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Karl Fritjof Rolvaag

State of Minnesota's official oil painting of governor Karl Fritjof Rolvaag

In office
March 25, 1963 – January 2, 1967
Lieutenant Alexander M. Keith
Preceded by Elmer L. Andersen
Succeeded by Harold LeVander

Born July 18, 1913(1913-07-18)
Northfield, Minnesota

Minnesota United States

Died December 20, 1990 (aged 77)
Northfield, Minnesota

Minnesota United States

Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Florence Boedeker
Profession politician, soldier
Religion Lutheran

Karl Fritjof Rolvaag (July 18, 1913 – December 20, 1990) was a U.S. politician and the son of Norwegian-American author and professor Ole E. Rølvaag. He served as the 31st Governor of Minnesota from March 25, 1963 to January 2, 1967 as a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party.

The 1962 election was held November 6, 1962, but the results of the race for governor were not known until a 139-day recount was completed in March 1963. Rolvaag won the closest gubernatorial election in state history by defeating incumbent Elmer L. Andersen by just 91 votes out of over 1.3 million cast.

A native of Northfield, Minnesota, Rolvaag lived in his home town before fighting in World War II, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant and commanded a tank. After the war, he went to Norway to learn about politics before returning home to Minnesota. After his return, Rolvaag became the head of Minnesota's DFL Party. In 1954 he ran successfully for the office of lieutenant governor. After serving in that capacity for eight years, Rolvaag mounted his successful campaign for governor in 1962.

Rolvaag was the first Minnesota governor to serve a four-year term, but due to continuous wrangling between the DFL governor and the conservative-controlled legislature, there were few notable achievements during his term. However, he is remembered for a leadership role in bringing reform to the state's institutions for the mentally retarded, leading to improved conditions and treatment for people with developmental disabilities. Also, the populist-minded governor changed the organization of the state's junior colleges. Formerly, the local school board ran each college separately; Rolvaag designed a coordinated statewide system and announced a goal of putting each Minnesotan within commuting distance of an institution of higher education.

When Rolvaag came up for reelection in 1966, his party denied him its endorsement, opting instead for Lieutenant Governor A. M. (Sandy) Keith. Rolvaag entered the DFL's primary with a cry of "Let the people decide!" and roundly defeated Keith in the primary. However, he lost to Republican Harold LeVander in the general election in November.

In 1967, after leaving office, Rolvaag was appointed United States Ambassador to Iceland by President Lyndon Johnson. He returned to Minnesota in 1970 and was elected to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission. He resigned that post in 1975 in order to seek treatment for alcoholism. Rolvaag stayed out of politics the rest of his life, but he helped others work through their own problems with alcoholism, attending meetings and giving talks in places as nearby as his hometown of Northfield and as far off as Sweden.

He died at his home in Northfield on December 20, 1990, aged 77, having been ill with a heart condition.


Political offices
Preceded by
Donald O. Wright
36th Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota
1955 – 1963
Succeeded by
Alexander M. Keith
Preceded by
Elmer L. Andersen
31st Governor of Minnesota
1963 – 1967
Succeeded by
Harold LeVander


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