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Swedish heritage important to local veteran

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Updated: September 8, 2013 6:06AM



“Borta bra men hemma bast.”

(“There’s no place like home” — more or less.)

— Swedish proverb

Ed Gustafson, 83, is a lifelong bachelor who lives in Chesterton. He’s also a Korean War veteran and a retired steel worker with a college degree who is a self-taught expert in geomorphology.

***

“I was born at St Margaret’s Hospital in Hammond, but my parents were living with my dad’s brother Axel in Lansing, Ill.,” Gustafson began. “Later, we moved to Gary because Dad worked in the engineering department at U.S. Steel.”

In what part of Gary did you live?

“We lived on Jackson Street. The same street that Michael Jackson’s family lived on.”

That means you lived in Midtown.

“No, not that part of Jackson Street. I lived in the white area. The Jackson family lived in the colored section. I remember taking a bus to kindergarten. Do you know what that word means?”

I know the Germans came up with the concept.

“Kinder means children and garten means garden. We moved to Chesterton after kindergarten. I graduated from Chesterton High School in 1948. We had 57 students in our class and 23 were Swedish. This was a very Swedish area. I’m named after my grandfather, Karl Edvard Gustafson — Edvard with a ‘v.’”

Like the insane artist Edvard Munch who created the painting “Scream.”

“Yes, and the great composer Edvard Grieg. But they were Norwegians.”

Have you ever seen the classic film “I Remember Mama”?

“They also were Norwegians.”

C’mon, Ed. Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Finns, Swiss, Germans, Dutch — what’s the difference?

“‘I Remember Mama’ was heartwarming, but I couldn’t believe how the Norwegians talked about the Swedes in that movie. They were rivals, but they’re actually closely related. About 1,000 years ago, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland all spoke the same language which was known as Old Norse.”

Did you remember going to church with your mama as a boy?

“She made me. My father didn’t go to church. I remember Mama, ahem, I remember my mother liked a church in Porter that is now Methodist. It was Evangelical when it was built it in 1942.”

When you wore a younger man’s klader (clothes) were you a towhead?

“Oh, yes. Blond hair, blue eyes.”

College?

“I attended Valparaiso University for five years; I wanted to be a history teacher. After two years of college, I decided I was too shy to be a teacher. I went to a very interesting place on the north side of Chicago called the Human Engineering Laboratory. I took six hours of intensive aptitude tests.”

The results?

“They decided I should major in business and minor in music.”

Your first job?

“When I was in eighth grade, I mowed lawns all summer. In high school, I worked at the A&P store in Chesterton. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. There aren’t many A&P stores around anymore. The one in Chesterton was built in 1921 and was in operation for 50 years. I loved working there.

“My maternal grandfather had a shop in downtown Chesterton. He re-upholstered furniture. Teagarden is not the original spelling of his surname; it was Americanized. Grandfather Teagarden was Pennsylvania Dutch which is actually German not Dutch. One of our ancestors — Abraham Teagarden — came over on the same boat as Jonathan Hager who settled Hagerstown, Md. I believe that was in 1740.”

The Gustafsons?

“My paternal grandparents came from Sweden in 1882. They settled near Attica, Ind. There’s an old Swedish church they built down there. Back then, they had the services in the Swedish language.”

The war?

“I graduated from Valparaiso University on May 31, 1953, and was drafted on June 11. I was in the signal corps, but was deferred for two years because I was in college. There was another young man from Chesterton named Bill who also was drafted. We went to Indianapolis for our physicals at the same time.”

And?

“He was killed in Korea while I was in college. He was married to a Swedish girl and they had a baby. Bill is buried in the Catholic cemetery; he was Irish. I’ve visited his grave. His last name escapes me.”

Life after your time in the service?

“My dad helped me get a job at U.S. Steel. I became a weigh master in the open hearth. It was shift work. I had to weigh the material that went into the furnaces. I also had to figure the percentage of yield of each heat. We had two sheets for each heat. One showed all the stuff they put in the heat, the other sheet showed all the stuff that came out of the heat. Usually about 87 percent of what they put in became steel. I worked at U.S. Steel for 30 years and retired.”

Geomorphology?

“Yes, the study of the surface of the earth. I’ve been interested in hills, valleys and rivers since I was 10. I read a lot about it in the library in Gary. Did you know that anybody can take books out of the library at (Indiana University Northwest) if you have an Indiana driver’s license? I think that’s wonderful.

“I have 27 topographical maps. Here is the Chesterton quadrangle. The Valparaiso Moraine goes from 650 to 850 feet above sea level. Here are the kettle lakes.”

Kettle lakes?

“The Chain of Lakes north of Valparaiso would be an example. Mink, Loomis, Wauhob and Long Lakes were formed when huge pieces of ice fell off the glacier. There are a lot of kettle lakes near LaPorte as well. That area also is at the top of the moraine which goes into Michigan.

“The St Lawrence River drains out the Great Lakes. Lake Erie flows into Lake Ontario, Lake Huron flows into Lake Erie, Lake Superior flows in Lake Huron. Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are the same lake. They are always at the same the level because they are the same lake. They didn’t realize that when they named them.”

You’re a member of the Porter County chapter of the Izaak Walton League.

“Yes, it’s a fine organization. Our president is married to a Swede.”

***

Gustafson is a lifetime bibliophile who is currently rereading James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake.” As I interviewed him, I couldn’t help but envision him playing the part of the hermit grandfather in the 1937 classic “Heidi.”

But I didn’t mention it because I know he would have admonished me, saying: “They were Swiss!”



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