By KELLY BERG
of the Journal
When John G. Rosholt looked up from his threshing into the vast expanse of pines near Alban Corners, he may have envisioned the village that later was named after him. In any case, it was he who caused the village of Rosholt to be located where it was when he built a sawmill next to Jens Rasmussen, the first settler in the Rosholt area. Rosholt built the mill just up the river a bit so he could raise the level of the river without causing problems for the neighbors.
J. G. Rosholt, as he later became known, was the son of Jacob and Johanna Rosholt, who came to Wisconsin from Norway. They settled near Milwaukee for six years and then moved to Waupaca County. The couple was instrumental in creating Scandinavia and Iola. With the help of their children, Jacob and Johanna farmed wheat, corn, oats and potatoes and did some logging on the side. Born in 1850, J. G. was the third of 11 children who lived to adulthood.
Rosholt was not yet 20 when he left home in 1889 to take over controlling interest in a sawmill on Graham Lake. The money he used to purchase the mill was earned by playing the violin at weddings, dances and parties for $1 a night when he was younger.
He operated the mill for more than a decade before moving to Portage County with his second wife, Mathilda Torgerson, who died in childbirth that year. Rosholt’s first wife, Anna Torgerson, Mathilda’s sister, also died in childbirth almost 20 years earlier. Rosholt had one child with Anna, six more with Mathilda and two with his third wife, Dorthea Bestul of Scandinavia.
On Sept. 6,1901, fire broke out in the sawmill, spreading to the lumberyard and office and across the road to destroy Rasmussen’s barn. A new feed mill was built and was run on steam.
At one point during a run of bad luck Rosholt was having, he thought it may have been the foul language he had picked up around the sawmill. He began avoiding swearing, only allowing himself an occasional: “By Hookey.”
Rosholt sold his land for $125,000 in 1902 to let the railroad come through the area. After this, the village grew tremendously. That wasn’t Rosholt’s only contribution to the village, though. A frugal man, he also was fair and generous. He made up the difference each year between church offerings and the budget designated by the central office of the Norwegian Synod. Rosholt also donated land for a park and the first schoolhouse in Rosholt. After the village incorporated in 1907, he served as first president.
When the automobile came along, Rosholt had the first one in the village - a Buick.
In 1904, he founded the village’s first bank, called the State Bank of Rosholt. His sons and grandsons operated the bank after his death in 1929.
More than one Rosholt family member was instrumental in sculpting the village of Rosholt into the community it is today. Malcolm Rosholt, a grandson of J. G. Rosholt through his son, Milton, also has made a name for himself in the village.
Born in 1907, he is known nationally and internationally for his writing, especially of state and local history. He has written more than a dozen books.
In his teen-age years, he was impressed by a missionary’s lecture on China and began saving money for a 1928 tour. He settled in Shanghai, China, for several years and became a reporter and later editor of an English-language newspaper.
Malcolm was married to Margaret Njaa while back in the United States in 1933. Their daughter, Mei-fei, was born in Shanghai.
He served the United States during World War II as an officer in combat
intelligence in China. Rosholt also has served on the board of directors of the
Rosholt State Bank since 1956. Among his other accomplishments are the creation
of the Pioneer Museum in Rosholt. Malcolm served as curator for 43 years,
collecting artifacts and memories.
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