Capital Times


Date: Friday, September 8, 1995
Section: Editorial
Edition: ALL
Page: 15A
Type: Review
Byline: By Frank Custer

``A snooping reporter'' is what Iver Kalnes called himself more than 60 years ago, when he was a popular Wisconsin State Journal columnist.

Kalnes was really a true reporter. Those who worked with him can confirm it. And it is proven in a recently published book, ``Little Visits with a Newspaper Reporter,'' 1933-1935 columns compiled by his grandson, Ronald J. Larson, librarian for The Capital Times and the State Journal.

``Kalnes was very involved in promoting the Norwegian culture whenever he could in his writings... I feel a common bond with him,'' Larson says in an introductory chapter. He and Kalnes graduated from Luther College. Larson notes that, like his grandfather, he was employed by the State Journal and The Capital Times.

Many of Kalnes' columns contain histories and brief genealogies of Dane County residents, whether they lived on a farm or in area villages or cities.

``Norway, religion, politics, journalism and family were important to Kalnes as are revealed in his columns,'' says his grandson.

Of great pride for Kalnes was the day in 1951 when he was awarded Norway's St. Olav Medal and Royal Certificate for his continuous effort to promote the culture of Norway.

The book contains accounts of families of Norsemen who came to this southern Wisconsin area -- be it Daleyville, home town of Iversons or the Jyllands; Sun Prairie, Black Earth, Stoughton, DeForest, or McFarland, where Kalnes lived.

Kalnes' columns contain sharp observations of the ``farmers, businessmen, pastors and aging pioneers'' of Dane County and the area during the Depression days of 1933-34.

The family names can still be found today in many Dane County and southern Wisconsin communities.

Kalnes' column of Feb. 6, 1934, told about Q.W. Sanborn, who ``is a beekeeper. He believes in the health-giving influence of honey and proves his faith by eating a whole cake of honey each day.... (He) never was married but had a sweetheart or two in his younger days.''

Typical lutefisk with butter dinners are described in a column dated Oct. 17, 1933: ``That's what the men of West Koshkonong Lutheran Church, the Rev. Henry Thompson's parish, offer as the piece de resistance this Friday. Cooking has no terror'' for them, Kalnes said.

``Dairy farmers are strong for these lutefisk dinners. It will take 75 pounds of butter at this dinner including the spread on bread and the melted butter for the fish.''

Even people of German heritage, as did this reader, learned long ago that lutefisk is good. It beats sauerkraut.

Historical figures are described, for instance John Wilkes Booth, as given by Alfred H. Rogers, Madison resident who served in the Civil War.

Under the date of Jan. 24, 1934, Kalnes included Rogers' account of sitting at the same Army table at a Fort Leavenworth hotel in which the old soldier said:

``Contrary to the common impression, Booth had sandy colored hair. He probably wore a black wig in the theater...''

Booth was described by Rogers as ``probably 6 feet tall... witty... had the reputation of being a heavy drinker... was usually jolly, but occasionally would fly into violent rage.''

Kalnes had a reporter's good listening ear. That explains why Kalnes' columns are as interesting today as they were in the '30s.

The last pages of the book contain an appendix of more than 500 names of current and past area Norsemen. It is a useful alphabetical index to serve today's Norse-Americans.

This newsman will never forget Kalnes at a nearby desk at The Capital Times telephoning a friend with ``This is Kalnes.'' That is what the book reveals. It is Kalnes.

Memo: Frank Custer is a former reporter for The Capital Times.

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