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Howard Hong, employee during 1930 Willmar bank robbery, dies at age 97

WILLMAR -- Howard Hong was about 18 years old and was working as a teller in the downtown Bank of Willmar when members of the "Machine Gun Kelly'' gang entered the bank on the morning of July 15, 1930, robbed the bank of $70,000 and wounded three people in the process.

A newspaper account of the robbery said one of the gang members ordered employees in the posting room, where Hong worked, to lie down on the floor at the bank where Howard's father, Peter, was president.

Howard "was a minor player for sure but still quite present for the whole robbery,'' said Todd Hong of Eden Prairie, a nephew of Howard Ho-ng.

Hong, who later became a noted professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College in Northfield, died Tuesday while in hospice care in Northfield. He was 97.

A memorial service will be 11 a.m. March 27 in the Boe Memorial Chapel at St. Olaf, according to a news release from the college.

Hong was born Oct. 19, 1912, in Wolford, N.D., to Peter and Ada Hong. He grew up in Willmar, attended Vinje Lutheran Church and graduated from Willmar High School at age 16 in 1929. He attended the American Business College in Minneapolis for one year, and returned to Willmar where he divided his time between work at the bank and at Gamble-Robinson, a food distribution warehouse.

Hong, who retired from the St. Olaf faculty in 1978, is best remembered for founding, along with his late wife, Edna Hatlestad, the Howard and Edna Hong Soren Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf. The library was established in 1976 to house what had been the Hongs' personal book collection that reconstituted the 19th-century Danish philosopher's library.

Today, the research library, with about 11,000 volumes, is the largest Kierkegaard collection under one roof -- second only to the Royal Library in Copenhagen.

The Hongs devoted their lives to providing a new English translation of Kierkegaard's writings, according to the college. Their first large-scale Kierkegaard project was the seven-volume Soren Kierkegaard's Journals and Papers, the first volume of which won a National Book Award in 1968.

The couple also translated Kierkegaard's Writings, the 26-volume edition of the philosopher's complete works that was completed in 2000.

Todd Hong said he visited his uncle three or four times since Christmas. Despite declining health, Todd said, his uncle's brain was still sharp.

"It was amazing,'' said Todd Hong. "He affected the lives of hundreds and maybe thousands of students.''

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150