Class of 1939 Fall Letter

Fall 2013

Dear Classmate:

Since I did not attend, I rely on what I have been told that this October brought another successful homecoming to Luther College. It should be a reminder to all that the Luther class of 1939 will celebrate its 75th Reunion on October 10-12, 2014. Since only a couple of us attendees of the 70th celebration are living, I don’t know how many we can expect for our dinner, but I plan to arrange for it at any rate! Lord willing, we will schedule a similar gathering and hope we can convince Weston Noble ‘43 to be our host again. He did a wonderful job at our 70th.

Since the spring letter, there have been changes in the Nordby family. Olive and I spent time at our cottage in northern Wisconsin on Long Lake with our son, Jon, from July 1. Olive doesn’t look forward to the five-hour drive by auto anymore, but our trip was pleasant and quite uneventful in getting to the cottage. We spent most of the time in refurbishing the cottage and setting up our gazebo. Jon and I had limited time for fishing but managed to catch a few on several evenings. While we had planned to stay until late September, Olive had the misfortune to break several decalcified ribs just turning over in bed that required hospitalization and eventually an ambulance ride back to Madison on August 23rd.

This also prompted our move to an assisted care facility which is only about two blocks from our condo of eleven years. So we have spent the time with the help of Jon and nephew and niece, Jay and Sandra, moving things to our new place and cleaning out the condo for the expected future sale, probably by spring. Trying to get rid of what you have considered treasures for all of these years is a hard job!

In separating out reams of paper into recycling and shredding piles, I have run across many that stimulate old memories – some good and some bad. In all of this I have two worries. One is that we may never get back to the good old days. The other is that these may be the good old days? I have never realized how many hundreds of talks I have given and articles I have written – some of which seem really pretty good!?

As one gets older, things do change. But if you think nobody cares about your being alive, just try missing a car payment or your monthly credit card bill. In going through all these writings and descriptive material, I have concluded that history does not repeat itself, but historians just repeat one another. And it seems that the most difficult secret for a man to keep is the opinion he has for himself!

Using current technology is really fine – sometimes technology (computers, iPads, iPods) is a good thing. It brings you great gifts and help on the one hand and it can stab you in the back with the other!

Ivern Ball claims that most of us can read the writing on the wall. We just assume it is addressed to someone else. Some people have a lot of trouble. One of the football players was real nervous at practice. When the coach asked him what the trouble was, he said, “My sister is having a baby and I don’t know whether I am going to be an uncle or an aunt.” Maybe there are more troubles than that with the same-sex marriages and all? It is said that as you grow older, the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do. I’m not convinced that is true. Perhaps you only forget some things you should regret?

To get back to the important subject of our 75th anniversary, there is no way to know how much time we have left or whether it will include a trip to Decorah on October 10-12, 2014…but we can enjoy making plans if we should be able to attend. Thinking of good times gone by and classmates to still meet is part of

the joy of the reunion. The other element of enjoying the occasion is donating to the Annual Fund. There aren’t many of us left to make huge amounts available, but giving makes one feel good and makes Luther feel well!

With the lack of any progress in governance in Congress, I noted a report that some 60 percent of the people who vote were in favor of all congressmen being voted out. It must be that 40 percent of people do not read or listen to TV to keep that number so low!? Ernest Hemingway once said that the best way to find out if you can trust someone is to trust them. I guess we have found the answer in trusting the Congress.

Sometimes our language is hard to figure out logically. If something is sent by ship it is called cargo. If it’s sent by road, then it’s a shipment. Yet it is said that the best teacher is necessity.

Some time ago an acquaintance in San Diego after too many drinks was showing me with great pride his new apartment. He led me into his bedroom where there was a large brass gong. I asked him what the large brass gong was for. He replied, “It’s not a gong, it’s a talking clock.” “How does that work?” I asked. “Watch,” he said, picked up a hammer and gave the gong an ear shattering pound and stepped back. Someone on the other side of the wall screamed, “Hey, you jerk, it’s three o’clock in the morning!”

Under some circumstances logic is just not used. Sven was working at the fish plant in Minneapolis when he accidentally cut off all ten of his fingers. He went directly to the emergency room. The doctor looked him over and said, “Let’s have the fingers and I’ll see what we can do.” Sven said, “I haven’t got the fingers.” “What do you mean you haven’t got the fingers?” Sven said, “How da hell was I supposed to pick them up?” Sometimes a fellow needs a friend.

It used to be that people who put you in touch with the spirit world were called mediums. Now they are called bartenders!

There is probably no great need for you to know my new address as nobody seems to supply any news to me – but you may contact the Alumni Office (800.225.8664) for it if you wish. My e-mail address is [email protected].

Well, I hope some of us will gather at Luther on October 10-12, 2014, for our 75th reunion of the class of 1939. Our numbers have dwindled and we miss those who have passed on, but our spirit persists and our support of Luther College does not waiver!

Best wishes for good health!


E.J. Nordby
1939 Class Agent
[email protected]

Your gift. Every year. Put to work, right away, where it is needed most. 

Each year nearly 10,000 alumni, parents, and friends support the Annual Fund with gifts from $5 to $75,000.  Strong support from alumni helps Luther secure additional funds from foundations and corporations, and your gift each year helps us to reach our participation goal. 

Have you made your 2013 gift to Luther?  Please visit to make your gift today.  Thank you!

