Founded in 1910, the Camrose Lutheran College was a prestigious addition to the community. Built to provide the region’s large Norwegian Lutheran population with a nearby centre of higher education, in keeping with their cultural traditions, the college succeeded in drawing large numbers of students from across the prairie provinces to Camrose.1 Though the faculty met with Edmonton militia Captain George Cruikshank almost immediately after the outbreak of hostilities to discuss the formation of a University Cadet Corps, neither the archives of the University of Alberta nor those of the Camrose Canadian record much activity in the direction of the war effort, and in fact, the bulk of the Camrose area recruits for the University Corps that were formed to place college and university students within their ranks came from the nearby Camrose Normal school.2 However, lack of reported war-related activities did not also mean a lack of activity in general, as attendance levels at the little institution soared as the warraged, with the 1917-1918 academic year in particular being judged “one of the best years of the college.”3
One exception to this seeming trend of quietly working through the war, though, was Chester Ronning. Born in 1894 to Norwegian-American Lutheran missionary parents in the Hupei region of China, Ronning would go on to become perhaps the most famous and influential of the Camrose Lutheran College’s alumni.4
In 1907, dealing with the loss of his wife to illness and the increased hostility stemming from the general anti-foreigner sentiment that had lead to and was exacerbated by the Boxer Rebellion, Ronning’s father Halvor sent Chester and his elder brother Nelius to return to the United States while he and remainder of the family stayed in China to complete his missionary duties. 5 Ultimately arriving in Radcliffe, Iowa, the brothers stayed with their uncle Albert long enough to attend school, where they were initially mocked by their classmates as “China[men]” before eventually winning acceptance from the other boys. Soon, however, they were sent on to Bardo, Alberta near Camrose to take up residence with another relative, prior to the arrival of their father and the rest of their siblings in 1908, though the reunion was complicated by their youngest sister being able to speak only Chinese.6
In Bardo, Chester and Nelius would again face hostility from their schoolfellows, this time over their American connections and sympathies, sometimes resulting in fist-fights when their pro-American, anti-British feelings became a point of contention. However, the pair eventually accepted the then-common Canadian point of view that the British Empire had preserved Canada from Yankee perfidy, and in Ronning’s own estimation, they “became very good Canadians and very loyal Canadians”. 7
Enrolling in Camrose Lutheran College in the spring of 1913, Ronning would lead an adventurous life in education for the next few years, variously attending not only CLC but also Camrose Normal School and the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Pursuing a teacher’s certificate, at one point he creatively registered as a student in a class that he was overseeing as a teaching assistant in order to obtain the necessary qualifications in agricultural studies to pass the provincial exams, acquiring his certificate in the spring of 1917 at the age of 23.8
From there, however, Ronning went not into teaching but into the military. Having undergone officer training while at the University of Alberta in 1915 and 1916, the pro-British feelings that had previously been cultivated in Ronning were further stirred by encounters with patriotic students from Britain, experiences which ultimately motivated Ronning and his brother to enlist, despite their father’s opposition to the war. The two would join the Royal Flying Corps as pilot trainees, but, perhaps fortunately for them, the Armistice was signed while they were still in flight school. Thus ended one particular brush of Camrose Lutheran College with the Great War, though Ronning, discharged from the armed forces, continued to teach wearing his military uniform until he had enough money to purchase a proper suit, ensuring that the memory of the conflict would stay fresh in the minds of his students for some time to come. 9
- Evans, Brian L. The Remarkable Chester Ronning, Proud Son of China (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2013), 68-69.
- The Camrose Canadian. “Heard on Main Street.” October 29, 1914. http://ourfutureourpast.ca/newspapr/np_page2.asp?code=n68p1116.jpg
- The Camrose Canadian. “Annual Meeting of College Association.” July 18, 1918. http://ourfutureourpast.ca/newspapr/np_page2.asp?code=nf0p0205.jpg
- Evans, Brian L. The Remarkable Chester Ronning, Proud Son of China (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2013), 2.
- Evans, Brian L. The Remarkable Chester Ronning, Proud Son of China (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2013), 18.
- Evans, Brian L. The Remarkable Chester Ronning, Proud Son of China (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2013), 22-23.
- Evans, Brian L. The Remarkable Chester Ronning, Proud Son of China (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2013), 24.
- Evans, Brian L. The Remarkable Chester Ronning, Proud Son of China (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2013), 27-30.
- Evans, Brian L. The Remarkable Chester Ronning, Proud Son of China (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2013), 31-33.