“HOW THE FUR WILL FLY”
A STUDY OF AUGSBURG PROFESSOR SVEN OFTEDAL’S RESPONSE TO NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN LEADER RASMUS B. ANDERSON
By JAMES L. JOHNSON
Reprinted by permission from the author.
Section Seven – PAYBACK AND PATIENCE
Anderson claims to have avoided speaking with Oftedal from the night he kicked him out of his house in 1875 to the day when he sold him a life insurance policy in Minneapolis in 1884.
One year earlier, Anderson stepped down from his post at the university and joined the sales representative team at Equitable Life Insurance in order to make more money.
To promote sales, Anderson gave evening lectures about Norwegian culture to packed halls at cities such as Eau Claire, Red Wing, and Minneapolis and wrote life insurance policies to the people who attended the gatherings the next day.
Selling policies at forty-percent commission, Anderson raised his income from $1,800 a year to more than $17,000. (66) “I was insuring people right and left,” he said. (67)
Anderson also claimed two other prime victories over Oftedal during those first two years in life insurance.
The first involved an Augsburg supporter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, the second involved Oftedal himself.
The Eau Claire victory was a sweet, revengeful win for Anderson.
A friend there had wagered that Anderson could not sell a policy to a Lutheran man named Casper Syverson, a pietistic grocery store owner who supported Augsburg and loved the two Augsburg professors.
Whenever Sven Oftedal came to Eau Claire, he was always Syverson’s guest.
The man making the bet, Andrew Hollen, owned a clothing and hat retail store and offered Anderson “the best hat in the store” if he could talk Syverson into buying a policy.
Anderson went to work.
He first approached Syverson by telling him, yes, he was selling insurance, but he was also gathering material for a book.
“. . . I am gathering data in regard to Norwegians who have been successful in this country, and you are one of these, Mr. Syverson.” (68)
Then the grocer welcomed him to the store and to his house for the interview.
Syverson put the former professor to the test by showing him a photo album with pictures of the grocer’s two favorite theologians, Sven Oftedal on the first page and George Sverdrup on the second.
The grocer than asked Anderson what he thought of the New Testament professor on the first page.
“I told him I considered Oftedal an exceedingly brainy and bright man, but turning the leaf over I added that I liked Sverdrup better.” (69)
“I got my hat,” boasted Anderson after selling Syverson a policy. (70)
Later that year, Anderson said he got Oftedal, too.
Anderson was visiting the Twin Cities just prior to going on his Denmark ambassadorship and stopped to sell insurance in Minneapolis.
There at Scandia Bank, near a busy intersection by what is now called the Seven Corners district by Augsburg College, his friends pointed out Oftedal, who was walking by to catch a street car.
His Scandia Bank friends made the challenge: “Why do you not insure him?”
I will, Anderson told them.
That same day, Oftedal came back to the Scandia Bank to ask friends there to make contributions to help a poor family.
Anderson saw his chance.
He asked Oftedal if he would receive a $10 donation from him.
“He looked at me and then he said, yes he would.
I handed him a ten-dollar bill.
He thanked me. I declined to write my name on his list.
Nothing more was said.” (71)
A few days later, Anderson waited for Oftedal to visit the Sverdrup home at a customary time, presumably 9:00 P.M.
When Catherine Sverdrup came to the door, Anderson asked to see the Augsburg president.
Professor Oftedal is with him, she said.
Fine, Anderson told her, and soon he was in the Sverdrup family library with both men, offering some “glittering generalities,” pitching his life insurance, making eye contact with Sverdrup, but aiming his words directly at Oftedal.
“I was using my whip on the dashboard, but meant the horse,”
Anderson quipped. (72)
How much for a $5,000 policy, Oftedal asked him?
Soon, sure enough, Anderson was walking down to Scandia Bank, near Cedar and Riverside, beaming at his friends, with his long-time rival in tow.
Oftedal signed the application and withdrew $165 to make the purchase, on which Anderson said
“I made 40 percent on the $165 and felt amply reimbursed for my $10 contribution and my friends in the bank were dumbfounded.” (73)
- Ibid., 360.
- Ibid., 360.
- Ibid., 361.
- Ibid., 362.
- Ibid., 363.
- Ibid., 365.
- Ibid., 366.