Laural E. Sundell

1912 — 2009

by David Sundell

Pa’s Memorial — It’s well known that children of famous fathers struggle to find their way in life. Jimmy Roosevelt remained in his father’s shadow; Johan Sebastian Bach’s sons had their own impact; Johan Christian and Carl Phillip Emmanuel were fair to middling musicians, but never sold as many records as their father. Galileo’s daughter was a force to be reckoned with in her convent, but assumed a supportive role for her father.

I’ve always felt unable to match Pa’s list of achievements or methods of work. I recall an insignificant, but telling incident, when Pa was away during World War Two. I was with my grandpa cleaning some fish on our return from the lake. The fish heads were off, and most of the guts removed, but the presence of a scale or two gave me to know he didn’t clean fish like Pa cleaned fish.

Pa’s accomplishments were numerous and significant, but part of my frustration is that he didn’t stand up for himself as I thought he should; perhaps it’s part of the Scandinavian/Lutheran heritage referenced and detailed at least weekly by Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion.

The Lutheran/Pietist/Swedish genetic disposition was set firm, no doubt, following Paul’s injunction not to “think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” Yet somehow it mostly came down to not to think of yourself at all. So I took a more public path. That way I didn’t run the risk of competing with Pa and be found wanting.

Still, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree. Woodworking was part of Pa’s life, so a mild interest in this heritage of wood working developed for me in fun and interesting ways. Pa was enthusiastic in his praise of my work, and went so far as to say it was better than what he had done. But what he did with hand tools he sharpened himself, I did with a broad selection of power tools with carbide blades and cutters that I sent out to be sharpened by experts.

How do you take the measure of a man like Pa? Perhaps it is best that you look at his steady hands that reflect his inner composure. Whether he was sawing a board or drawing a straight line on an outdoor billboard or exercising the exact details on delicate calligraphy—his hands were steady. They were steady even up to when he signed the power of attorney document in the ICU a couple days before he died.

Perhaps there were days of anxiety and nervousness in his life, but not because of a lack of honesty or faithfulness. He never had to look over his shoulder for fear that someone might challenge a breach of integrity.

In my work as a psychotherapist I’ve learned that eyes and hands are windows to a person’s interior. Pa was a man of clear eyes and steady hands.

His word was his bond to his family—as husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and uncle. But it applied equally to many of you. His hands were there to help with a quality that was obvious, but without a lot of talk, and never about himself.


(Robert Dvorak, from conversations July 18, 2009, with Amanda, David/Susan, and Timothy Sundell and Lisa Sundell Olsen; Becketwood #229, 4300 W. River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN)

Born to Andrew and Augusta Sundell of Dassell, MN, on May 27, 1912, Laural Elden Sundell concluded the roster of eight children in his family (some of whom were born in the ending years of the 19th century). Augusta Sundell was 46 years old when she bore Laural. He had been preceded into life by Arthur, Hildur, Rudolph, Esther, Elmer, Anne, and Alma—the exact birth order no one is quite sure of any longer (with the exception perhaps of a niece, Darby). These Sundells lived in Dassell, MN, their house bearing no street number—not unusual for a community where everyone knew perfectly well where everyone else lived, probably also what they did with their money and time. The Sundell house stood hard by the Great Northern Railroad tracks and near C.J. Peterson’s grain elevators. (Old C.J. was a relative and at the time an up and coming businessman in town. Whichever side of the tracks he lived on was clearly the ‘right side.’)

Laural received all his schooling at Dassel High School. Not that he started out right with 9th grade. He was a very good student, but let us not expect the impossible from him. It’s just that the high school in town housed all the elementary and junior high educational operations as well. It was kindergarten through 12th grade on the same campus. In general, it may be noted that Laural managed to get his homework done at school, during school time. Therefore he did not customarily do “home”work (although we are not advertising that fact to younger persons, you understand).

Laural engaged in lots of extracurricular activities as a school lad. Drama, for example—he was a regular performer in school plays. (And you thought he was this quiet, shy man.) He also played trumpet in the school and town bands. Two of his older brothers modeled this kind of musicianship to him: Art on a trumpet, Rudolph on the drums. Two sisters—Esther and Hildur—grew up to be organists in the church. (That would be the Dassel Covenant Church which yet held forth in the Swedish language.) Music ran in the family, and Laural had plenty of talent and lung capacity to play a mean piece of brass.

Around this same period of life, Laural started drawing maps—of lots of sites and places. When he entered them in the MN State Fair, he won prizes. His sense of proportion was coming on strong. Later he took interest in photography, pulling together a darkroom for developing film and constructing his own printer and enlarger.

High school graduation took place in the year 1930. Laural earned a four year scholarship to Carleton College. He was especially strong in chemistry, coming in second place that year among MN high school students. But none of his siblings had ever attended college, and there may have been some hesitation at the time over the prospect of higher education leading to potential pridefulness and ‘uppity’ demeanor. Whatever, university or college did not happen for him. Laural began instead working at once in local Dassel enterprises. He was good at fixing cars, so the Texaco filling station took him on and made him manager. He pursued a lot of things on the side. He was intrigued by how things fit tougher. He had mechanical artistic curiosity—liked to see how things could fit together into a finished product. Whatever came along in life, he would take a shot at unpacking the nuts-and-bolts of the thing. He did bicycle repairs, lawn mower sharpening, and all manner of other jobs requiring sharp eye and steady hand. Once he even watched his grandmother doing handwork at the kitchen table, then took up the needle and, uncoached, did stitching like hers. (News of this was not widely disseminated to young males around the neighborhood, I’m sure.)

