Ernest Marvin Espelie was born June 22, 1908, in Stoughton, WI. After graduating from high school, he came to Luther College where he received his BA in 1931, majoring in Engish and History. At Luther, Espelie was involved with track and field events. He was also named editor of Chips in March 1930 after being a news and features writer for 2 1/2 years. Before assuming that position, Espelie had been editor-in-chief of “Yahara,” an annual publication compiled at Stoughton High School. During his tenure as editor, Chips received an All-American Honor Rating in 1930 and a First Class Honor Rating in 1931, both given by the National Scholastic Press Association of Minneapolis. The Pioneer of 1932 said, “Much credit is due Charles Norby and Ernest Espelie, respective editors of Chips, during these two successful years, for bringing Chips into the ranks of leading college papers.”
Espelie was a member for three years of the Irving Literary Society (founded in 1884) and a member of the debating squad. He was student body secretary and president of his class. In addition, he was a member of the Koren Library student library staff, re-cataloging books and pamphlets and assisting at the reference desk.
Espelie received his BA in 1932 and his MALS degree in 1935, both from the University of Michigan. After graduation, he worked as a librarian at the University of Michigan from 1935-1937. This was followed by one year of work as a librarian at Concordia College, Moorhead, from 1937-1938. In 1938, he assumed a position as a librarian at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT, where he remained until 1958 when he retired with the rank of Commander.
In 1958, Espelie became a librarian at Augustana College, in Rock Island, IL, staying until his retirement as Professor Emeritus and Librarian in 1974. During his time at Augustana he saw considerable renovation of library space including the addition of underground space and an area provided for archives and special collections on the top floor of the library. He began to microfilm copies of the Swedish-American newspapers in the collection and also microfilmed records of the Swedish-American churches and fraternal societies. From these projects, the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center was established in 1981.
Espelie and his wife, Mary Belle, also a trained librarian, continued to work in Special Collections after he retired. Mary Belle had worked for many years in the Special Collections department at Augustana. In 1994, the Ernest and Mary Belle Espelie Special Collections Room was named after them at the Augustana library and a plaque recognizing the couple’s service to the college was installed. The couple established The Ernest and Mary Belle Espelie Special Collections Fund at the College. Espelie died August 6, 1994, in Aurora, Colorado. He and his wife had three children: Dr. M. Solveig Espelie (LC 1962); Mary Kvamme; and, Dr. Karl Espelie.
Espelie compiled a bibliography of the writings of Dr. Congrad Bergendoff, 1918-1963, which was included in the book edited by J. Iverne Dowie and Ernest M. Espelie, The Swedish Immigrant Community in Transition. Rock Island, IL: Augustana Historical Society, 1963. He also wrote several papers which he delivered to organizations such as Fine Books in a College Library: A Paper Read Before The Contemporary Club, February 24, 1969 about the beginning of printing and a description of the “Americana” in the Augustana library. Before that same club, he also delivered a paper entitled A New Athens, on November 27, 1973, which was a history of Davenport, IA, as a cultural, intellectual, and literary center during the first decade of the twentieth century. He edited publications for the Augustana Historical Society and the Augustana Chapter of the American-Scandinavian Foundation. He also wrote an article, “Children’s Books at Augustana,” which was published in the September 1959 issue of Illinois Libraries.
Espelie received several awards during his life. He was given the Alumni Distinguished Service Award by Luther College in 1963 and made a Knight of the Royal Order of Vasa by the King of Sweden, April 25, 1975. At that time he was “recognized for his many years of valued collection, editing, and publishing of important historical material bearing on the story of Swedish immigrants in America.” Espelie also served as a member of the board of the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah. He belonged to cultural and professional associations including the Trollheim Lodge of the Sons of Norway and the American Scandinavian Foundation.
Espelie gave numerous books to the Luther College Library. Reflecting his special interest in children’s books, he donated several Caldecott and Newbery books, many of which are autographed first editions. His correspondence with the authors is included in some of the books. Some of his other gifts reflect his interest in his Norwegian heritage. He and his wife also donated two books about birds in honor of Luther’s former head librarian, Oivind Hovde, an ornithology enthusiast. Items in the collection can be found by searching on the title phrase “Ernest M. Espelie Collection” in WorldCat Discovery.
Ref: Nelson, David T. Luther College, 1861-1961. Decorah, IA: Luther College Press, 1961; Luther College Directory of Graduates, 1977 ed.; Pioneer, 1929 and 1932; “Ernest Espelie is Named New Chief of College Chips,” Chips, March 26, 1930; Bergendoff, Conrad. A History of the Augustana Library, 1860-1990: An International Treasure. Rock Island, IL: Augustana Historical Society, 1990; “Ernest Espelie, Retired Augustana Librarian, Dies,” The Argus, August 19, 1994; Walton, Clyde C. Illinois Lives. Hopkinsville, KY: Historical Record Association, 1969; Special Collections, Augustana College, Thomas Tredway Library; Luther College Archives, RG 15.