In the middle 1840's, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Omlie
migrated from Norway to America, seeking a home. Financed by Norway relatives,
they traveled about the
east and midwest, finally selected a large tract of land in northern Iowa on the fertile Washington Prairie, about equally distant from Decorah, Waukon and Ossian.
Living in a small cabin, they took part in all community activities, especially in the Norwegian Methodist Church of which they had been members in Norway. Later, with much help from the Omlies, the parish built a small rock church, known as the Washington Prairie Methodist Church, which still stands, surrounded by a little, well-marked cemetery where lie buried the Michael Omlies and four of their six children, along with other pioneers of their era. Most of these early settlers were farmers, raising mostly small grain. After threshing, they formed wagon trains in large numbers for protection from the Indians, and together they made the two-day trip to Lansing, Iowa, on the shore of the Mississippi, where the grain was sold and shipped down the river on barges to the larger ports. In this way, by industry, progressive farming, careful financing, and with long and hard labor, the area prospered. The Omlies also prospered. They built a modern home, considered one of the very nicest on the prairie. They had six children, two sons and four daughters. They were all trained in religion, received the usual country schooling, went to "town school" in one of the nearby cities, and finished off at the Upper Iowa University, a Methodist college at Fayette, la. Since this article concerns one of the Omlie children, the eldest, Ole Michael, it is recorded that his parents and five of the six children preceded him in death, his mother and the brother and sisters being deceased quite early in life.
OLE MICHAEL OMLIE
Ole Michael Omlie (known to Grafton as 0. M. Omlie) was born Feb. 19, 1852, on Washington Prairie, near Ossian, Iowa, to the Michael Omlies. Trained in
religion at home and in the Norwegian Methodist church, sent to a local country school, followed by training in nearby secondary schools, he entered Upper Iowa
University at Fayette, Iowa. Ill health ended his formal education and he sought help in a warmer climate, spending time in both Texas and California. On returning to his home in Iowa, he saw constant migration from his own and neighboring states to lands in the northwest. After a trip, he saw that the great need in Minnesota and the Dakota Territory was horses, both for farm work and carriage use. Returning to Iowa, he made horse dealing his regular business, buying horses all the way from Iowa to Kentucky, and shipping them by train to railroad or boat terminals, such as Crookston and Fisher's Landing. There his horses were sold to dealers, farmers, or driven in droves to North Dakota. He liked a town called Grafton in the Dakota Territory. In the late 1870's, before me trains came, he built a barn there to shelter his unsold horses and for the horses of farmers and business travelers. Later his barn became known as the "Livery Stable." At about this same time, Mr. Omlie built a house, still in use at 323 N. Kittson. He rented the house to tenants. On Dec. '21, 1881, the first train came to Grafton and business grew. Mr. Omlie invested in land, owning farms at St. Andrews, Acton, and Cashel. Across the Red River in Minnesota he owned two farms and often during the years he bought and sold various tracts in eastern Walsh County.
|0. M. Omlie, taken in the early 1880's or late 1870's.|
Aug. 27,1883, at Fargo, 0. M. Omlie married Miss Caroline Wicker. The Omlies settled
in Grafton. The home Mr. Omlie owned was still rented, so they lived for awhile
in a hotel, operated by the Jim McDonalds, moving later to a rented home. Their
own home becoming vacant, they moved into it, and during the next 11 years their
five children were born - Chester, Lillian, Myron, Oliver and Vemon. While these
children were growing, Mr. Omlie continued his horse sales, engaged in other businesses
as well. He started a farm machinery business, sometime later operating as the
Omlie-Hogensen firm. In later years he operated the 0. M. Omlie Real Estate business
on Hill Avenue. In late 1898, the Omlies built a modem home at 1113 Western Avenue,
one of the nicer large homes in Grafton. They owned the entire block on which
the house stood and also the block west of the home, one in the southwest area
of Grafton. They sold some lots for other homes and finally the second block.
