Autobiography – Chapter Nineteen 1867; Paxton, Illinois



Pastor Ole Paulson;

1907 Autobiography.

Chapter Nineteen

Pastor Ole Paulson

A translation from the Norwegian language into the English language.

Copyright © 2022 by Gary C. Dahle, all rights reserved.

Three Years in Paxton

The Scandinavian Augustana Synod had, as mentioned, moved its school, the college and the seminary, from Chicago to Paxton, Illinois. Paxton was just a little speck of a place, with some 500 to 600 inhabitants. It was situated on the Illinois Central Railway, 100 miles from Chicago. The town had a bright future, as it was the county seat for Ford County. Here, the synod had put up temporarary school buildings. The synod’s aim was to colonize the countryside with Scandinavians, since the railroad company[1] relinquished to the synod rights to sell its land, in exchange for a per acre compensation. A result of this was that quite a few Swedes bought land in the immediate vicinity of Paxton and settled there. Those who took advantage of the opportunity have become successful people, as the land has, now after 40 years, increased in value more than tenfold. The land was bought back then for eight to 10 dollars per acre and sells now for more than 100 dollars.

Professor Lars Paul Esbjørn, who was the school’s founder and first professor, had gone back to his homeland. In his place, Pastor Tufve Nilsson Hasselquist of Galesburg, Illinois, was chosen, a very capable and loveable pastor. He assumed Professor Esbjørn’s place as teacher and president of the school.

When I left the school in the spring of 1862, we were 12 students in all there. Of these, the following were Norwegian: Amund Johnson, Ole Olsen Estrem, John Johnsen Næssa, Martin Pedersen Ruh, Jakob Tønneson, and Ole Paulson.

Of these, Johnson and Tønneson are dead, the rest are living, as far as I know. Estrem and Ruh are in the Norwegian Synod. Næssa is in the United Church. Tønneson left his studies and became a farmer. I alone am in the Free Church, among the so-called supernumeraries. When a pastor has outlived his work, he is given this title.

About School Life in Paxton

On the way to Paxton, I met Johan Arndt Bergh and Nels Endresen Bøe, who were also headed there. In Paxton, we encountered for the first time a whole flock of newcomers, who had come to America to become pastors over here. Among these were Johan Olson, Johannes Møller Eggen, Tobias Wilhelm Hanson Wald, Schollert,[2] and others. Here I met for the first time, Melchior Falk Gjertsen, his brother Gerhard, Nils Christian Brun, and Theodor Halvorson Dahl, all well-known people in the history of the Norwegian-American church. In that way, we were a fairly impressive group of Norwegian students at the school.

For teachers ,there were, besides the administration, an American pastor by the name of William Kopp,[3] Johan Olson, Schollert, and two Swedes, whose names I have forgotten. We were maybe 14 Norwegian students at the school that year. Of Swedes, there were a few more. In those days, we thought this was big. And it was, of course, the first attempt at a higher-level school among the Scandinavians in America. Now, it’s possible that the number of institutions of higher education among the Scandinavians has grown to 40, and the number of students to at least 4,000. Among the Norwegians, there are in all 23 institutions of higher learning. There are perhaps not quite as many among the Swedes, but then many of their schools are quite a bit larger. The colleges in Rock Island, Illinois, and Lindsburgh, Kansas, have 500 students each. St. Peter has between 300 and 400. It can’t be said otherwise than that we have followed them in development.

Strict order was kept at the school. The administrator was a strict disciplinarian. At five o’clock in the morning, the school bell rang. A half hour later, the “custodian” came around to confirm that each man was out of bed. A half hour later, he came around again; then the rooms had to be swept, the bed made, and everything in order. If anyone violated the ordinance, his name was read on Monday morning and he was corrected by “Father himself.”

There were those who committed violations of the law and got a mild, fatherly reprimand. It was part of the school’s discipline to train pastors not to sleep too late in the morning. “It is among the sins of pastors to sleep late in the morning,” Hasselquist used to say. There were devotions every morning at eight o’clock in the school, at nine o’clock we began recitations in the classes. At 12 o’clock, lunch. At one o’clock, reading continued in classes until five o’clock. Then began the studying of lessons until 10 o’clock, when it was expected that each man would go to bed. Every Sunday forenoon, there was a worship service in the church with a sermon by Professor Hasselquist. Sunday afternoon, students preached, and occasionally also the professor himself. He was a favorite preacher. One never tired of listening to him.

In the classes, he was interesting and often amusing. He could sometimes decide to play a joke on certain ones. Among the students there was an older, well-dressed Swede, who had moved among the finer classes in Sweden. He had also been a lay preacher back home and was a gifted speaker. However, it was not his strong suit to know very much, and he had difficulty learning. One day, we had church history. The Professor asked: “Can R.[4] tell me what kind of creature London is?” R. was at a loss for an answer to give the professor. Another time, when we had holy history, the professor asked: “Can R. tell me what people it was that carried out a war against Israel?” Then someone whispered in his ear: “The Catholics.” “The Catholics,” said R. with great emphasis. Then the old man couldn’t control himself, but slapped himself on the knee with his hand and laughed so that it rang in the room. The whole class laughed along with him. This minor event was nearly the cause of the man not being ordained. The one whose fault it was that he gave such a dumb answer brought it forth as proof of his ignorance and unsuitability to be a pastor in our times. He was, however, ordained and is supposed to have done fairly well. He is now long since dead. Even with his modest book-knowledge, the man had many good qualities. He was an earnest Christian, a naturally gifted speaker, and so on. In a common rural congregation, he could therefore carry out much good work as a pastor.

Already in fall of 1866, a choir was formed by the students. It was probably the first or one of the first choirs among Scandinavian students in America. In the fall of 1867, we traveled around to cities in Illinois and sang. Professor Hasselquist, who was a good singer himself, traveled with us and spoke. It was on the occasion of [. . . . .][5] the Lutheran Reformation. Another time, we made a choir trip to Attica, Indiana, where many Swedes settled. The choir had a good leader in student Lindberg, who was a superb musician.

In the autumn of 1867, we got a new English professor in Reverend Sidney Levi Harkey. He had at one time graduated from a learned school and was a good preacher, but not skilled as a teacher. He did not stay long at the school. In the autumn of 1868, Pastor August Weenaas came as a teacher to the school. He stayed for just one year, since, in the autumn of 1869, he moved to Marshall, Wisconsin, to take up the work of administrator for the newly established Augsburg Seminary.

In the spring of 1868, I left Paxton upon a call from a congregation in Minneapolis, to be ordained as a pastor.

[1] Paulson’s text says “the R. R. company,” and I’ve interpreted it as “railroad company.” Two articles published online by Augustana College describe a land deal between the Illinois Central Railroad and the synod/school: and

[2] Paulson gives no first initial here and I was not able to locate this person’s full name. He is mentioned again in Paulson’s next paragraph. No Schollert listed in Olaf Norlie’s book of Norwegian Lutheran pastors in America.

[3] Paulson says only “W. Kopp,” but Kopp’s full name is given in a digitized history of the Augustana Synod (see page 104; also pages 38 and 242): . The book says Kopp was hired to teach English in 1863, but “owing to illness he had to resign after two years and died in 1868.”

[4] In this case, I believe Paulson is intentionally shielding the identity of “R.” as a kindness.

[5] Words seem to be missing here in the text of Paulson’s book. Possibly he wrote that the choir tour was on the occasion of the 350th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. In 1867, it would have been 350 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg.

Translation of chapter from the Norwegian language into the English language, and preparation of footnotes, by Denise Logeland.