Notable Norwegians: Waldermar Ager
with David Moe
Waldermar Ager was born in Frederikstad in 1869 and grew up in Gressvik. At the age of 16, he emigrated to America with his mother and two siblings to join his father in Chicago. He learned the printer’s trade working as an apprentice typesetter for one of Chicago’s large Norwegian-American newspapers, Norden.
In 1892, at the age of 23, he moved to Eau Claire, Wis., where he was offered a job as a typesetter and journalist for a new Norwegian temperance paper called Reform. When the editor died in 1903, Ager became editor and eventually owner of the paper for the rest of his life. It was in Eau Claire that he met and married a young woman from Tromsø, Gurolle Blestren, and they had nine children, who were reared in a home on Chestnut Street, a home that is still standing today and is in use as the Ager Museum.
Reform was more than a newspaper. It was the personal sounding board for Ager’s temperance ideas, but he also used it to entertain, educate, inform, and infuriate readers. At one time, the paper had a circulation of over 10,000 throughout the Midwest. He was also a popular speaker who was in great demand in the Norwegian-American community. He was a great storyteller, and he wrote six novels and eight volumes of short stories in addition to some poetry.
In addition to his writing and speaking, Ager also supported a variety of liberal reform movements during his time, seeking to improve conditions for farmers and laborers. He supported the cooperative marketing movement and the socialistic Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota, plus women’s suffrage and equal rights for women. He stood for bicultural pluralism within the American society and promoted cultural loyalty to Norway.
Ager died of cancer in 1941 at the age of 72 and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Eau Claire. He died with a dream, a dream of a permanent Norwegian subculture in America where the Norwegian language would remain the bridge to Norway. His dream and his newspaper, Reform, died with him.
David Moe graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris, in 1964 and received his M.A. degree from San Francisco State University in 1975. He spent four years in the Navy and 32 years in the insurance business. He and his wife, Thordis, have two daughters and four grandchildren. They now live in Sun City, Calif.
This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.