L.E. Nolan & Bertha Miller Nolan

Children were Lewis Earle Nolan, M.D., Donald Edwin Nolan, M.D., Harriet Mary Nolan & Roger Alan Nolan - (Updated April 6, 2004)

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Lewis Elmer Nolan: Railroadman and Poet

Lewis Elmer Nolan, whose nickname was "L.E.," was born March 4, 1870, in Ridgeville Township near Norwalk, Wisc. His parents were Irish immigrants John Nolan and Bridget Reynolds Nolan, who had a small farm in Monroe County in southwest Wisconsin. John died in 1871, leaving L.E. fatherless at the age of 1. He was raised by his unlettered mother with the help of four older brothers and the senior sibling, his sister Mary Ann Nolan. It was a hard-scrabble upbringing on a small farm where money was always scarce. But L.E. took advantage of the public education opportunities afforded him and became a gifted and prolific writer of poetry and letters to his family. He learned Morse Code, how to play the guitar and how take photographs for pay. After high school, he followed his brothers and many other Irish-Americans of the day into railroading.

L.E.'s wife was Bertha Orpha Miller, who was born in Ontario, Wisc. Her parents were Haschall Phelps Miller, M.D., and Harriet Elizabeth Cottrell Miller, who settled in Norwalk, where Dr. Miller was one of the town's leading citizens. Bertha and L.E. married April 12, 1900, in Tomah, Wisc., in a double wedding that also saw the marriage of L.E.'s brother, Levi "Lee" Nolan, to Maimie McGary, whose family, like that of Bertha, were among Norwalk's leading citizens.

Most of L.E.'s working life was spent with the Soo Line, which he joined in 1906 following 10 years' experience with the Great Northern Railway. He had been taught telegraphy by a friendly depot agent at Norwalk and spent much of his early career working as a telegraph agent. He moved around the Upper Midwest a lot with his railroad jobs in the late 1800s and early 1900s, working for a few months at a time at the North Dakota communities of Churches Ferry, Casselton, Mayville, Blanchard and Upham; the Wisconsin community of Turtle Lake; and the Minnesota communities of Herman, Appleton, Browns Valley, Beardsley, and finally, Cass Lake.

Cass Lake, which is surrounded by a Chippewa Indian Reservation in the north central part of Minnesota, was where his children grew up and where he died of pancreatic cancer April 24, 1939, at the age of 69. The town celebrated his contributions to the community by naming a grove of Norway Pine trees he had planted near the Soo Line Depot for him. He was the agent in charge of the depot and the Railway Express office there for many years and was proud of his membership in the Order of Railroad Telegraphers and participated in several of the union's strike actions.

The Northland Times of Bemidji, Minn., reported the dedication of the Lewis E. Nolan Grove on Labor Day, Sept. 6, 1945, by saying the late honoree was remembered for his "fine, up-standing character, a man of refinement, of kindly and friendly disposition and esthetic tastes who especially loved nature and the great out-of-doors and a good, well-meaning former citizen who always during his lifetime sought to be progressive and helpful."

L.E. and Bertha lived in a two-story, white frame house built on lots 22-24 in the Van Pelt Addition to Cass Lake, a short walk from the Depot and the Nolan Grove.

A faded newspaper clip, from the Enid Events of Enid, Okla., contained a column written by A. B. Vadakin, whose path had crossed that of L.E. He wrote, "I met him in the midst of the northland's pines; he was a gray haired, kindly smiling artist of the typed word; his was the knowledge of the north; the phrases of the Chippewas and the melody of rhymed words and thoughts; I liked him; I hoped he likes me. Here are a few lines he gave to me; I think they tell a whole story:"

By L.E. Nolan

Are you a Nature lover,
Have you watched the songbirds hover,
In the treetops warbling sweetest praise?
Have you photo'ed Autumn's shading
When the twilight's shades were shading
When the western sky seemed all ablaze?

When with Nature you're communing
Have you listened to the crooning
Of the pine trees, sweet and low,
Have you sat by a camp fire smoking,
The world forgetting, talking joking?
If you have you'll understand, you'll know.

Why outdoor life is so striking
When along the winding trails you're hiking
Breathing in the fragrance of the air,
you'll understand that feeling
That comes over you a'stealing
You're richer than a multimillionaire.

And when luncheon you're preparing
After giving your soul an airing
Watching dream ships harbor, on the distant shore
Then, in dream you'll sit and wonder
Why! of life you've made a blunder?
Why you hadn't been a vagabond, before.

L.E.'s poetry reached many people of his day because he was regularly published in area newspapers and various railroad magazines. One poem was published in the prestigious National Observer, in about October, 1929:

By L.E. Nolan

Autumn time, the sky so blue,
Dew drops gleam like emeralds
Under the distant sun's dull rays,
It is such a marvelous sight;
The birds have flown to their winter's nest,
All is quiet and serene,
When autumn comes forth gaily dressed,
In colors like a queen.

