Norway Lake Township’s oldest living man, 91, to star in Sunburg, Minnesota, Syttende Mai parade
Leslie Ellingson has lived all 91 years of his life on the same farm north of Sunburg. He's slowed down in recent years but he still drives a tractor and he's not one to say no to coffee and pie at the Sunburg cafe. On Sunday, he'll have the dist...
Leslie Ellingson has lived all 91 years of his life on the same farm north of Sunburg.
He’s slowed down in recent years but he still drives a tractor and he’s not one to say no to coffee and pie at the Sunburg cafe.
On Sunday, he’ll have the distinction of riding in a convertible as a grand marshal of Sunburg’s annual Syttende Mai parade.
“I feel highly honored that they asked me,” Ellingson said.
He’ll be joined by a female guest from Norway - Tone Tjensvold Barstad, who comes from Bryne in southern Norway and is president there of the Sons of Norway Leiv Eriksson Lodge 8-021.
“We think we’ve got the best of two worlds,” said Pat Berg, one of the organizers for the annual celebration that showcases Sunburg’s Norwegian heritage and brings crowds of visitors to town.
As the oldest living male resident of Norway Lake Township, Ellingson has a biography spanning the history of this northwestern corner of Kandiyohi County. He was born in the same farmhouse where he still lives and walked to the country school he attended through eighth grade.
Like many of his generation, he grew up speaking Norwegian at home. “That’s the language you used,” he recalled. He and most of his classmates didn’t learn English until starting school.
Cows were milked by hand and fields were plowed with teams of horses. Firewood to heat the house and stoke the stove was harvested from the family woodlot every fall, then hauled home for splitting.
“That wood warmed you twice,” chuckled Ellingson, who hasn’t lost the twinkle in his eye or the Scandinavian lilt in his voice.
He remembers getting his first battery-powered radio in 1937. Electricity didn’t reach the farm until the 1950s. Nowadays he could have Internet service too but he says he’s “not in on any of that.”
He maintains a fondness for the classic radio shows he grew up with. “I think I enjoy those programs more than I enjoy television now,” he said.
As for contemporary music, he gives it a firm thumbs-down: “If you can call it music. I call it irritating noise.”
Along the course of his life he married and raised two daughters. He has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild. A daughter and son-in-law currently keep beef cattle on his farm, where he still likes to pitch in with a tractor or hay rake.
Even if they’ve never met Ellingson, visitors to Sunburg, population 100, likely recognize his farm. He’s the inspired whimsy behind a collection of antique threshing machines perching like a flock of prehistoric beasts on the hilltops along County Road 36 north of town.
It all started with the rescue of a neighbor’s old threshing machine. “Then I started thinking maybe I should get a few more for the top of the hill,” Ellingson said.
He began traveling to auctions around the area, buying threshing machines for $20 or $40 apiece and hauling them home with his tractor.
The collection now contains 30 old threshers and has been photographed numerous times by fans, some of whom have come from as far away as California and Norway.
As one of Norway Lake Township’s dwindling community of native Norwegian speakers, Ellingson was interviewed a few years ago by a linguist from Norway.
“They are very interested in the language being remembered in the U.S.,” said Jane Norman, owner of Sunburg’s Kultur Hus and a scholar herself of the area’s Norwegian culture and history.
“Sunburg has its own dialect,” she said. “There is a lot of language that is still retained here.”
She and Berg said they had to resort to some gentle persuasion before Ellingson agreed to be grand marshal of the Syttende Mai parade.
“The first thing he said was, ‘Oh, no, I don’t think so,’ ” Norman said.
Ellingson chuckles modestly at his upcoming star role in Sunday’s parade. “I’ve had a good life,” he said. “I’ve got a very good family that I’m proud of. I feel richly blessed.”
Said Berg: “We were glad Leslie said yes.”