Tribute Paid by Pastor and Others at Final Rites
Final tribute was paid Waldemar T. Ager editor of the Reform and noted author and lecturer, as funeral services were held Monday afternoon at First Lutheran church. The large church was thronged with close friends and admirers as the solemn rites were directed by Dr. S. C. Eastvold, pastor and friend of the deceased
Besides the eulogy by Dr. Eastvold delivered in English, the Rev. H. A. Wickmann of Eleva spoke in Norwegian. Dr L. W. Boe, president of St. Olaf Collage at Northefield, Minn., also spoke.
Soprano solos were sung by Miss Jansine Haarvel.
Pallbearers were Adolph Sherman, Edward Lenmark, John Haanstad, Gerhard Olson, Haakon Landmark, and Elmer Anderson.
Scores of floral offerings were received, and there were many messages of sympathy, including one from Wilhelm Morgenstierne, Norwegian minister to the U.S. at Washington, D.C., who wired: "I am grieved to learn about Waldemar Ager's death. He was one of the most gifted and faithful men of Norwegian origin in this county. I shall miss him also as an old friend. My heartfelt sympathy to the family."
Simon Johnson, editor and author, of Decorah, Ia., wired: "Waldemar Ager was more than one respect a shining light within his racial group here in this country, known almost everywhere where Norwegian Americans built and dwell, the spokesman of thousands for sobriety and integrity. His written and spoken words have brought light and created enthusiasm wherever they have been read or heard. Personally I have received much from Waldemar Ager to be grateful for, and I wish to express my small part in recognition of the loss which the entire Norwegian population in America must be permitted to share."
A note from D.C. Donaldson to the family was characteristic of many others. It started in part: "It was a great shock to me to read of Mr. Ager's death in the daily press. The last time that I saw him in Luther hospital he spoke so cheerfully that I felt that in spite of his set-back at the time he would eventually recover. Mrs. Donaldson and I both wish to extend to you our deepest sympathy in this hour of your great sorrow. We have followed Mr. Ager's activities with much interest ever since we moved to Eau Claire. I remember him as one of the few really gifted men it has been my pleasure to meet."
Among those attending the funeral from out of the city were Mrs. Camilla Cameron of Washington, D.C., a sister of Mr. Ager; Einar Comfield of Chicago, Ill., a nephew; Birger Gabrielson of Shawano, Wis., a nephew; Alf Gabrielson of Albert Lea, Minn., a nephew; Prof. J Jorgan Thompson of Northfield, Minn., and the Rev. Olaf Refsdal of Cook, Minn.
Text of Sermon
The text of Dr. Eastvold's funeral sermon follows: "'For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away; his glory shall not descend after him.' (Ps. 49:17.) Grace and Peace! 'Waldemar Ager is dead.' This news passed from home to home, it was talked on the streets, it was sent over wire and radio, and it was blazoned on the front pages of the newspapers. He died on August 1, 1941 at 9:20 a.m."
"Waldemar was not without glory while he lived; his glory shall not descend after him. It would take volumes to tell the full and complete life story of this man. To see him crossing the bridge with his pipe in full blaze would never lead any casual observer to suspect that there walked a genius. His human greatness was always in disguise because of his natural modesty."
A Self-Made Man
"The real Ager was discovered by a few of his intimates. Like the true Viking that he was, he was very cautious about revealing his true and inner self. A self-made man, who stumbled by seeming accident into his calling, he attained to place, position and rank which had been recognized by the peasant in his cottage, as well as by the king on his throne. His merits as editor, author and lecturer have been well-known for nigh on to half a century. Notwithstanding the lack of a formal education, which ended in a common school in Graesvik, Norway, he became an amazing man of letters. He was acquainted with the best of literature from every age. He natural endowments, and his retentive memory, made him ready with profound, wise and valuable counsel on innumerable occasions. His experiences in mere childhood as errand boy and house painter, left him with first hand knowledge of the common man which never forsook him. He began to cope with the grim realities of life when his father sailed for America, leaving his 12-year old boy with mother at Oslo, Norway. At the age of 16, four years later, he came with his mother to Chicago where he became an apprentice printer in a Norwegian shop."