Please note: Your Spring 2014 class agent letter will include a listing of your classmates who gave to Luther during 2013.  Be sure to make your gift before December 31 to be included. 

*as of October 18, 2013


DAVID THOR LARSON of Cresco, Iowa, died March 4, 2013, at age 94, at the Evans Home, where he had resided for the past four months. He was a Cresco resident for 60 years. Born in Milan, Minn., David graduated from Riceville (Iowa) High School before enrolling at Luther. He was married to Vera Benson on June 4, 1941, in Riceville. Dave served in the U.S. Navy in World War II, from 1941-45, in the Pacific Theater. An avid golfer, bowler, and participant in the Elm Street Singers, he was also a member of the VFW, Knights of Columbus, Small Business Administration SCORE chapter, and the Boy Scouts, serving as a leader for many years. Dave worked for more than 40 years at Cresco Union Savings Bank; earlier in his career he taught school and worked as an insurance agent. Dave and Vera raised their family in Riceville and Cresco. He is survived by four sons, Jon, Allan, Mark, and Jim; two daughters, Anne and Jean; a son-in-law; and four daughters-in-law. Dave is also survived by 13 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Vera, his parents, two brothers, and a sister.

PHYLLIS HELENE (JOHNSON) LESETH of Decorah died March 27, 2013, at age 95, after a brief illness. After graduating from Decorah High School in 1935, she enrolled at Luther—a member of its inaugural class of women—and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1939, majoring in education. While there, she joined the Luther College News Bureau, its first woman member. After college, she taught high school English for two years before marrying HUBERT LESETH ‘39 on June 14, 1941. The couple lived in Davenport before moving to Des Moines, where their daughter CAMILLE (LESETH) FORDE ‘68 was born. In the early 1940s, they lived in Cedar Rapids—where Phyllis worked as a proofreader for the Cedar Rapids Gazette —and later moved to Kansas City, Kan., where their daughter ADRIENNE (LESETH) COFFEEN ‘71 was born. For five years they enjoyed raising their young daughters in Lake Bloomington, Ill., before making the full circle back to Decorah in 1957 to run Peter Johnson and Sons, the family business. Phyllis loved Decorah and being involved in community activities; among her favorite causes were Nordic Fest (serving on the original Nordic Fest board) and Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, where she served as guide, board secretary, newsletter writer, and trustee. In appreciation for her volunteer service, the museum dedicated the Phyllis Leseth Artifact Study Area in her honor in 2000. In recognition of her many years of community service, Phyllis received a Luther College Distinguished Service Award in 1969. During Luther's sesquicentennial in 2011, she was included in the Journey Portraits exhibition, representing people "who have helped transform the college and the broader world.” Phyllis valued the education she received in Decorah and endowed an annual Leseth Scholarship to a Decorah High School senior toward further studies. Among the organizations she enjoyed was the Girl Scouts of America, joining the first Girl Scout troop in Decorah and helping to reestablish the organization inDecorah in 1958. Phyllis was a member of Decorah's Travel Club, Monday Club, P.E.O, Luther College Woman's Club, and the Winneshiek County Genealogy and Historical Association. She attended Decorah Lutheran Church. Phyllis is survived by two daughters, CAMILLE (LESETH) FORDE ’68 and ADRIENNE (LESETH) COFFEEN ’71; two sons-in-law; three grandchildren; one sister, GEORGANN JOHNSON TENNER ’48; and several nieces and nephews. Preceding her in death were her parents and husband, HUBERT LESETH ‘39, who died in 1995.

ISABELLE MARY (COLLINS) NASBY died Dec. 24, 2012, at the Ossian (Iowa) Senior Hospice at age 94. Born in Prairie du Chien, Wis., she and her family moved to Ossian; after graduating from St. Francis de Sales High School in 1935, Isabelle enrolled at Luther, a member of the first class of women allowed to do so. She majored in English and music education, minored in French, played violin in the college orchestra, and sang in several of the college choirs. Isabelle met her future husband, a classmate, HELGE NASBY ’39, at Luther. They were married on April 17, 1943, in Quantico, Va., after he finished officers’ training for the Marine Corps. Isabelle taught high school English, drama, and vocal music in several Minnesota schools, including McGregor, Waseca, Glenwood, and Austin, until the end of World War II, when she joined her husband in Lakefield, Minn., where he resumed his job teaching instrumental music. After raising their three children, she taught English in Sioux Valley and Lakefield, Minn. In 1981 Isabelle and Helge moved to Ottumwa, Iowa, where she was involved in several community organizations and sang in the St. Mary’s choir. Playing bridge, golfing, and bowling were activities she enjoyed, as well as needlepoint. After Isabelle and Helge retired from teaching in 1977, they enjoyed traveling throughout the country and abroad, especially to Ireland, the home of her ancestors. Isabelle and her daughter, BARBARA NASBY ’74, moved to Decorah in March 2012, and Isabelle entered the Ossian Senior Hospice in May. She is survived by three children: Patricia Fechter, Robert Nasby, and BARBARA NASBY ’74; a son-in-law and daughter-in-law; four grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; a brother, Maurice Collins; many nieces, nephews, and friends. Preceding her in death were her husband Helge Nasby ‘39, two brothers, several sisters-in-law, and a brother-in-law.

Luther's 2013 Homecoming parade