Wayne L. Madsen (2010 Autobiography)

furnished by Wayne Sept 17 2019

posted with photos added by Gary Gauer Dec 16 2019

Added 3 more photos March 20 2020 and corrected upload June 22 2020

added 1999 photo of Phyllis etc. Oct 16 2020

added obituarys Aug 31 2021

I was born on April 27th, 1928 in Lake Lillian, Minnesota to Ella B. and Louis L. Madsen. Our home was on the north edge of Lake Lillian approximately one half mile from downtown Lake Lillian. The town of Lake Lillian was started in 1923 so it was only five years old when I was born. I remember when the streets were just gravel and when tar was installed it sure made things cleaner in town.

I was the sixth child of eight in our family. Vera was the oldest and she died at the age of eight. Next were my brothers Elder, Charles and Russell and then a sister Eva. Eva died at two years of age and it so happened that Vera and Eva died less than two years apart, which had to be very hard on my parents losing two children in such a short time. Then came me followed by my two sisters lone and Ruth.

I don't recall much in my early years but I faintly remember one of my brothers taking me to my first day of school. The schoolhouse in Lake Lillian was on the northwestern part of town so we had about a half mile or so to walk to school. Our path to school angled across two cow pastures as it was a closer way to school and that meant crossing three barbed wire fences. I don't recall that we ever tore any of our clothes crossing those fences. I do remember when it was cold my mother would harness up the horses and bundle us up with scarves and heavy coats and we would sit in the wagon box with horse robes over us and she would give us a ride to school.

I remember in the middle 1930's that we had some very dry years and the farmers had tough times as crops were poor. In some areas of the mid-west the grasshoppers were very bad and they destroyed lots of crops. Because rainfall was so short our lakes were drying up also. Kandiyohi Lake and Lake Lillian Lake were very low and the fish died of winter-kill because of the low water. The shores of both lakes were lined with a lot of dead fish in the spring. I remember Lake Lillian Lake being so low of water that people planted corn and potatoes down in the lake bottom. Lake Lillian Lake was full of rushes and duck hunters could walk about anyplace in hip boots. Ducks were plentiful in those days and Lake Lillian was a good place to hunt. Our home was close to the lake so we heard a lot of shooting out there. Pheasants were plentiful then too and my brothers along with their friends shot a lot of pheasants. I'm sure there were about 75 to 100 pheasants to be picked and cleaned on opening week-end and that was a lot of work.

When I was three or four years old I liked hot chocolate or cocoa we called it. I was told that I would stand on a .chair by the stove and make cocoa in my little green kettle. I don't know where the little green kettle came from but that was my kettle to make cocoa. In 1933 there was a tornado in Lake Lillian and for some unknown reason my green kettle had been left outside and it blew away in the storm. There was a drainage ditch east of our place about a half mile away and one day when I was down there watching men clear out the damaged trees and damaged material I spotted my little green kettle in a pile. I picked it up and took it home and I suppose I kept on making cocoa in it.

I was ten years old when we got electricity in our home in 1938. It was great as all we had to do then was flip a switch and there was light. Before we had electricity one of my chores was to clean the lamp chimneys and fill the lamps with kerosene. I think we had three or four lamps but we would have to carry a lamp into each room we went to. It was nice to be rid of that job when we got electricity. Another chore was to carry in wood and corncobs for our cook stove and after burning wood and cobs there were ashes to be carried out once in a while. Also because we didn't have running water we had to carry in fresh water and then there was the waste water to carry out. Another thing about getting electricity was we could listen to the radio because before electricity the radio ran on batteries. Batteries were expensive and they didn't last very long so if you weren't listening you turned the radio off. Electricity was nice for my mother as then she could get an electric stove, an electric iron, toaster and the best of all an electric motor on the washing machine. I recall how my Mom would have to step on that Maytag engine to get it started and sometimes it was very hard to start.

