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The Life Of Margaret Peterson Rustad


Jamie Rustad

"It is something to be able to paint a particularpicture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; butit is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and mediumthrough which we look . . . To effect the quality of the day - that is thehighest of arts." (1)

This quality of highest art is also perfected in the classroom.Here the teacher takes the rough clay, as it was, namely the child and helpsto shape the highest potential.

Mrs. Margaret Peterson Rustad (Alfred, Sr.) was such aperson. She guided many children through the first eight years of basicsand their lives were affected by her efforts. A teacher with the qualitiesof patience and the understanding of individuality is very rare, but itwas true of Margaret. She loved and understood each child.

Her life began on January 25, 1889 in the area of Schletswig-Holstein,Denmark. She was the third born to Katrine and Ludwig Peterson.

At the age of four her life began in America. In 1893 thefamily migrated from Denmark. They first settled in Chester, Iowa, and fromthere moved to Anoka County and then to Hennepin County. Much later shesettled in Kittson County.

Her father, a faithful Dane, sailed back to Denmark in1920 on the occasion of the vote to decide whether Schletswig-Holstein shouldreturn to Danish rule. Previously the area had been forced under the ruleof Prussia and Austria. He voted in favor of Danish rule and the law waspassed.

Her father brought back seedling evergreens all the wayfrom Denmark and planted them along the Mississippi River. today they arebeautiful, gigantic examples of the Danish forest. Forestry had been themain occupation of the Petersons for many generations past.

Even though her father was a man of the forest, he realizedthat his children needed an education. But to get any kind of schoolingthe children had to leave home. So when Margaret was still very young, aboutten years old, she boarded with a family named Butters. She took care ofthe children and worked around the house to earn her keep while she wentto school.

Later Margaret attended high school in Anoka, Minnesota,where she graduated in 1908. While in high school she performed in a Thanksgivingplay that was always presented by the students. They were similar to presentday Christmas programs. The costumes worn by the actors and actresses wereclose replicas of those worn in the early colonial days.

Directly after high school she attended Normal School inSt. Cloud where she received her teachers's training. Normal School wasa two year institution. However, many teachers were certified without graduation.

Margaret had a good knowledge and understanding of mathematics.A college associate had always been troubled with this subject. She cameto Margaret with her problem. Margaret tutored her until she had learnedthe special techniques, and really enjoyed it so thoroughly that she wenton and majored in Math. Perhaps this caused Margaret to want to be a teacher.

A teacher of the prairie had to be willing to work hardfor the trivial salary which started at $30.00 and never exceeded $40.00

She not only guided the children with their lessons butwas their hairdresser, nurse, the plumber and the janitor. It was the teacherwho scrubbed the floors, took out the ashes and built the fire. All eightgrades were taught in one classroom and often as many as fifty studentsattended during the winter months.

Some of these students were almost grown men and sinceshe was only about five feet tall, a very petite lady, the former teacherswarned her about "the big boys." "The big boys" werethree older boys who just couldn't seem to graduate and attended schoolyear after year. They had been difficult to discipline and the teachersfound it hard to trust them. But Margaret felt that if they were placedin her trust they would feel responsible enough to live up to that trust.So every recess hour when the children went down to the river to play, shegave one of them her watch so they could call the rest of the students inat the end of the break. After that the boys would do anything she askedthem. On the second to the last day of school these three older boys skippedschool and walked to town so they could buy her a box of three hankies.

An interesting and amusing method she used to teach incertain subject, was the acing out of charades. The children performed soconvincingly they actually taught each other. They enjoyed charades so muchthey stayed inside many a recess period researching in encyclopedias forclues.

Every year the country school put on a Christmas program.Margaret made all the costumes because she felt it wasn't right to ask themothers to do it.

One year after the program the families showed their appreciationby giving her a surprise party. Ignorant of the fact the the party was forher, Margaret tried to get out of it. She was physically exhausted becauseshe had really outworked herself preparing for the program. But to her surpriseand gratitude, the families had not only given her a party but also boughther a gift. It was a metal brush, comb and mirror set.

