Norway’s oldest man hails from the US

At 108, North Dakota native George Nygaard is the oldest man in the old country

Norway's oldest man

Photo: Jens Haugen / Glåmdalen
George Nygaard, photographed at age 103 in Norway reading the Benson County Farmers Press.

Sam Easter
Grand Forks Herald

George Melford Nygaard, 108, was born in 1910—just after Ford’s Model T hit the streets, two years before the Titanic sailed and before Europe descended into World War I. Now approaching his 12th decade, the North Dakota native became Norway’s oldest man late last year, just a few months behind the oldest Norwegian woman, who turned 108 in September. His own birthday was Jan. 12.

An article on Nygaard, published in the Norwegian newspaper Glåmdalen in early December, quotes the centenarian on his early memories, secrets to long life, and thoughts on Donald Trump. Nygaard said it wasn’t healthy living that led him past the century mark.

“I have eaten and drunk whatever I wanted throughout my whole life,” he said. “I was a heavy smoker until I turned 40 and continue to have a glass of wine each day. It thins the blood. But I don’t have the energy to drink until I’m drunk.”

Nygaard’s father immigrated to the U.S. in 1894, and Nygaard was born in Benson County in 1910, the article states. Glåmdalen sketches a fascinating life: Nygaard recalls his father giving a horse to the U.S. Army during World War I, and he later worked as a carpenter in Washington State. He served in the Marines during World War II, during which he was stationed in Hawaii. He and his wife, Adele, whose father was a Norwegian immigrant, moved to Norway decades ago. Adele has since died, but Nygaard lived at home until 101, when a lung infection led him to a nursing home in Roverud, a village about 50 miles northwest of Oslo.

Nygaard, described as a spirited man with a still-sharp mind, jokes that he was a “black sheep” Democrat among Republican farmers during his days in the U.S. He told a Norwegian reporter he disapproves of President Donald Trump and says he doesn’t like to think about his new title as oldest man so much.

“I have always been in good humor,” he said. “You almost have to have that to live, especially at my age. I once had a neighbor who was always angry and sour. I don’t want to be like that.”

And Nygaard still keeps a close eye on the business back home. He’s had a subscription to Benson County Farmers Press for decades—so that Sara Plum, the paper’s editor, said the first issue staff mailed first class to Norway is now lost in memory.

“Up to a few years ago, he would send a hundred bucks or so every few months, or whatever,” Plum told the Herald. “He hasn’t sent any money for probably three years, but you know what? We’re sure not going to bill him, but he’s been a subscriber for as a long as anybody knows. … It’s definitely been decades.”

In photos from Norway, Nygaard looks happy—sitting in bed with a glass of wine in one recent picture, and reading the Farmers Press in another from several years ago. It’s the same publication that ran a translated, front-page reprinting of the Glåmdalen article on Jan. 11.

“A lot of our older subscribers, they get to a certain age, and all their friends are dead and gone, and they decide that they’re not going to get the Farmers Press anymore, because they don’t know anybody,” Plum said. “For George, it’s always been his connection to home.”

This article originally appeared in the Grand Forks Herald, and is reprinted with permission.

This article appeared in the Jan. 26, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.