Lake Lillian Grade School Days

I had my first to eighth grades in the Lake Lillian School which was on the northwest side of town. Our playground equipment consisted of swings, teeter totters and slides. We had a softball diamond so we played a lot of softball and in the fall it was football. When we played ball there were times we had to interrupt the game to drown out a gopher that was seen running around the softball field. We had to fetch a pail and run to the well and pump some water and sometimes it took a few pails of water to get that gopher to come out of his hole. The guys with the bats would finally get that gopher. Our school didn't have running water so we had to bring in fresh water each day for our drinking fountain. Our toilets were chemical toilets so we didn't have to go outside to the toilets.

I remember the first five dollar bill I earned when I worked with a bunch of other kids in the beet field about two miles west of Lake Lillian. We got fifty cents a day and we had to hoe and crawl on our knees to block and scratch out so there was just one beet plant every 7-8 inches in the row. My mother made pads for my knees because they got really sore from crawling all day. I would say that we worked in the beet fields in about 1940. Nowadays the beet seed is made into pellets and can be planted one seed at a time. In those days the beets were topped by hand labor using big knives and the beets were loaded into trucks by hand labor so it really was hard work.

As a young boy I was always raising chickens and when I needed a little money I would put a chicken in a gunnysack and carry it to the Nelson Produce and sell it to A.W. Nelson the produce operator. In Lake Lillian there were a couple guys in business by the name of Albert so the produce operator was "hen Albert' and the hardware operator was "little Albert" because he was a short man. When I sold a chicken I would guess I got thirty or forty cents for it so it wasn't very much. I also had a couple of pigs that I named Martha and Flossie and they were real pets. One thing I remember is that one night my folks had company for dinner and I opened the door to our house and the pigs walked up a couple steps and right into the kitchen and then into the dining room where the guests were sitting. I don't remember what my parents said about that incident but I remember they laughed. I had a paper route when I was about in seventh grade and I delivered papers with my bike when the weather was good. I remember my mother helped me buy my first new bike at Montgomery Ward in Willmar on a time payment plan and I had to pay so much a month. I had my own checking account because in those days I had to go around and collect for the paper each week and then send a check to the Minneapolis Tribune. I had about twenty-five daily paper customers and I got a penny for each paper I delivered and three cents for delivering the Sunday papers. Anyway, I got my bike paid for.

In 1940 to 1942, I was in the Boy Scout Troop in Lake Lillian and we did a lot of camping. My Dad was scoutmaster for a while and our troop camped at the Nest Lake Scout Camp once in 1941.

I remember very well December 7th, 1941 the day Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. A bunch of us guys had been ice-skating out on Lake Lillian Lake and when we got home we were told what had happened at Pearl Harbor. I remember our whole family gathered around the radio listening to the people talking about the bombing but they couldn't say too much about the damage because of fear of invasion. The west coast of the United States was in fear of Japan invading and they were quite concerned about the big Japanese population in California. As a result many Japanese living in California were moved to camps further inland and I think they were kept there till the war was over. It was a scary thing for our country as we weren't prepared for war although the military draft did start in the fall of 1940. The Germans and Japanese had been preparing for war for a long time and their military hardware was very superior to ours. Right away our factories had to convert to making tanks, guns, planes and ships so it was quite a change for everyone. I can't find the letter but I did write to the Department of the Navy because I wanted to join the Navy but they said that I had to be seventeen to enlist.

I started working on farms in the summer at age 14 in June 1942 for a farmer south of Lake Lillian. His name was Harry Nordin and I was one of about four hired men. Our hours started each day at 5:30 and went til about 7 PM and I got every other Sunday off. My work consisted of milking cows by hand, feeding about 2000 turkeys and doing other chores. I cut most of the hay with a team of horses and raked the hay with a model "B" McCormick Deering tractor.

The other men would harness the horses for me as I was too small for that but I could hook them up to the mower and wagons. I worked for Harry for the three summer months and I received $50.00. While I was working for the Nordin’ s, my sister lone also worked doing housework which consisted of cooking, cleaning and caring for the children. Just think, she was just eleven years old then.

