The Gnometown tale of “The Reverend Gunnar Sven”
Reverend G.S. Froiland
Gunnar, a little gnome who would grow up to be a Gnometown Reverend, was born amid the mountains and fjords of Norway. However, his earliest memories and fondest thoughts were of the prairie. In 1873, his family arrived by oxcart – among the first settlers in Dakota Territory, across the border from Canby, not far from Gnometown, which, like Gunnar, was still young. The first school and the church he would serve in Gnometown were not yet built.
Getting an education was a problem Gunnar had in common with other young gnomes at the time; especially those who wanted to become pastors. But by the time that Gunnar was out of country school, Augustana, a boarding high school and college, was opened about 70 miles away. He walked back and forth between sessions. Later, he attended the Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul. To earn money the ambitious young gnome worked for a number of summers during the harvest on farms in the Milan area. He would walk from South Dakota, sleeping in barns along the way. A favorite stopping place was in Providence with the Ness gnomes. Mrs. Ness is said to have remarked, “That young man is too lively to be a minister!”
After he finished at the seminary in 1893, he was called to Kviteseid in Milan and spent the next years on the outskirts of Gnomeland. In the meantime, in Gnometown, the school and Trinity Lutheran Church had been built and many new businesses established. It was a bustling community when Gunnar and his wife Alma were called to the two-point parish of Trinity and Our Saviour’s of Baxter in 1913. They bought a 40 acre farm at the west edge of Dawson on Pine Street and began a dairy with a milk delivery route. Providing some of their own income was common in those days for ministers. Salaries were often small and families were often big! This family grew to twelve children. In 1914 a hospital was built on Pine Street. The Reverend was on of the incorporators and served as board president for many years. The next year, the Carnegie Library opened, and Gunnar, who dearly loved books, served on that board as well. Like other Reverend gnomes, G.S., as he came to be called, helped to begin or contributed to many community undertakings.
Traveling between congregations was a problem. Gunnar made the trip to Baxter in the country by buggy in good weather and wagon or sleigh in bad. The coming of the automobile was one of many changed he welcomed! Like many of his fellow Gnometowners he was an immigrant and took enormous pleasure in witnessing such progress. The transition of European immigrants to citizens of Gnometown, USA, involved many challenges as well, not the least of which was learning to get along in English. The call to Dawson and Baxter required “fluency in English,” and gnome Gunnar was pleased and proud that he could say he was. Almost all pastors of the community needed to be able to minister to people in a European language and at the same time make rapid progress in the transition of church life into English. In little more that a decade, Sunday school and confirmation classes were in English, and church services in an old world language became special events.
G.S. was always interested and active in civic matters, not just in the community, but in the wider world as well. He kept up with the news and worked to support and improve government and the administration of public affairs. In 1942, he was a candidate for the State Legislature, with regulation of liquor sales one of the important issues in his campaign. He was narrowly defeated, one of only a few times he failed to achieve a goal he had strived for. In 1944, Gunnar retired from an active call, but he remained in Gnometown and continued to serve as needed for baptisms, weddings, funerals, and Sunday church services, as well as to fill other positions. As the president of the Gnometown school board, he handed diplomas to any gnomes he had baptized, confirmed, and would eventually marry, as he had their parents.
As the years passed, the Reverend Gnome, like others, became concerned that the elderly gnomes in Gnometown who needed housing or help had to move away from their homes and friends. When the Normal School in Madison closed, G.S. was instrumental in seeing it converted to a Home for Old Gnomes. He was a good fund raiser as he was not shy about asking for contributions to a worthy cause. In 1953, the Reverend Gnome preached a farewell sermon marking the 60th anniversary of his ordination. He died shortly after.
Many Gnomelanders and Gnometowners still remember him or remember stories told by him or about him. Among his family’s treasured memories are anecdotes that recall his deep love of nature. For example, almost everywhere he went Grandpa Gnome noticed the birds along the way, and upon his arrival would write down both the kinds and numbers he had seen in a little notebook he kept in his picket for that purpose. This is the kind of story that reminds us of how much he appreciated and took interest in all facets of Gnomeland, the prairie and its creatures, the people and the fruits of their labor. And never in his long life did he cease praising the Creator of it all.