During his life in Grafton, 0. M. Omlie was active in civic and fraternal affairs,
a member of the Methodist Church, interested in the well-being of the families
who operated his farms, but most of all, a kind, indulgent family man. He died
Feb. 17, 1917, and was buried in Crescent Cemetery beside his eldest son, Chester,
who had preceded him in death.
|0. M. Omlie home, 1113 Western, about 1920.|
CAROLINE WICKER OMLIE
|Mrs. 0. M. (Caroline) Omlie in about 1946.|
Caroline Wicker was bom Nov. 3, 1861, youngest daughter of Margaret (Onsgaard) and Ole Nelson Wicker of Highland Prairie, near Spring Valley, Minn. Her father, a farmer, had been in the Norwegian Navy before coming to America. Her mother had many relatives living in southern Minnesota who had preceded her to the United States. Many of them lived around Albert Lea and Austin. Shortly after Caroline's birth, her father joined the Union Army and was in the service for
several years. Caroline was raised in the Lutheran church, educated in the country schools. Between school terms she often visited her many relatives around the area and in Wisconsin. In her early twenties, she took up land in Minnesota and worked at Crookston. There she met 0. M. Omlie to whom she was married at Fargo. Aug. 27.1883. The Omlies settled in Grafton. Because their own home was occupied with tenants, they lived in a hotel. then operated by the Jim McDonalds with whom they later became neighbors and life-long friends. Their own home being vacated, they finally moved there, at 323 Kittson, and there their five children were born: Chester, Lillian, Myron, Oliver and Vernon. Just before the turn of the century, they moved into their newly-built home on the southwest end of Grafton.
Caroline Omlie raised her children with good care, always having sufficient help. They were taught to be respectful and mannerly, helpful to others. Just what
dancing school did for the boys is hard to record. Every summer Mrs. Omlie would take some, often all. of her children to visit their Omlie relatives at Decorah. Ia., and the Wicker relatives in southern Minnesota. During all these years, Mrs. Omlie was active in her Methodist Church with its many affiliations, in the Eastern Star of which she was worthy matron, in the W. C. T. U. and many other groups. A Gold Star mother, she had affection for the American Legion Auxiliary. She survived her husband by 35 years. Shortly after his death, she sold her large home to an order of eastern nuns for a convent, their intention was to start a Catholic school. This failed and the school later became an apartment complex. The deaths of her sons, Chester in 1908. Oliver in 1918, and Vernon in 1936. were three crushing blows, hard for any mother to endure. Mrs. Omlie's religious faith and her great courage sustained her for the last 16 years of her life. Four grandchildren lived near her. After her son Myron and wife moved to Chicago in 1922. she spent most of her winters with them until 1935 when she bought the old G. M. Baer home on Griggs Avenue where she lived the rest of her life. On one of the two trips back to Chicago after 1935, in 1945, she. accompanied by her son, Myron, returned to Grafton through southern Minnesota that she might visit the scenes of her childhood and the relatives living there. She continued ownership of the farm at Cashel, maintained her group interests, cared for herself, loved her home, lived happily and contentedly there. She died July 9.1952. and is buried in the Crescent Cemetery.
Chester Nathaniel Omlie was born in Grafton Oct. 16, 1884. He
was a young man with prowess in athletics, a faithful member of Co. "C,"
with high hopes and great
ambitions for the future. Ill health beset him. He spent some time in New Mexico, then returned home, becoming a railway mail clerk. He was stricken with pneumonia and died Sept. 9, 1908, and was buried in Crescent Cemetery.
LILLIAN OMLIE TVERBERG
the second child and only daughter of the 0. M. Omlies. was bom April 7. 1888.
She married Albert G. Tverberg. Albert G. Tverberg was born Nov. 3, 1886, in Grafton
Township, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Austin K. Tverberg. He was confirmed in the
Grafton Lutheran Church, educated in the rural schools and attended business college.
After being Deputy Sheriff of Walsh County for eight years, he was elected Sheriff
in 1916 and 1918, serving the alloted two terms. He married Lillian Omlie of Grafton
Jan. 20, 1917. They are the parents of four children: Albert 0. of Grafton, Mrs.
Robert (Lois) Kermott of Phoenix. Ariz.; Mrs. David (Helen) Feldman of Tarzana,
Calif.; and Mrs. Munson (Margaret) Hinman of San Jose. Calif. There are ten grandchildren.
He was cashier of a local bank, postmaster, and publisher-editor of the Grafton
News and Times, a weekly newspaper. Always active in community affairs, he served
as secretary of the Grafton Civic Club, the American Red Cross and the Republican
party. He was business secretary of the Grafton Deaconess Hospital for over 25
years. Mr. Tverberg joined Crescent Lodge No. 11 A. F. & A. M. in 1914 and
joined all the various degrees of the lodge. He was secretary of all bodies and
was still Grand Recorder of the Grand Commandry of North Dakota at the time of
his death.He was active in the Sons of Norway Lodge. When he was secretary of
the Fourth District of Sons of Norway, which consists of North Dakota. Montana
and the greater part of Canada, he compiled a historical book of the lodge in
1970. One of the highlights of his life was his trip to Norway and other European
countries on a Sons of Norway tour. His hobby was books and he had a large personal
library. He became ill in 1974 and was at the home of his daughter and son-in-law.
