Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Alvestad Families

Robert Alvestad and cousins Peter and Klaus

A brief history lesson...

Norwegian nationalist aspirations were frustrated by Sweden's victory in a brief war in 1814.  This victory resulted with Norway entering into a union with Sweden. However, the Norwegian constitution was kept largely intact, allowing Norway to operate as an independent state with its own parliament, judiciary, and executive powers.  All foreign affairs, however, were totally controlled by the Swedish king.

This presented problems for Norway because its economy was more dependent and sensitive to foreign trade; Norway was allied with the United Kingdom whereas Sweden's affiliation was with Germany; Norway had greater interests outside Europe than Sweden did and King Oscar II became totally disenchanted with Norway and called for Norway to be excluded.  Finally, on 7 June 1905, the Parliament of Norway broke the personal union with Sweden. This ended the fear of war between the two countries and King Oscar II accepted recognition of Norway as an independent monarchy on 26 October 1905.  This event lead to Prince Carl of Denmark assuming the Norwegian throne and taking the name of Haakon VII.

I imagine that these struggles between the two countries caused many to leave their homelands and search for a new environment in which to live. Only the individual family histories can tell us the true reasons for immigrating to the United States.  But, once they arrived, we can continue their stories.

The Alvestads...

Peter Alvestad immigrated to the United States in 1906. He had been born in the village of Alvestad, northwest of Harstad in Troms County, as Peter Peterson but, as did many immigrants, he changed his surname to his place of birth. This was a common practice.

Peter did not come directly to Gig Harbor. He stopped in Minnesota, working on a farm to save money before finishing his journey to the west, and on to Tacoma. After arriving in Tacoma, he had the opportunity to meet Karen Marie Kahrs, also a Norwegian immigrant. Karen had come in 1905 with her stepmother Anna Nyhammer, her stepbrothers Jacob and Charles, and stepsister Martha.  

In 1908, Peter and Karen married. They moved to Gig Harbor in 1911 where they purchased 20 acres in Crescent Valley.  Although the land had been logged, it still needed to be cleared before building a house and establishing a farm. As did many people living in Crescent Valley, they raised chickens and cattle, and grew berries. They had 4 children: Margaret, Helen, Paul, and Ben.
Peter and Karen Alvestad home in Crescent Valley
Peter's son, Ben, joined the army in 1942 and was assigned to the elite First Special Service Force of the American and Canadian soldiers, known by the Germany Army as "The Devil's Brigade." Ben was awarded the Silver and Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Combat Infantry Badge, Canadian Parachute Wings, and numerous other medals and citations for bravery in battle. After the war, Ben went on to become a successful commercial fisherman for more than 40 years.  

Peter's son, Paul, is perhaps the best known of the four children because he was appointed by both President Eisenhower and President Kennedy as Postmaster of Gig Harbor, which he served from 1961 until his retirement in 1981. Prior to his appointment, he was an accountant in Bremerton for Loftus Oil. Before World War II, Paul was a member of the Naval Reserve and was activated after Pearl Harbor. He served as Chief Petty Officer on board an escort carrier in the South Pacific until 1946.

Paul's wife Helen also had a rather interesting life prior to their marriage in 1950. Helen had attended business school and then enlisted in the Women's Army Corps in World War II. She served in Calcutta as a stenographer in the Movements Section of Plans & Operations Division of the India-Burma Theatre. Following WWII, both Paul and Helen joined the Gig Harbor chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars and met at a dance held by the VFW. Paul's activities and his role in the development of Gig Harbor are long, varied, and illustrious so I will not list them all here in this blog.

Robert and Martha Alvestad
Robert Alvestad came to the U.S. later than his cousin, Peter, in 1908. He met and married Karen's sister Martha J. Kahrs on 27 May 1914. Robert and Martha had 2 daughters, Agnes and Ruth. They moved to the peninsula and Peter worked for Alaska Packers in Bellingham for several years. He was gone most of the year, coming home only 2 or 3 times each year. As a result, the children were unfamiliar to him and they to Robert. In order to change the situation, Robert decided to go salmon fishing in the fall and summer and then when the season ended, he would work at the Austin Mill [site of the Harbor History Museum].  Robert was the president of the Fisherman's Union in both Seattle and Gig Harbor. He remained politically active up until 1974, at the age of 84. In 1948, he and Martha returned to Norway visiting relatives in Bergen and Alvestad. They were both active members of the Peninsula Lutheran Church. Their favorite activity? The annual Lutefish Dinner.

Klaus Alvestad, Peter's brother, also came to the US in 1908. I was unable to find much information on Klaus's life, although he became a halibut fisherman owning and operating his boat "Yellowstone."  Klaus died in Puyallup in 1971.  His wife was Laura Karoline, she died in 1953. Perhaps you can help fill in the gaps in Klaus's story.

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