Smoky Valley Historical Association Lindsborg, KS 67456


(Originally published in the 1991 Svensk Hyllningsfest program booklet.)
by Joyce Englund

A spirit of adventure is a wonderful thing. Fifteen-year-old Ragnhild Axelson, who had been born near Lindesberg, Sweden, on March 17, 1908, was beset by such a spirit. She and her oldest brother, George, made the long trip to Ellis Island, New York, where they found themselves to be the only Swedes among the immigrants waiting to make their new homes in the United States.

As would be expected, their mother was not thrilled at the prospect of two of her children leaving home, especially when they were planning to go so far away.

A neighbor told Mrs. Axelson, "I'd rather follow my daughter to the cemetery than let her go to the United States." Her mother responded, "If I don't let her go, she'll regret it all her life."

Ragnhild and her brother, George, were to stay with their father's sister, Teckla (Mrs. Carl) Frantz, who already had four boys and one girl. The Frantz farm was located west of Lindsborg, Kansas. The plan called for them to be sent to a Swedish pastor in New York. Unfortunately, he forgot about the young people and they were left at Ellis Island for a very long, lonely week.

Each morning the names of those individuals whose papers had been approved were read, and as the days went by, Ragnhild and George began to think that they were going to be left there forever. However, their names were finally called, and they were informed that their papers were in good order.

The next item of business was a "physical examination." This consisted entirely of an examination of their fingernails and eyes, especially the upper eyelids. It seems there was a disease prevalent among incoming immigrants that could be detected by this cursory "physical." Both the Axelsons passed with flying colors.

Ragnhild's citizenship papers are among her most prized possessions.

George was the oldest of the seven Axelson children; Ragnhild was the third oldest. After arriving in America, George took the last name "Durkfeldt," his mother's maiden name. He spent several years in Lindsborg, then moved to Kansas City.

According to Kansas law, all young people residing in the state were required to graduate from the eighth grade. During her first year in America, Ragnhild completed grades one through three; it took her a total of three years to complete all eight grades.

When she was a freshman in high school, one of the young boys told her she "talked like a horse." The rest of her classmates were friendly and made her feel very welcome. She completed high school in three years.

One of her most vivid memories of high school was her first English assignment, which was to write a ghost story. Her efforts, which began, "It was a dreary November afternoon…," were published in the High School Mirror section in the Lindsborg News-Record.

After graduating from high school, Ragnhild went to summer school, earned a teacher's certificate, and taught for four years at Bean School, where she had once been a student.

During the three years in which Ragnhild completed eight grades of school, she walked to Bean School in rural Lindsborg. She walked past the Bengtson farm, where Linus (pronounced Lenus) watched her through the fence. Linus was 15 years older than Ragnhild, and had come to Lindsborg from Colorado, where his parents had moved after his mother developed tuberculosis. His parents had emigrated to Svea City, Iowa, where Linus was born.

After Ragnhild had been in the States for ten years, she made a trip back home to Sweden. During the time she was in Lindesberg, which was from May, 1933 to Spring 1934, Linus visited her there. They were married in her home church in January, 1934, and soon returned to Linus' farm outside Lindsborg.

When asked to describe her husband, Ragnhild's response was immediate: "He was as honest as the day is long… a very good man."

Linus and Ragnhild had four children: Norman, the oldest, still farms outside Lindsborg; Gordon lives in McPherson, Kansas; Joanne lives in Courtland, Kansas, and Kathryn, the youngest, teaches music in Reading, Pennsylvania. There are six grandchildren.

When asked about her earliest recollections of Hyllningsfest, Ragnhild remembers that her daughter, Joanne, had been born on October 4, 1941, and was a tiny infant at the time of the first celebration. A picture of her and her two daughters appeared in the local newspaper after one of the first festivals.

She also remembers that several years saw a lot of rain during the festival weekend. She remembers that the lane to their farm was often under water at that time of year before Kanopolis Dam was built.

Ragnhild remembers a Lindsborg very different from the one we know today. When she and George arrived, Swedish was spoken on the streets, and nearly everyone would respond in that language. She remembers Rev. Alfred Bergin's Swedish church services at Bethany Church, where she has been a long-time member. She also remembers a Lindsborg where there were fewer people and fewer buildings.

In 1962, Ragnhild and Linus built the house on South Cedar Street where she still lives. Linus died on April 2, 1974.

Ragnhild worked at the Lindsborg Community Hospital for 10 years, and at Bethany Home for 15 years, retiring in April, 1990. She has a plaque from that institution, of which she is justifiably proud.

Still enjoying "super" health, Ragnhild walks at least three miles every day, and picks up aluminum cans for recycling while on her walks. Always a person who enjoyed being outside, Ragnhild is an accomplished skier, both on snow and water. Among her favorite hobbies is knitting, a skill she learned in Sweden before she began school. She has made many lovely items over the years, and is still contributing to the current Head Start knitting project here in the area.

Ragnhild Bengtson has been a special friend to many in Lindsborg. We are grateful to her mother, who did not prevent a young girl from living out her dreams of adventure in the New World.

Swedish traditions have remained important to Ragnhild's family. Son Norman adjusts his children's costumes before Svensk Hyllningsfest. Both daughter Debbie and son Doug participated as members of the Lindsborg Swedish Folk Dancers – Debbie later became Director of the group. Janise and Leslie Bengtson, also granddaughters of Ragnhild, were members of the group, too.