Dr. and Mrs. David Feldman, when he died Jan. 16, 1975. Interment was in the Masonic
Crescent Cemetery in Grafton. Lillian Tverberg, his wife, also has lived most
of her life in Grafton. She is the daughter of pioneer settlers, Mr. and Mrs.
0. M. Omlie. She was educated at Grafton and graduated from the University of
North Dakota in Grand Forks. She taught school in Cando and then in Grafton for
four years before her marriage. She is a member of the Federated Church, United
Methodist Women, the Order of Eastern Star, the Women's Christian Temperance Union
and the Delphian Library Club. She has been a Past Matron of the Eastern Star
for 60 years, longer than anyone in North Dakota.
MYRON W. OMLIE
Myron Wicker Omlie was born Dec. 25, 1889, a little less than two months after North Dakota had become the 39th state of the Union. At the present writing (1975) he and his wife are enjoying life in general at their home at 906 Griggs Avenue in Grafton. He had (he usual childhood of his day, was an expert swimmer, took part in school sports and got along well with everybody, old or young. Being a nature lover, especially of farm animals, he often spent some part of
his vacation on his father's farms and enjoyed going along on farm trips with his father. Like his brothers and sister, he too enjoyed the many summer visits to Min-
nesota and Iowa relatives. One event marred his childhood and handicapped the rest of his life. Always wanting to be helpful, he was aiding another boy with a jammed B-B air rifle, working in the Omlie basement because it had a cement floor; stomping the rifle on the floor to loosen the jam, the rifle fired, hitting Myron's left eye, causing a cataract which could not be helped, though he was taken to several of the best specialists. The accident occurred when he was around 11 years old.
Myron was educated in the Grafton schools and at the A. C., Fargo. He was a member of the R.O.T.C. With a special liking for art work in the drawing and painting
area. he still has many pictures which demonstrate that ability, painted while he was a student at Fargo. Shortly before his 16th birthday, he joined Co. "C" of the 164th Infantry of the N. D. National Guard, remaining a continuous member until his discharge after World War I. After leaving the A. C.. Myron worked with electrical and telephone companies and did surveying.
|1st Lieutenant Myron W. Omlie. Co. "C". 164th Infantry W.W.I.|
In 1916.- the Guard was federalized and called for duty on the Mexican
Border, stationed at Mercedes, Texas. In early 1917, they were again federalized,
at Grafton a few months and then went to Camps Charlotte, Mills and Merrit. In late December, they sailed upon the Leviathan, on its first trip as a troop ship,
for England, reaching there Dec. 24, but were not able to disembark until December 25. Being Myron's birthday, he "slipped" away and went to church at Winchester. He still has the program of that service. He had been commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant after he returned from the Mexican Border and was commissioned as 1st Lieutenant in September of 1917 before leaving Grafton. The 41st (Sunset) division, of which the 164th regiment became a part. was the first complete U.S. division to reach Europe, so they were made a replacement division their work being the training of recruits. Myron remained with "C" Co. during the war until, little by little, it was broken down to a small group, most of its men transferred or sent home. During the months preceding the Armistice he was in command of the company at the German section of a prison camp at St. Aignon. While in France, he traveled as much as an officer was allowed, many times to Paris, to Monaco and Monte Carlo, three eeks in England, Scotland, and Ireland. After Co. "C" returned to the states he served in France with a machine gun battalion, and then as Pass Officer at Brest. He returned to the U. S. on the "Pastores" and after a short visit in Grafton. he was discharged at Camp Dodge at Des Moines, la.. Sept. 18. 1919. While in France, he was a member of the class, who, under the tutoring of Col. Fraine, became members of the Masonic Blue Lodge of Grafton, taking degrees while in France. In September of 1919, he became a charter member of the American Legion Post 41, of which he is now a life member, having been a continuous member of the Legion during years he was away from Grafton. On June 17, 1920, Myron Omlie was married to Helena T. Bakewell. After living briefly in California and 14 months on the farm at Cashel. the Omlies left for Chicago where they lived almost 35 years. Most of that time they resided in the Logan Square district of Chicago where they became active in the community life of the area. After a few years of working for private companies, Mr. Omlie began work with the Supply Depot of the Veterans' Administration serving there 25 years, being Chief of Document Control for several years before his retirement in 1956. While in Chicago, he was active in The American Legion, especially in youth and Americanism work. During World War II, he was