March of the Governors: Karl Fritjof Rolvaag
Karl Fritjof Rolvaag (1913-1990) grew up in Northfield, the son of acclaimed novelist Ole Rolvaag. Upon his father’s untimely death in 1931, Rolvaag roamed the West for five years, working in the fields and forests and allying himself with that most radical of unions—Industrial Workers of the World. He graduated from St. Olaf College in 1942. He then began six years in the US Army that included combat service as a tank commander. After graduate work at the University of Minnesota, he became an organizer and frequent candidate for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. He won election as lieutenant governor four times. In the 1962 election, Rolvaag defeated incumbent Governor Elmer L. Andersen by ninety-one votes. As governor, Rolvaag pushed for a modern community college system, helped reapportion Minnesota’s legislative districts, oversaw the passage of a taconite amendment for the Iron Range, supported notable reforms in mental health, and protected the environment. In 1966, he lost his bid for reelection to Harold Levander. Rolvaag later served two years as ambassador to Iceland and as chair of the Minnesota Public Service Commission. He resigned to fight his alcoholism and spent the rest of his life lecturing and counseling others about the importance of treatment.