The forests now of every shade,
The gold, the crimson and the green,
Such beauty was ne'er portrayed,
It only can be seen;
O'er the hills and through the dells,
And in the forest deep,
'Tis like a gleam of fairy-land,
In one's quiet, peaceful sleep.

The human hand cannot paint to show
The wondrous rainbow color shade
Of Autumn time so dear to all,
A picture was ne'er made;
Autumn comes to us each year to thrill
Our hearts with beauty grand
That we may see, may understand,
The magic art of the Creator's hand.

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Bertha Orpha Miller, Activist and School Teacher

Bertha Orpha Miller, whose nickname was "Buffie," was born on November 7. Different records put the year of her birth as 1873, 1879 and 1881. She was a descendent of the Miller family that helped found Springfield, Mass., in the 1650s. She was the activist of her family and worked as a volunteer for the Congregational Church (whose roots extend back to the Pilgrim churches of Massachusetts) and for the Chippewa Indians. She wrote many letters to officialdom on behalf of the downtrodden, especially the Indians who lived on the reservation around Cass Lake. She once made a speech on a Minneapolis radio station about Indian affairs.

An essay she wrote about the Indian custom of gathering wild rice, or Mahnomen, in the lakes of northern Minnesota said, "many of the rice beds have been destroyed by logs that were brought through them by logging companies. This is to be deplored for a great injustice has been done, for the Indians need this food supply that is rightfully theirs. . ."

Like her husband, Bertha also wrote poetry that was published and occasionally read on radio shows in Minnesota and elsewhere; the spirits of her son Donald Edwin Nolan were uplifted when he heard her poem, "The Fir Tree," read on a Boston station on Christmas Day, 1937. She was an accomplished songwriter, both of lyrics and of music. One of her songs was published by W. A. Quincke & Co., a Los Angeles-based firm that had previously published the hit "Mexacali Rose."

Junetime and A Garden Ballad
Text and Music By Bertha Nolan

Junetime and a garden, Blossoms wet with dew,
Silver lace of morning mist,
And spun gold shining through;
Bluebells along the border,
A thrushes lilting strain, Sunlight skies of Azure,
Roses in bloom again.

Junetime and a garden, In the morning hours,
Each blade of grass is silent,
God among the flow'rs. Dew is softly clinging,
Like drops of summer rain,
Morning sings her anthem
And songbirds their refrain.

Bertha was a columnist for the Cass Lake Times, became the first local woman to be elected to public office when she ran for the school board, was the Cass County Republican Chairwoman for many years and campaigned unsuccessfully for the state senate in 1930. Following the death of her husband, she enrolled in State Teachers College in St. Cloud, Minn., where she graduated and received her Minnesota Elementary Teachers Life Certificate in 1942. She supported herself by teaching school in Hackensack, Minn., south of Cass Lake.

A reference letter written to the state director of social welfare in 1940 by college Professor D. S. Brainard said, "Mrs. Nolan is a very brilliant woman intellectually and easily leads all the other students She is quick as well as intelligent, and has a broad, all-inclusive understanding of the current social and historical problems of the nation and of our state. Mrs. Nolan is very cooperative and pleasant to deal with. She is constantly desirous of being a real help to all with whom she is associated. With her ability and with her insight and understanding of the problems and difficulties which so many people are meeting, I feel that Mrs. Nolan would be admirably adapted for placement in a welfare agency. . ."

Bertha died Feb. 23, 1959 in Cass Lake. She is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery there with L.E., their infant son and their daughter. The children of Bertha and L.E. were:

* Lewis Earle Nolan, born March 27, 1901 in Blanchard, N.D. His life is covered on another page.
* Donald Edwin Nolan, born Sept. 21, 1905 in Beardsley, Minn.
* Roger Alan Nolan, born Jan. 15, 1915, at Cass Lake, and died there Jan. 22, 1915, of pneumonia, contracted when somebody left a window open at the hospital.
* Harriet Mary Nolan, born Sept. 20, 1916, at Cass Lake.

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Harriet Nolan, Child of the Great Depression

Harriet Mary Nolan, known as Harriet, was 13 years old when the Stock Market crashed in 1929. While her father was fortunate to keep his job, the already meager family income fell as the railroad cut back its operations in Cass Lake. A letter to her from L.E. in 1931 talked about the need to pay for her dental work, money owed banks in Cass Lake and Bemidji and the impending financial consequence of a coming cutback in freight. "I'll tell you honey it is going to be a hard rub for us to get by, and we must all work together. I have more faith now than I ever had had, but we all must work until we earn and have the cash to pay for things before we buy them."

Harriet worked in the school board and other offices around Cass Lake for many years, spending her summers commuting to Bemidji State Teacher's College, where it took her nearly 30 years to obtain her teaching certificate. She later taught elementary school in Grafton, Wisc.

She married James Ferguson Connor Sept. 30, 1943. He was born Sept. 12, 1920 in Minneapolis, was in the Army when they married and later worked as a salesman. They had a son, James Lewis Connor, born Aug.11, 1944 in Bemidji. Harriet died of breast cancer Jan. 20, 1961.