appointed the Civil Defense Chairman of one of the large areas of Chicago, a position he held during the entire war. During this time he was constantly called upon for assistance to every area of the C. D. service, war families, gas and tire rationing, training of all types of war workers, in communty service, bond drives, servicemen centers, drives for food and entertainment, safety and security watches of every sort, recommendations for work, investigations of workers, all this while he often worked extra hours at his office at the Veterans Administration. Then too, he had an added responsibility to help his wife who was Fund Raising Chairman for the Red Cross in a Chicago Division. Following war service, he had several serious illnesses, two surgeries. In June, 1956, after being released from the hospital after a several weeks sojourn, he was retired from the Veterans Administration, with the entire facility observing a special "Omlie Day." On July 1. 1956, the Omlies returned to Grafton to retire to their home at 906 Griggs Avenue. While in Chicago they had come up here every year, often several times a year, so it seemed as if they had never been away. The first two years were busy with remodeling and disposing of unwanted articles. Having inherited Caroline Omlie's piano, an excellent instrument (Busch and Gerty.). and having little use for it themselves, Myron thought of the Armory, where the "boys" said they needed one. We are sure Mrs. Omlie would be glad it went there, as at one time or another all four of her sons had been members of the Guard, for an aggregate of about 35 years. Since returning to Grafton, Myron has enjoyed fairly good health, and until recently used to take numerous long trips a year. "Mike" says the short ones content him now. He continues membership in a few youth and Americanism groups in Chicago. In Grafton, he returned to his first post of the American Legion, Post 41, who so kindly made him a life member about 8 years ago, he belongs to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the World War I Walsh Co. Barracks. At home. he still does some yard work, is an avid reader of the daily papers and many magazines, never misses the national news on television. And, of course, he has his favorite T. V. programs. Besides all this, Mrs. Omlie says he makes a fine lunch and a good cup of coffee.
MRS. MYRON W. OMLIE - Note from Kari - I am omitting this section on the website, but have a copy of the original article if anyone wants it. She was the former Helen Teresa Bakewell, and there is a large section on her background and accomplishments. She was very involved in community service, including the Red Cross and American Legion Auxiliary. She did a lot of work with children, and was president of several organizations.
Oliver Mitchell Omlie was born Nov. 5, 1892, and died during World War I while serving at Camp Custer, Mich. In mid-summer of 1918, he was married to Pauline Harris of Pembina. and had been in the army only a few months when stricken with influenza and died Oct. 18, 1918. He was buried in Crescent Cemetery beside his father and oldest brother. Like the other Omlie children. Oliver had an active, happy youth, was interested in athletics and participated "in all the events the school offered. After graduating from high school and a year at the University of Wisconsin, he spent some time in Alaska. Returning to Grafton, he did office work. mainly at the Central lumber Co.. until his entrance in World War I service. He had been a member of Co. "C," National Guard. Oliver Omlie was an exemplary young man; though passing away shortly before his 26th birthday, he left a void in the community, felt for many years whenever his name was mentioned.
VERNON C. OMLIE
Vernon Cleophas Omlie, the fourth Omlie son and youngest child, was bom June 27, 1895. Being the youngest in a family of five was no problem for Vernon, he was inventive enough to overcome any emergency. All through his youth he was always making or inventing something; he and a neighbor's son had their own telephone line between their two homes. After graduating from high school, he spent some time at the University of Minnesota. He had spent several years in the North Dakota National Guard, then joined the Minnesota Guard, with which outfit he served on the Mexican border in 1916-1917. Returning to Minnesota, he asked to be transferred to the Army Air Service. He became a skilled flyer and was kept in the U. S. as a training instructor. After World War I he flew for A. C. Townley (Non.Par. leader). barnstormed the midwest as a stunt flyer, taught air mail flyers at Maywood, Ill, all the time seeking a place to establish a flying field. In February. 1922, he was married to Phoebe Fairgrave, whom he had been teaching flying and stunting. Just a few weeks before their marriage, she had broken the world's height record for women in parachute juumping. with Vemon flying the plane, against the instructions of the Curtis Field in Minneapolis where they were both working. After further barnstorming and stunting, they settled at Memphis, Tenn.