High School Days

I started high school in Bird Island, Minnesota in September 1942. I rode the school bus each day from Lake Lillian to Bird Island and that route was about twenty miles one way so I rode the bus about an hour each way with stops. Our freshman class started out with about thirty students.

In late September 1942 another tornado came north of Lake Lillian and hit numerous places and took down the barn on the farm where my brother Elder now lives. The new barn had just been completed in the spring and in September it was down. The haymow was full of hay so it was quite a mess to clean up. My brothers were not hurt but several of the animals were killed. My brothers were not married at that time and their home was a small brooder house. The brooder house was also destroyed and the contents were lying in the field east of the place.

One of the contents out in the field was my little green kettle and again it survived another tornado. I've held on to this kettle till just last fall (2009) and I parted with it to the garbage man as I just have to get rid of some things. The little green kettle had holes in it so it was time for us to part.

I was confirmed in May of 1943 at the First Lutheran Church in Lake Lillian.

In the summer of 1943 I worked for another farmer by the name of Art Nordin (Harry's brother) who lived southwest of Lake Lillian. I don't remember my pay but the work consisted of milking cows by hand, haying, fencing, and other chores. In the summer of 1944 I worked for a farmer by the name of Maurice Nelson and he lived north of Lake Lillian. I remember real well June 6th, 1944 as I had a lot of dental work done that day by Dr. Kasper in Bird Island and he had the radio on and they were telling about the D-Day invasion.

The summer of 1945 I was a bachelor with my brother Elder on his farm north of Lake Lillian. We raised turkeys together and I helped with the farm work and chores. We started out with about 1200 turkey poults and I think we sold about 1075 big turkeys in the fall and we made a little money on them. In those days young turkeys were started in small brooder houses and when they were about 12 weeks old they were put out in the fields or range and they had wooden roosts to protect them from the weather. One of the first days we put the turkeys out on the range some animal, possibly mink, killed about 30 birds. At that time the turkeys we raised were called bronze breasted (black) and I think they were about 6 months old when we sold them.

I remember the headlines in the paper when the atom-bomb was dropped in Japan in August 1945. Elder and I didn't have a radio; we didn't have electricity at that time.

In September 1945 I didn't start high school for about three weeks after school started, because I had to help Elder with the work. It was really hard to catch up and it was hard to get decent grades after missing so much school.

I graduated from Bird Island High School in May 1946. For a couple weeks in June I was the substitute mail carrier for my Dad. My first car was a 1929 Chevrolet

Wayne's 1929 Chevrolet would have been already 15 years old in 1944 and may not have looked as good as these restored models. See a 1929 coupe above and a 1929 sedan below.

and the top speed was about 55 miles per hour and then the motor would sound like it was blowing up.

After I carried mail for my Dad I went to work for Art Nordin on his farm but I told him I couldn't work for him very long because I was going into the Air Force.

Air Force

In August 1946, I along with three other buddies enlisted in the Air Force. I wrote the following in August-October 1946 while processing into the Air Force.

I left home in Lake Lillian on August 12th, 1946 for Fort Snelling, Minnesota. I took my physical examination and was sworn into the Army Air Force on August 14th, 1946. I left Fort Snelling, Minnesota on August 16th, 1946 for Fort Riley, Kansas and arrived there on August 17, 1946. On the trip to Fort Riley from Fort Snelling I traveled by troop train and I remember it was very hot and there were no air conditioned trains in those days. We could open the windows and I remember we really got dirty as the engine was a steam locomotive fired with coal. We were told at the Recruiting Station in Willmar that we didn't need much clothing, as we would get our clothing issue real soon at Fort Riley. I went quite a few days before our clothes were issued so a person had to wash some clothes before going to bed each night and hope they would be dry by morning.

