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Martinius Mathiesen Ager in uniform. Ager was born in 1834 in Eidsberg, Norway. He worked as a police officer/jailer in Kristiania (now Oslo) and moved to Fredrikstad where he opened a country store. After emigrating to America in the 1880s, he operated a tailor shop on Chicago's Erie Street. He died in 1894 of a strangulated hernia.
The elder Ager had a drinking problem which caused strife in his marriage and in his church. Waldemar remembered sitting next to his father in the pew while the minister singled him out as a drunkard and pariah. He could feel his father shudder in response to the shaming. Such events played a major part in shaping Waldemar Ager's trajectory.
Martinius Mathiesen Ager and his brothers in 1874. Each brother added an arbitrary agricultural name to his patronymic, Mathiesen, upon joining the army. One chose "Myra," or "swamp," another "Eng," or "meadow." "Ager" means "field." "Åker" is the more likely spelling today.
Hans Peter, who took the name Berg from his uncle's farm, emigrated to Clinton, Iowa, where he made a living as a musician for Hi Henry Minstrel Shows. He died in 1916. He and Martinius were the only siblings to leave Norway.
Waldemar Ager in 1889, wearing derby, with his parents Martinius and Mathea ("Fredrikke") Ager. The elder Agers worked as tailor and seamstress in Chicago's Norwegian district. Waldemar holds Martha Comfield, daughter of his brother. (Johan Ager anglicized his name to John Comfield. He settled in Michigan.)
Mathea Ager, née Fredrikke Marie Mathea Johnsdatter Stillaugsen, was born in 1835 in Fredrikstad, Norway, to John Stillaugsen of Onsø, a sailor. She married Martinius Mathiesen Ager, with whom she had several children, of whom three survived to adulthood: Camilla, Waldemar and Johan. She died on Christmas Day, 1913, and is buried in Chicago.
Mathea worked as a seamstress and was described by a Methodist pastor who knew her as "one of the most unusual women I have met in my life." Others said that she was intelligent, well read and a good storyteller.
Excelsior, a temperance lodge in Eau Claire, which Ager founded. Ager is second from right, holding a box and an umbrella handle in front of his face. His future wife, Gurolle Blestren, stands fifth from the right, wearing dark skirt, dark hat and striped blouse. The youthful members of such temperance lodges liked to sing, lead grand marches, declaim--anything but drink alcohol.
Gurolle Blestren Ager, late 1800s. Born in Trømso, Norway, in 1873, she emigrated to America as a young girl, growing up in Eau Claire. She met Ager at the Excelsior Temperance Lodge and the couple wed in 1899. Over the next two decades she gave birth to nine children, and died on Christmas Day, 1951. "I did the best I could with the little I had to do with,"she told her son.
Waldemar Ager as a young man, ca. 1900.
Fremad Publishing Company, early 1900s, with Ager to the far left. The print shop was located near downtown Eau Claire's "Four Corners," on Grand and Barstow. Today the building houses a barber shop and tatoo parlor.
Ager children, Memorial Day, 1911. Left to right: Trygve, 5; Gudrun, 7; Eyvind, 10.
Waldemar Ager shared a speaking platform with William Jennings Bryan, of "Cross of Gold" fame, for the 17 Mai celebration in Brooklyn, NY. A few years before that, Bryan had come to Eau Claire, and Ager reported on it in his newspaper, Reform.
Ager and friend O. E. Rølvaag enjoy a smoke in the back yard of the latter's Northfield residence, 1929. Rølvaag is known best for the novel Giants in the Earth, the fame of which gave him the edge over Ager among Norwegian immigrant writers. According to the late Einar Haugen, Ager was the master of the short sketch.
"Ager's own fictional production is reckoned as being, on the whole, nearly as good as Rølvaag's best—and Ager was surely the most talented short story writer among Norwegian-Americans."
—Kenneth Smemo, "Waldemar Ager and the Golden Age of Norwegian America"
"In subject matter, style, theme, and narrative approaches, Ager is much better matched with and compared to Anderson and Lewis than to Rølvaag, for example. Rølvaag writes heroic drama, steeped in archetype and myth. Ager writes psychological studies and social satire, full of clever dialogue and subtle irony. Ager and Rølvaag are easy to contrast, but difficult to compare. They were much closer as friends than they were as writers. Much more work needs to be done to 'reconstruct' Ager as an American novelist as well as a Norwegian-American novelist."
—Tim Hirsch, WaldemarAger Association founder, Profesor Emeritus, UW-Eau Claire
Writing to his son on Rølvaag's sudden death in 1931:
"I was at the funeral Monday. There were a lot of telegrams. [ . . .] "I had been in his upstairs study several times before, but this was the first time I noticed he had my photograph, framed and under glass, on his wall (the photograph was taken in Los Angeles). It was one of three photographs he had in the room. It was sad, terribly sad. I can hardly believe he is gone."
— Waldemar Ager