Education was sort of a privilege in the early days andmany quit school. This was especially true of the girls. The father of oneof her students didn't think it was necessary for his daughter to finishschool. But after Margaret talked to him the girl was allowed to continue.At the present she is working in a business office. Margaret's granddaughtermet this lady a few years ago when the story was told to her by a very gratefullady.

Margaret taught school until her mother died of typhoidfever. Then she had to take care of her younger brothers and sisters.

It seems that family problems kept her from teaching again.Her older sister, Hanne Rustad, was having a serious operation on her throatin the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, so Margaret went to the farm, in Zaul,North Dakota, to take care of the household. Hanne's husband, Ole, had ayounger brother named Alfred. He also was visiting the family, and the twobecame very good friends, later to be married.

The marriage of Margaret Marie Peterson to Alfred HagbartRustad took place in Champlin, Minnesota on November 1, 1919. Later threechildren were born to the couple: Einer Ewald, Alfred Hagbart Jr., and DorothyClaire.

This family had sort of a language problem for Alfred spokeNorwegian well and Margaret Danish. Naturally, English was the family languagebut the parents often had special, private sessions by speaking in the similarlanguages of Danish and Norwegian. The children knew little of either languageand very seldom knew what they spoke of.

The family lived on a little farm west of Humboldt, Minnesota.Margaret always worked to keep the farm producing. She did odd chores suchas milking, caring for the newborn lambs, feeding the chickens and wateringand feeding the cattle and sheep. They raised cattle, turkeys, pigs, chickensand sheep. They also raised a garden from which she canned everything possible.

Her talents for teaching continued throughout her lifeas she tutored her children and aided many a neighbor child with his problem

Music played an important part in the culture of theirlives. Parties where friends and relatives gathered were popular. All thechildren were expected to be able to dance with their parents at a youngage, so Margaret taught each of her children to waltz at the age of five.

The lady who had affected so many lives passed away in1964 of heart failure.

In an excerpt of a letter received shortly after her deaththe qualities she possessed were emphasized. To quote Mrs. Robert Boatz:"Maybe she was not "great" in the sense of those people whogain publicity for their scientific, political or literary achievements- but she was "great" in the eyes of her family, her friends andher neighbors because she had the courage to live her life in a simple,dedicated manner - wanting nothing for herself but the ability to serveothers, believing only the best of those who she came in contact with andcompletely happy with her lot in life. Her genuine interest in childrenwas evidenced in so many ways. It will never be known how many times shehelped a young aspirant with her sewing, or a young student with his orher homework, or the countless questions she answered so patiently and thoroughly,nor will it ever be known how often she watched a little one for a busymother or kept a protective eye on a youngster who wandered a little wayfrom home. A request for a favor was never denied, and she was truly happyonly when she gave of herself, her time and her talents to those in needof them. Those of use who were privileged to be numbered among her friendswill never be able to properly express our appreciation for all the goodthings she brought into our lives." (2)

As a dedicated teacher Margaret Peterson enlightened manystudents lives with her knowledge and friendship, and affected the qualityof each day for them. As a friend she proved the true meaning - that friendshipbegins with a pleasant disposition. She lived a humble life and will beremembered by those who knew her as a humble lady.

(1) Henry Thoreau. . . . Taken from "Words to LiveBy" c. 1947 United Newspapers Magazine Corporation pg. 22.

(2) Dorothy Boatz. . . . Excerpt from a letter writtenin 1964.


Boatz, Mrs. Dorothy, an excerpt from a letter written in1964

Rustad, Alfred Jr., Interview, January 2, 1972

Turner, Mrs. Dorothy, Interview, January 2, 1972

The original essay was reproduced for the Red River ValleyWebsite by
Dennis L. Matthews

ary 2, 1972

The original essay was reproduced for the Red River ValleyWebsite by
Dennis L. Matthews