I was stationed at Keesler Field for 33 months and all the time I was there I did pay roll for one squadron of about 250 men. Along with doing the pay roll there was record keeping and I'd say I kept quite busy.

I had a furlough about once a year and a few times I was able to catch a flight on an Air Force plane going to Minneapolis or some other city. I usually got flights on a B-25 bomber and that meant sitting in the bomb bay area or laying down and it took about four hours to fly to Minneapolis.

Sometimes I rode on a C-47 cargo plane and that had seats on the side.

After spending three years in the Air Force I was discharged on August 13, 1949 as a Staff Sergeant. Upon discharge from active duty I joined the Air Force Reserve. After I arrived home in Lake Lillian I bought a new Plymouth from Nordin Implement and it was nice to have a car again after not having a car for three years.

Finding a job wasn't easy so I joined the 52-20 club, unemployment insurance for servicemen, which paid me $20.00 a week while I was looking for work.

About the middle of September I heard there was work in the potato fields at Grand Forks, North Dakota so two other fellows who were recently discharged and myself headed north for Grand Forks. We got a job right away picking potatoes off the ground and putting them into baskets and then into sacks. After not being used to hard work like that our backs were really hurting so we were about ready to quit. The owner offered us the job of loading sacks onto the trucks and we tried that and we felt that was easier than picking spuds. We made about $20.00 a day doing that and he paid us cash each day so it was a good deal. We did that for about 3 weeks and that was enough of that so we headed for home.

I didn't get another job until March of 1950 when I started as an apprentice plumber for Fabe Sheehan in Bird Island. I worked for Fabe till August and then the Air Force recalled me because the Korean War had started.

Air Force again

I reported to Chanute Field, Illinois near Rantoul, Illinois on August 31, 1950 and processed in by getting a physical and receiving clothing. It so happened that on September 1, 1950 the Air Force started issuing the new Air Force blue uniform. After a few days there I stopped home in Lake Lillian en-route to my new base at McChord AFB, Washington which is by Tacoma. I took my car to McChord and I was lucky to find a couple guys also going there so it was nice to have help driving. We drove straight through as we kept changing drivers every so often. I ended up doing the same kind of work at McChord as I did at Keesler, pay roll and doing records, and I stayed there about seven months. While I was at McChord I was lucky to have an uncle and aunt living in Tacoma (Walter and Gertie Tobiason) so it was nice to spend a bunch of weekends with them.

In December 1950, I had the opportunity to see the Bob Hope Show when the troupe came back from the Korean Christmas show. I went in to Tacoma and picked up my cousin, Arla Tobiason, so she got to see the show also.

In April 1951, I was transferred to Hamilton AFB~ CA (outside of San Rafael). I worked in the headquarters building doing typing and did that till I was released from active duty. I was up for promotion in July 1951 and was informed that if I would extend my enlistment for nine months I would be promoted. I thought about it for a few days but being the war in Korea was really hot I decided to go home instead.


After I got home I went back to work for Fabe Sheehan in Bird Island to learn to be a plumber. I worked for Fabe till the middle of 1953 at which time he sold the plumbing business to Fritz Fernkes. I stayed on and worked for Fritz for a couple of years.

In the winter of 1952 before Phyllis and I started dating a bunch of us kids used to hang out together. One thing we did was drive someplace for lunch and one night there were two car loads of kids going to Olivia. I don't remember which car I was in but Phyllis was in the other car. We had lunch in Olivia and on our way home we spotted a dead frozen jack rabbit along the road so we decided to pick it up. When we got back to Lake Lillian, Phyllis's car was parked there (a 1941 Chevrolet) and not locked so the opportunity was there for Phyllis to have a rabbit. The frozen rabbit was placed on the floorboards on the driver’s side so she wouldn't miss seeing the rabbit when she got into the car. I don't know who was responsible for this deed but I think she blamed me. You know I wouldn't do such a thing like that.