Soon Laural began working in Dassel as a painter and paper hanger in homes of the community. From there it was but a step into sign painting. He was both accomplished and acrobatic at that endeavor. People in Dassel remember him hanging upside down from the top of the grain elevator putting finishing touches on a large commercial sign. (Do you know how tall grain elevators can grow!)

Amanda Olson enters the story of Laural’s Dassel years somewhere in here. It goes like this. She grew up on a farm in rural Kimball, MN. Her sister Ida Olson happened to have married Laural’s brother Arthur. The Sundell family was therefore sometimes entertained at the Olson farm. One thing always leads to another. In this case the leading led to something of a Laural-and-Amanda happening. It took five or six years. Things eventually got down to serious business. Esther, one of Laural’s sisters, had a store. In the store were catalogs. In the catalogs were pictures of rings. Amanda and Laural chose together. It took a little time for ring delivery, but a few months thereafter the wedding took place—on the farm, July 6, 1938. “Oh was it hot,” says Amanda (whatever that may mean). Amanda’s sister Grace, who had been married four days earlier, came over to reinstall decorations for this second family wedding in a week. Neighbors pitched in and served the evening meal, and the exhuberance, wholesomeness, and love of that Wednesday marriage celebration in July 1938 kept Laural and Amanda going for nearly 71 years.

Their first home was an apartment near the Great Northern tracks (again) in Dassel. Not long after, the new Sundells rented a house in a more residential part of town. This time a cemetery was nearby—a whole lot quieter spot than the Great Northern Railroad Company right of way. It was at this home place that Laural and Amanda’s son David was born, September 1, 1939. Soon after that, some wonderful friends, Deb and Lil Weisner, urged Sundells to quite renting. Weisners had $500 in their pocket to loan for purchase of a lot and the beginning construction on a two bedroom home. When the house was finished it too had no house number, because you already know such custom was superfluous in Dassel.

In 1944 Laural entered military service. World War II was on. After basic training in TX, He then served with the 13th Armored Division of the Army Air Corps in southern Germany. (This explains interment of Laural Sundell’s remains this past Wednesday morning, June 17, 2009, at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in St. Paul.) On February 13, 1946, Laural was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army to resume civilian life with Amanda and David in beloved Dassel.

Employment in the town, however, was starting to grow scarce. Laural’s brother Rudolph, then living in the Twin Cities, talked him into coming down to Minneapolis. Here Laural worked first for the Outdoor Sign Company doing you know what. From there he went out on his own ticket as an house decorator and freelance sign painter. In the early 1950’s this same brother Rudolph, a city building inspector, helped Laural get a carpentry job with the Minneapolis school system. From there he joined the Painters Union local, which sent him into employment with City Hall, and there he remained for some 29 years until retirement, the latter stretch of years as supervising foreman.

Laural was a white shirt and pants painter. Throw a tie in there too for good measure. His paintbrushes threw no spots on floors, walls, or clothing. His shirts following a job were cleaner than most of ours after a dinner. He was well known by occupants at City Hall and respected by his fellow workers for integrity, dependability, friendship, calm, and competence in his professional life. These traits are all pieces of personal character. We too noticed the character of the man, Laural Sundell, over sixty-three years with him here in the life of faith at Bethlehem Covenant.

You know, when in 1946 Laural, Amanda, and David first arrived in these parts, they moved into a house at 3233-43rd Avenue South. That address is mighty close to Bethlehem Covenant Church. But you don’t just take up with a strange church, even a Covenant one, without approval from Dassel. The minister in the Covenant church up there knew well Pastor Milton Freedholm of Bethlehem and gave his blessing to the Sundells’ membership in this church. Through the years Laural never cared to stand up and talk or otherwise be out front in the congregation, but his was an unceasing presence in the church, born of deep loyalty to Christ and a care for the people of God and witness of this place. He was a steady worker at the parsonage, when needed. He took charge of refinishing pews and doors of this sanctuary. (You are sitting on and walking through some of his handiwork today.) He participated and helped Reverend Phil Stenberg in the outfitting of the pastors; offices with wall-to-ceiling bookcases. He painted the sign on the property oudoors in 1997 that read, “Building for the Future,” announcing to all passersby that a significant addition to this structure was going to take place. (Laural had painted signs for Covenant churches back in Dassel and in Eagen, as well.) He did the calligraphy printing in Bethlehem’s Memorial Book which records gifts made to this church in honor of deceased friends and family among us. When he was in his 90 years of age, he climbed into the steeple to help the Properties Committee of the church assess the condition of our upward pointing.

Quiet he may have been, but he served.

Quietly he served.

“Go and do thou likewise.” Isn’t that somewhere in Scripture?

“In quietness and confidence shall be your confidence,” the Book says. Laural served God and church. It was his lifetime pattern. You don’t do that without loving God with an awful lot of heart, soul, strength, mind (and add skill of hands to that list). . . you don’t do that minus knowing that the Redeemer of all things has had compassion on you through ninety-seven years and eighteen days.

God bless with great longevity the memory of Laural E. Sundell. He belonged to us. Still does.