"Being a true son of the free-men of the North of Europe, he felt right at home in the Democratic spirit of America. He hated all forms of sham and especially the terrible evil of the liquor traffic. He urged his countrymen, in speech and press, to use the ballot to combat the evil of strong drink. He aligned himself with the temperance movement and contributed much to the cause which ended in the prohibition era. He never once admitted that the era of prohibition equaled in moral depravity either the period which preceded it or that which has since followed its abolition. Thousands of homes have been help to sobriety and decency because of Ager's speech and pen. Such honor will never descend even if it should some day fail to mention. He was deeply concerned for the name, honor and welfare of his Norwegian countrymen. He knew that the saloons, night clubs, and taverns, of the past and present, could only serve to degrade the race and ruin our civilizations. His convictions usually always placed him in the minorities. He was not always right, but he was always honest. He resolutely took up the crosses involved. He never regarded it below him to peddle hand bills for an unpopular cause when it served the truth. He stood for a free America, and America can only be free when its citizens are free from any and all moral depravity. Ager had not immigrated to America to become a parasite. With liberty and freedom, he realized, went along responsibilities and duties. He could not enjoy the one and shirk the other."
A Leading Citizen
"Ever since 1892, Waldemar Ager has been one of Eau Claire's chief citizens--it should be added, in disguise. His innate modesty kept him from pushing himself forward. He was, like many of his kind, better known away from home than in his own community. He was called upon to lecture throughout our nation and his editorials were quoted by the press far and wide, including his home land, Norway. He had a double passion, 'temperance and racial heritage.' He believed his fellow countrymen of Norwegian descent, could contribute most to America by keeping alive the best that had come from the culture of the Norsemen. These facts are clearly displayed in the four [sic] novels from his pen as well as in his short stories, essays, and editorials. While he was quietly and modestly raising monuments for others, he was in fact rearing a monument to himself because of the ideals he preached and practiced."
"All of this could not be concealed until the hour of his death. His name and fame spread before him. His native modesty left the people of Eau Claire pretty much in ignorance about the honors which came to him. Few here knew that the King of Norway twice decorated him in 1923 and 1939, respectively; that he was given a degree, Doctor of Laws [sic. Doctor of Letters], by St. Olaf College in 1929; that he was given literary awards by the Norwegian Society of America and the Norwegian Literary Association; that he was honored by his fellow temperance brethren to have him run for lieutenant governor of Wisconsin; that his biography has appeared in "Who's Who in America" since 1912; that he has served on the local library board for 3 [sic] years, and in many other important places."
"But his honor will live longest because of his family of nine children, unto whom, together with his wife who survive him, his principles were successfully taught. Bodies die and perish from the earth, but great truths live on in succeeding generations."
"But, you may ask, what has all this got to do with a funeral sermon in a Lutheran church? Should we review such secular things and apparently praise the dead?"
Faithful Church Goer
"We feel today, that these things do have a place! Waldemar Ager could never have been what he was without the fundamentals of the Christian faith. During my eight years as his pastor, I saw him on innumerable occasions in the congregation. He was one of those who most faithfully attended upon the Norwegian services, held here every Sunday morning. He used only two pews during all those years, and his presence was most noticeable. Only during the summer weeks, when at his summer home, did he miss the services. He was always well enough to be in church. I visited him frequently at the hospital, during his last illness. At each visit, we prayed together. Tearfully he spoke of his childhood training and his 'Barnelaerdom.' He said, 'Sunday is not Sunday when I have failed to be in the house of God.' A man is usually honest on his death bed. He realized the great meaning of sin and grace. He had his intellectual difficulties, but, trust that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to him a saving faith."
"Waldemar Ager knew full well that all the marks of distinction to which I have briefly referred, could never give him a passport into the mansions of heaven. He knew the meaning of our text: 'For when he dieth he shall carry nothing away.' All earthly distinctions are only earthly. And while we insist that some of these are the fruit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they are not, in themselves, any kind of merit which saves a man's soul from sin. No man can sit under a Lutheran pulpit for nearly a life time and escape knowing these gospel truths. None of us can judge how much of appropriation there is in some of our brethren who retire with their inner thoughts. He had worshipped in season and out of season in the church of his choice. He had often heard the great gospel, 'But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept' (Cor. 15:20). He who accepts that truth, in penitence and faith, in word and sacrament, in obedience and in life, will escape the world of the lost to live forever with Christ in His eternal glory."