Marriage and Family

On June 19, 1953 I married Phyllis Carlson (daughter of August and Hannah Carlson) at Grace Lutheran Church in Lake Lillian, Minnesota. Our first home was in an apartment above the Erickson Grocery store in Lake Lillian. I worked for Fernkes Plumbing & Heating till March 1955 and then I changed my employment to Holm Bros. in Atwater, Minnesota. Phyllis taught school at District 43 (north of Lake Lillian) for two years til May of 1955. We lived in Atwater above the Holm Bros. funeral home till the spring of 1961.

On March 31, 1957 my mother passed away at the age of 62 years. On April 26th, 1957 our first baby was born, Jean Marie, but she only lived 14 hours being a pre-mature baby. On April 27, 1957, which was also my birthday, she was buried at the Lake Lillian Community Cemetery. Family members helped dig the grave and the graveside funeral service was for family only. To this day I feel bad that no pictures were taken of Jean Marie as we were advised not to do so and I feel bad that Phyllis was advised not to see the baby.

On January 15, 1959 our son Dean was born. Incidentally, Dean's cousin (Kathy Carlson) was born just a few hours before Dean in the Willmar Hospital and Kathy's mom Vivian, was in the same room with Phyllis as they had the same doctor. On August 14, 1960 our daughter Mary Ella was born.


In June 1961 I finished my employment with Holm Bros store and started working for Holm Bros. P. & H. doing commercial plumbing. My first job was at the Paynesville High School. After a few months Holm Bros. got a job in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin so we moved to Madison, Wisconsin. We lived in an apartment house and I commuted to Sun Prairie which was about 12 miles away. The job lasted till August 1963 but Phyllis and the kids moved back to Atwater in July 1963.

In November 1963 I quit my plumbing job with Holm Bros and went to work as a plumbing salesman for the Burman Co. in Willmar. We continued living in Atwater but in the summer of 1965 we built our first new home in southwest Willmar and moved in to it in November 1965. In November 1968, I was transferred to Rochester, Minnesota to manage a plumbing store. We built a new home in Rochester and moved in the first of January 1970.

In October 1970 the Burman Supply Co. decided to close the warehouse in Rochester so I had a chance to transfer to Minneapolis. I decided to quit my employment with the Burman Co. and go back to work with Holm Bros and my old plumbing job. I commuted between Rochester and Willmar for about nine months while we were selling our house in Rochester. We sold our home and moved back to Atwater in August 1971. We rented in a farmhouse southwest of Atwater till December 30, 1972 when we moved into our new home in Atwater. Through the years I worked on numerous schools, hospitals, apartment houses and other commercial buildings. Employment through the years meant being gone from the family. Phyllis had the job of caring for the children and she did a very good job of being a mother and a father. I missed a lot of children's school activities, which I hated to miss. We had snowmobiles while the children were growing up and we enjoyed riding them. I made six or seven snowmobiling trips to Yellowstone Park with Holm Bros and that was really exciting and the scenery was beautiful.


I retired on January I, 1993 but worked for Holm Bros for about 3 months each year for the next five years.

In July 1994 Phyllis and I attended a family reunion in Tromsø, Norway. We spent about ten days in Norway, seven in Sweden and three days in Denmark. In Sweden we stayed with Phyllis's cousin and met her children. We visited the place where Phyllis's father was born in Sweden and were in the church where he was baptized. It was a wonderful trip and we enjoyed it very much.

In my retirement years I did the plumbing in Beverly and Laurence Butenhoffs new home (Mary's in-laws) in Baker, Minnesota.

Also I re-piped and did different plumbing jobs in the Bethlehem Lutheran parsonage here in Atwater. I think it was 1999 when Bethlehem Lutheran remodeled the entryway and installed an elevator. I did the plumbing and heating for this project and donated the labor.

In June 2003, Phyllis and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with our children, grandchildren, relatives, and friends at the Golf Course in Willmar.

