Some time ago, I wrote about my best friend from high school, Rob Carroll (Friends for life: Rob and me), and recalled how we stayed in touch over the years, even though we didn’t see each other often. Rob remained in California after high school and I moved back to Minnesota, where I went to college and where I live today.
My mother, Patricia Femrite Bergeson (Patty), had a similar experience in her life, although a couple of her friendships were even longer-lasting than mine. Patty had a lifelong friendship that began in childhood with Alvhild Margaret Slen. Most folks knew Alvhild simply as “Avy”.
Avy and Patty grew up in Madison, Minnesota, a small town on the western edge of the state. Avy had four siblings while my mother was an only child. They became fast friends at an early age.
Their family backgrounds were grounded firmly in the Scandinavian immigrant experience and the Lutheran church. The political interests of their parents, however, were polar opposites.
Avy’s father, Theodor Slen, was a powerful influence in Minnesota politics as a co-founder of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL). Most of his vocational life was as a judge in Lac Qui Parle County.
Patty’s father, Hiram Femrite, was a life-long member of the Republican Party and even ran on the GOP ticket one year as a candidate for County Auditor. Both men were very opinionated and outspoken individuals, but I’ve never known if the political involvement of their fathers had any negative impact on Patty and Avy’s friendship.
The girls’ primary and secondary school years were spent in the usual childhood pursuits: dress-up, play acting, family picnics, church-going, musical performances, etc. Photo albums show that summer was for swimming in the town pool and boating at resorts.
In high school, the girls were both high energy performers. Both of them were in band and orchestra where Patty played the stand-up bass and Avy played French horn. They were in a vocal group called “Triple Trio” (it had 9 voices) and sang in the mixed chorus. Avy was in theater and edited “The Rouser”, the monthly school newspaper and my mother wrote for “The Rouser”, the school yearbook. At graduation, Avy was the class valedictorian and my mother was the salutatorian.
(Click on each picture below or use your index finger and thumb to enlarge it.)
Patty and Avy entered St. Olaf College in the fall of 1945. While in college they had different academic interests. Patty was a biology major and Avy majored in English, so Patty was in Biology Club and Avy wrote for the Manitou Messenger, the student newspaper on campus.
Avy and her brother Mark, also a St. Olaf student, carried on their father’s political activity by both participating in student government. Avy was Secretary of the student body in her junior year and a member of Women’s Senate both junior and senior years.
Avy and Patty had several common extra-curricular passions where they maintained their friendship bond. One was music. Patty was an accomplished pianist and took organ and piano lessons while in college. Avy continued to be an inveterate singer. They both belonged to Idun Edda, the Norwegian heritage/literary society, which met regularly to hear from visiting lecturers from around the country and from Norway.
Mom and Avy graduated from St. Olaf in 1949 along with future husbands, Al Sherve (Avy) and Bob Bergeson (Patty).
As the two couples began to raise their families, they went in different geographic directions. Avy and Al settled in North Dakota and Bob and Patty did a Minnesota/California/Minnesota dance. Every time Bob and Patty took the family road-tripping west from Minnesota, they stopped in Jamestown, ND for a visit with Avy and Al. When our family lived for six years in southern California, the Sherves spent enough time with us that we could show them what great Disneyland hosts and beach bums we had become.
After Avy and Al retired in 1989, they moved to Hackensack, Minnesota on the shore of Birch Lake. My parents visited them often along with the rest of their St. Olaf gang of friends.
Patty passed away in 1999. Al Sherve died shortly after that and within a year of his passing Avy moved from Hackensack to Northfield. In the following years I saw her periodically at my orchestra concerts or other musical events in town. I visited with her at her condo and invited her to some of our family gatherings. She always made a point of telling me that she thought of Patty every single day and would then recall something from their childhood. One time she drew me a map of her hometown so that I could see where my mother’s first house was. I never knew the Femrites lived at more than one address in Madison!
Avy began to have memory issues in 2019 and moved into an assisted living facility so for many months I was only able to hear news about her from a mutual friend. When COVID-19 hit, it became impossible to even find out her condition. However, in February 2021 I reached out to Avy’s daughter, Anne Sherve-Ose, and she invited me to see Avy when Ann came to visit with her brother Mark. We couldn’t go in the building, but we were able to converse through a big window using our phones. We even sang some camp songs and hymns. I was not expecting her to recognize me, but she did! It was a relief to see her again. As it turned out, it was the last time.
Avy died in August, but her funeral was delayed until October due to pandemic concerns. Anne asked me and two colleagues of mine from the Cannon Valley Regional Orchestra to provide some of the music for the occasion. I was skeptical of what a trio of violin, French horn and trumpet would sound like, but Anne did some brilliant arranging and it turned out beautifully! I was honored to be included in the service.
True friendship is a profound blessing to be celebrated and treasured. I’m pretty sure that I learned that from watching my parents and their friends.