|Vernon C. Omlie taken a few years before his death in 1936.|
leased the Millington Air Field from the federal government, established a flying
school, a chartered commercial air service, and a plane sales business. Among
his students were the Faulkner brothers. Wm. Faulkner, the Nobel prize winner
for literature, had done a little flying in the Canadian Army. He bought a new
plane from Vernon. continued lessons. His three brothers all worked for Vernon;
Dean. the youngest, was killed on the Millington field. John, the second brother,
took over the management of Vernon's own field, and also the management of the
Memphis Municipal Airport, of which Vemon was the manager, at the time of Vernon's
death.Vernon pioneered in cotton dusting. During the many Goods of the Ohio and
Mississippi Rivers especially 1922. 1923, 1928 and 1929 he flew his own planes,
with homemade pontoons, to rescue the stranded people on the islands and river
banks. Because of the danger, the army and navy had ordered their pilots off the
rescue. and Vernon and Phoebe took up the task. The August, 1929, American Magazine
carried a feature article about this and other feats. When Memphis built a new
airport after Vernon's death, by city vote, it was called the Omlie Airport. Vernon
Omlie was noted for his safe flying record, receiving for many years the National
Aerial trophy for the most miles flown each year without an accident. He was a
member of the Elks Commandery and Shriners, Civic Clubs, American Legion and other
Vets' groups. But most of all, he was proud to belong to the "Quiet Birdmen"
that exclusive group of famous flyers to which only the best could belong. He
was killed, Aug. 6, 1936, in the crash of a commercial plane in which he was a
paid passenger. He had been popular with the best flyers of his day, Stinson,
Doolittle, Rogers' Rickenbackerand their like. The widespread national publicity
at his death, the many rooms filled with flowers from rich and poor, famous and
humble, the long cortege to the cemetery, the many, many groups to which he had
belonged, or by which he was respected, attending his funeral, all these attested
to his popularity and to the respect they felt was due him. This was emphasized
by the sky-writing over his burial site and all over the city of Memphis; the
famous 'aviators (among the Quiet Birdmen), joined by many others, wrote their
tributes in the sky. The most touching among these messages was the one with which
flyers say farewell to another flyer starting on a journey, on this day they filled
the skies with that message: "Happy Landings. Vernon."
PHOEBE FAIRGRAVE OMLIE
Vernon Omlie was survived by his mother, his sister, Lillian Tverberg. his brother, Myron, and his wife, Pheobe Omlie. Phoebe was never a North Dakotan, but
her life, so closely bound to Vernon's, her accomplishments, and her appointments, helped by his teaching, are really a tribute to him. She won every air race she ever entered. On winning the Los Angeles to Chicago cross-country, against both men and women in 1930, she was asked to speak over the airport radio to a national hook-up; always brief, she spoke only about three sentences, the last of which was "I didn't win this race. Vernon Omlie did, he taught me all I know about flying."
In 1936, she was appointed by President Roosevelt as head of the Federal Air-Marking program; in 1937 she was chosen by the National President of the American Legion Auxiliary at their National Convention to be the main speaker, which is always broadcast over the national hook-ups. She has filled many similar requests from other national meetings. She was the only woman flyer on the Ford Reliability Tour in 1929. During World War II, she was the liason between the Federal Departments of the Navy and Commerce, with number two priority flying for women in the U. S. During that same war period, she headed a school for women flyers to become "ferry" pilots. At the close of the war, the federal government set up a program of evaluating the efficiency of airports, etc.. who wished to be accredited as suitable and competent schools for this work. Phoebe headed this program. She was a member of the Civil Aeronautics Board for a number of years. She invented an air response gadget for the instrument panel of a plane, by which the gadget made an instantaneous record of how long it took a flyer to respond to a command from the ground, and to put the command into action. This invention, along with numerous others by Phoebe and Vernon, together or individually, are in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D. C. The August. 1929, issue of the American Monthly Magazine carried a very special feature, several pages long, occasioned by recent feats of Phoebe. The cover of the magazine was a picture of the kind of plane she flew, a Monocoupe. The first page of the article had a similar plane picture, with pictures of Vernon and Phoebe, with the feature by-line, "There's no stopping a woman with courage like this." In 1923 or 1924 the newsreels carried a picture of Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce, handing to Phoebe Omlie the first transport pilot's license ever issued to any woman in the United States, and added to it the first world's transport pilot's license for a woman flyer. It is no wonder the order of the "Quiet Birdmen" selected Phoebe to be one of their "Queen Bees," and equally exclusive group of the best. (only about ten) women flyers of the world. Vernon taught Phoebe not only to fly a plane, but to assemble one. to take it apart, to be her own mechanic, even to make her own plane, her famous little "puddle jumper." its replica being in the Smithsonian Institute. This article about Mrs. Vemon Omlie (Phoebe) is added to the Omlie history, not to redound to her fame, but as a tribute to Vernon who was both her teacher and her husband
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