Tribute to Phyllis

In July 2008 I took Phyllis to the airport in Minneapolis and she went alone to Chicago and on to New York City where she was met at the airport. She and Dean's family had a wonderful three days and they say she kept up with the walking and running very well. After three days they all came back to Minneapolis and spent the weekend with a birthday party for Phyllis and I at the Atwater Civic Center. We had Phyllis's family and my family there and it was a lot of fun. Little did we know that it would be our last birthday party together.

On February 13, 2009 Phyllis was diagnosed with cancer and she spent one week in Methodist hospital in Mpls. and then came home for two weeks but had to return to Methodist Hospital. Mary and I stayed at the hospital most of the time and Dean came home from California a little over a week before she died and we are happy we had that time together.

Phyllis passed away on Easter Sunday (April 12, 2009) and I asked her an. hour before she died if she wanted to go home to God today and she shook her head yes.

Phyllis and I were married over 55 years and we had a wonderful marriage. I couldn't have had a better partner and our children couldn't have had a better mother. I was gone quite a bit working on my job so Phyllis had to be mother and father and she did a very good job. I am sitting here writing this with tears running down my cheeks so this is all for now.

Mom I miss you so much. Love, Dad

some photos

Phyllis and Wayne Madsen's home in Atwater MN 1999
Bjørg and Herbjørn Torheim of Tromsø Norway and, LaVonne Hookom

Wayne and cousin Bruce Magnusan at Anders Andersen Reunion 2014 in Tromso Norway

Wayne and family 2018

Wayne visited in Morehead MN Sept 17 2019 by Gary Gauer


Wayne Madsen

April 27, 1928 ~ August 11, 2021 (age 93)

Wayne L. Madsen, 93, Moorhead and formerly of Atwater, died Wednesday, Aug. 11, at Farmstead Care of Moorhead. A celebration of life service will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Atwater. Interment will be at the Lake Lillian Community Cemetery. Visitation will be from 5-7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 29, at Peterson Brothers Atwater Funeral Home and will continue for one hour prior to the service at the church. Arrangements are with the Peterson Brothers Atwater Funeral Home


Phyllis Madsen

May 7, 1929 ~ April 12, 2009 (age 79)

Phyllis Madsen, age 79, of Atwater, died Sunday, April 12, at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park after a short battle with cancer.

Funeral services will be 11:00 AM Friday, April 17, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Atwater. Interment will be in the Lake Lillian Community Cemetery. Visitation will be 5-7 PM Thursday at the Atwater Funeral Home and one hour prior to the service at the church.

Phyllis Darlene Madsen was born on May 7, 1929, in Lake Elizabeth Township, Kandiyohi County, near Lake Lillian, Minnesota, the daughter of Hannah C. (Hanson) and J. August Carlson. She grew up in that area, attended district 43 rural school and graduated from Atwater High School in 1946. Phyllis continued her education and attended Teachers Training in Litchfield and taught school for one year. She then attended the Lutheran Bible Institute in Golden Valley for one year before returning to teach in Kandiyohi County rural schools until 1958. On June 19, 1953, she married Wayne L. Madsen in Lake Lillian. They made their home in Lake Lillian and in 1955 moved to Atwater. She was an active member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church where she was involved in Sunday School, quilting, Ladies Aid and in Uffda Days. She loved being with family and friends and enjoyed sewing and growing flowers in her garden.

Phyllis is survived by her husband, Wayne of Atwater, one son, Dean (and Lori) Madsen of San Jose, California and one daughter, Mary (and Douglas) Butenhoff of Barnesville. Also surviving are six grandchildren, two brothers; Earl Carlson of Brooklyn Center and Alton (and Elizabeth) Carlson of Willmar and one sister, Clarice (and Paul) Nasby of Jackson, besides other relatives and friends. She was preceded in death by her parents, infant daughter (Jean Marie in 1957), two brothers (Newell and Orville Carlson) and one sister (Alice Riedel).