"What solemn thoughts came to us when we stand by the bodies of the dead. 'A railroad car once carried a man whose mind had faded into a blank and whose end was to be an asylum; a criminal whose destiny was a dungeon, and a bride on her way to her new home and the welcome of new friends. Time will soon bring all, the good, the bad and the irresponsible to the last stopping place.'"
"Bossuet says that life is like a road that ends on awful precipice. We know that at he beginning. We would gladly stop, but there is a irresistible force which impels us to walk, and finally to run. The speed increases as the end draws near. Objects that attracted at first, lose their distinctness and beauty. The flowers are less bright, the meadows are less blooming, and everything fades. We begin to feel the fatal gulf, but we cannot return, and the shadow of death finally falls. Chrysostum says that life is but a scene in a theatre. We are actors. We play our part for a moment and disappear. The curtain falls, and all is over. The only thing valuable about us is the soul, and that is the very thing about which we occupy ourselves the least."
"My friends, we must not attempt to die with a human guess as our pillow. Let not death be a star sinking into the darkness of the night, but let it be a faith in the living Christ which changes the blackness of death into the morning star which is itself lost in the view of the brightness of God's eternal day. In that faith, death will be a release like the breaking of a chain, the close of a long confinement, and the opening of a prison door. One dying saint said, 'Let me pass out!' As his soul fled, like an imprisoned bird, away from an opened cage. 'The Thracians wept whenever a child was born, and feasted whenever a man went out of the world, and with reason. Death opens the gate of fame and shuts the gate of envy, after it; it unlooses the chain of the captive and puts the bondsman's task into another's hand.' Death touches only the body. As the spirit becomes disengaged, the body falls into ruin."
"There is a spiritual death more terrible than physical death. We see the crepe fluttering at the door, here and there, as we walk the streets. Somebody is dead! Had we eyes like God, we should see other dead among the living—beneath the guise of dress, of rosy health, of ample wealth, of high position, as well as under he humbler forms of concealment. Dead in trespasses and sins, as really insensible to the higher verities of life as is the sheeted corpse to its daily activities."
Death Has No Favorites
"Death has no favorites. 'It seizeth upon the old man, and lies in wait for the youngest.' It is told of Charles the fourth, King of France, that, being one time affected with the sense of his many sins, he fetched a deep sigh, and said to his wife, 'By the help of God, I will now so carry myself all my life long that I will never offend Him more,' which word he had no sooner uttered, but he fell down and died. Thus death is as near the great man's back as to the poor man's face."
"Death is a part of the order of the universe, a part of the like of the world. No strange thing has happened in our midst in the death of waldemar Ager."
"When once a gentleman of culture, dying in the prime of life and surrounded with loved ones, said 'Death! I see no death at my bedside. I would not have a fear. Christ, not death, is about to take me from earth! There is no death to the Christian. The glorious gospel takes away death.'"
"Yes, we are born to die, and we die in order to live. It is the veil of the flesh which separates the Christian from heaven, and not distance. The moment we lay the flesh aside we enter the presence of our Lord. There is no horrible passage-way for the Saved soul."
"We need to correct the theology of many in the world. When you see a new gray hair in your head thank God, and when you see another wrinkle on your cheek thank God, and when another year is passed thank God. What does it all mean? 'Why, it means that moving day is coming, that you are going to quit cramped apartments and be mansioned forever. Those Christians in this world who have lost their friends, and lost their property, and lost their health, and lost their life for Christ's sake, will find out at last that God has always (been) kind.'"
"I wish to direct your thoughts to Christ the Savior and to the heaven. He is getting ready for His people, and for none others."
"In this world we meet to part. It is hello! and good-by! Farewells are always floating in the air. Something we say good-by in alight way, while at other times with anguish in which the soul breaks down. It ends the thanksgiving banquet and it is cried at he grave."
"It will not be so on heaven. It will be 'welcome' at the gate and 'welcomes' at the house of many mansions, but never a 'good-by.'"
"We will carry nothing of earth with us to heaven, and we will need nothing from earth. The glory we earned in this life will at last descend forever, while our glory in the next life will be the glory of our Savior, bridegroom and king. May that glory be the glory we all seek after now and forever."
The article and funeral sermon text was printed in the August 5th, 1941 edition of the Eau Claire Leader. Thanks to William Ager for finding the archive and reproducing it.