Known as Jim, their son inherited the Miller love of learning and after graduation from high school in Cedarburg, Wisc., graduated Phi Beta Kappa and cum laud from the University of Minnesota in 1966, obtained a doctorate in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971, taught at the University of Texas and University of Nebraska and then obtained his initial medical degree from the University of Nebraska. His extraordinary scholarship and postdoctoral studies resulted in advanced certification degrees in internal medicine, psychiatry, family medicine and pathology specialties. In 1998, Jim was working part-time as general practictioner in Franklin, Neb., while attending computer programming school in Lincoln.

Jim Connor married Carol Jane Tennant May 21, 1971, in Philadelphia. She was born Nov. 7, 1939, in Queens, N.Y., to Michael P. Tennant and Lillian J. Brown Tennant. Carol is the director of libraries in Lincoln, Neb., where she and Jim maintain their home.

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Donald Edwin Nolan, M.D., VA Hospital Leader

Donald Edwin Nolan was born Sept. 21, 1905 in Beardsley, Minn., the second child of Lewis Elmer Nolan and Bertha Orpha Miller Nolan. He attended first and second grades at Superior, Wisc., then moved to Cass Lake, Minn., with his family in 1914. It was there that he learned to fish, walk silently in the woods Indian-style and speak some native tongue.

Like in other hard-working Irish families, Don worked as a boy and contributed to the family income. Among his jobs were piling wood at a local sawmill, joining big brother Lewis selling woolen goods door-to-door and later traveling the Northwest as a garden seed salesman during the summertime. Don graduated from high school in 1924 and later entered the University of Minnesota with encouragement and financial help from Lewis.

He helped pay college expenses by joining the ROTC and after graduation in 1935 from medical school was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army Medical Corps. He did his internship at Minneapolis General Hospital and while there met Margaret Julia Stanley, who was born in Minneapolis Aug. 11, 1915. They married March 26, 1934, in Watertown, S.D.

Don spent most of his medical career working for the federal government, beginning at a Civilian Conservation Camp at Bagley, Minn. He moved to Los Angeles in 1936, where he practiced internal medicine at the Veterans Administration Hospital, and was later transferred to VA Hospitals at Wichita, Kan., and then Dayton, Ohio. He maintained his commission in the Army Reserve through World War II and eventually retired as a lieutenant colonel.

In 1950, Don was transferred to Seattle, to become chief administrator of the new VA hospital under construction there, a 325-bed facility that he said in a newspaper column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of March 25, 1951, "will bring to this area one of the finest medical institutions in the country." He was awarded many honors and held much prestige in Seattle for his leadership at the hospital, retiring in 1968 at the age of 63.

He spent his retirement years with Margaret at the family's lakeside home at Lake Sammamish near Redmond, on the outskirts of Seattle. He died Nov. 20, 1994. He was cremated and his ashes were placed at Sunset Hills Cemetery. Margaret later moved to nearby Redmond, Wash. She died April 4, 2004 and her ashes were placed next to those of Don. The children of Don and Margaret Nolan are:

* Dr. Donald Edwin Nolan Jr., born Feb. 21, 1937, in Bemidji. Known as "Donnie," he became a dentist and married Donna Mae Turner in 1960. They had two children, Barbara Lynn Nolan, born Aug. 24, 1964, and Richard Lance Nolan, born Oct. 11, 1966. Donnie became a locally celebrated race car driver. He and Donna divorced and he later remarried and maintains his home in Federal Way, Wash., south of Seattle.

* Richard Lewis Nolan, PhD, born April 28, 1940, in Wichita, Kan. Known as "Dick," he married Pamela Marie Frick July 8, 1966, in Seattle. Dick obtained his doctorate degree in business from the University of Washington and later became an endowed professor at Harvard Business School. He founded an international computing systems management consulting company, Nolan, Norton & Co., which was bought by the gigantic accounting firm of Peat Marwick in 1986. Dick returned to Harvard and has written more than 20 books. He and Pamela maintain homes in Cambridge, Mass., and on the Maine coast.

Dick and Pam have two children, Sean Patrick Nolan, born March 18, 1969, in Falls Church, Va., and Benjamin Garrett Nolan, born Aug. 23, 1974, in Boston.
Sean, owner of a Seattle software company, married Lara Dilg in June, 1992; they have two children, Alexandra Nolan and Connor Patrick Garrett Nolan. Ben is working on a PhD in organic chemistry at Colorado State University.

* Michael Lee Nolan, born June 3, 1943, in Dayton. He married LeAnn Brandt June 6, 1966, in Wapato, Wash. Both taught school in Vancouver, Wash. They have a daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Nolan, born Sept. 27, 1971, in Portland, Ore.

* Timothy Shawn Nolan, born April 3, 1950, in Dayton. He worked as a commercial artist and lived with his mother near Redmond, Wash., until he died of a massive heart attack at the age of 53 while cyling March 20, 2003.

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