Out and About

by Phil Johnson

How Coya Came Home

July 30, 2000. Even though she was chosen by American Heritage Magazine as the woman of the century, many people do not know about Coya Gjesdal Knutson, the first and, to date, only congresswoman from Minnesota. Inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt, Coya served in the House of Representatives from 1954 through 1958.

At a salon in the lovely home of Carolyn and Glenn Ayers in Saint Paul, Minnesota, we were treated to a warm and loving account of Congresswoman Knutson’s career and life. Coya’s son, Terry, was the featured guest of the evening. Adopted by Coya at age nine, he became her companion and chief campaign aid as well as her son.

"Coya Come Home" is a phrase that awakens memories for those who were politically aware during the 1950s—especially Minnesotans. During her campaign for a third term in 1958, some politicians (according to Terry, enemies within Coya’s own DFL party) plied her husband with alcohol and money and got him to sign a letter pleading with Coya to abandon her political career which, he claimed, was damaging their family. The letter was made public. Coya lost by a very narrow margin and that loss, it is commonly agreed, was due to the letter.

Knutson was an effective legislator during her four years in the House. Over significant odds, she became the first woman member of the Committee on Agriculture. Jack Kennedy and his father called Coya to their room at 2 AM during the Democratic Convention of 1956. She advised Kennedy against becoming the Vice Presidential candidate with Adlai Stevenson. In 1960, President Kennedy appointed Coya to the post of congressional liaison for the Office of Civilian Defense where she served until 1970.

Then Coya did come home. For 25 years she lived with Terry and his family in the Twin Cities. Coya managed the household, did most of the cooking and baking, and was an outstanding Grandmother. She devoted the same energy to her role in the family as she had to her political life.

A Night of Poetry

August 1. Art Mampel recited poetry for an hour or so to about 30 mesmerized souls at the home of Jane Matteson in Sunfish Lake, Minnesota. He began with "I Praise" by Rilke and he was immediately on a roll. Each poem was like a great, beautiful story that drew us in and often made us laugh. When I listen to poetry, I often strain to stay with it. My eyes tend to glaze over. Not so when Mampel recites. The poetry is alive. The sounds, the facial expressions, and the words are a harmonious whole that open up like a flower and draw forth appreciation and enjoyment. Sometimes at social events, I am looking forward to the end before much has happened. I could have listened to Art much longer.

A few of the other poems that graced our ears: Robert Frost, "Provide, Provide;" William Stafford, "Everything Twice;" James Wright, "The Blessing;" Jane Kenyon, "Happiness;" Roland Flint, "Follow;" and John Updike, "Thoughts While Driving Home." Art also recited some of his own poetry which delighted us as much as the others. The final poem: "Up from Texas" consists of entries from Art’s mother’s diary and Mampel’s poetic reflections. They tell the story of the family’s trip from Texas to Minnesota when Art and his brothers and sister were young children. His mother’s entries, read by DeeAnn Crossley, interspersed with Mampel’s poetic reflections were a moving conclusion to the evening which was proclaimed a delight by all.

Bruce Carlson, Pietisten Navigation and Poetry Editor, intro-duced Art. Bruce and Tom Tredway are publishing a collection of Mampel’s poems—Antlers in the Treetops. You can order copies for $10 through Pietisten.

Cutting the cake again for the first time

August 5. The family and friends of Muriel and Elder Lindahl (about 75 of them) gathered in the dining hall of Covenant Point on Hagerman Lake in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to celebrate Elder and Muriel’s 50 years of marriage.

This grand party was put together by the four children and their families. The children have provided their parents with six grandchildren. The two generations performed skits portraying the Lindahls’ courtship, presented a slide show, and graced us with songs. All this while, we were enjoying a delicious dinner prepared by Elsie Swanson. The hospitality we found in the Upper Peninsula matched its beautiful woods and pure lakes.

A sauna and swim in fresh, clear, cool Golden Lake capped the weekend for this writer as the Golden Anniversary couple continued celebrating at their cabin on the lake appropriately named for the occasion.

Phil Johnson is Editor Emeritus of Pietisten.

See all articles by Phil Johnson