Class of 1940 whittled down to one
And then there were one. In 2015, Minneota native and author Dana Yost was researching information for his book “1940: Journal of a Midwestern Town, Story of an Era” based on the Minneota High School Class of 1940.
At that time, six of the 40 members from that class still survived. With the passing of Ardietta (Johnson) Bragg in March, that number was reduced to two.
And on July 26, Art Van Moorlehem passed away at age 96, leaving Arlene (Hovland) Tollefson as the sole survivor from the 1940 class. “I can’t believe that I am the last one left,” said Tollefson, when contacted at the nursing home she now resides at in Montevideo.
“That really surprises me. I thought there were still a few of us left.”
Yost said there of the 19 boys in the 1940 class and that 12 of them served in the military in World War II, including Van Moorlehem. “I interviewed Art Van Moorlehem three times,” said Yost, who now resides in Morris with his wife Rae, who is the news editor of the Stevens County Times.
“He was an important source and voice for the book, especially on his classmates, farming and World War II. Art was a war hero; a soldier of incredible courage.”
Van Moorlehem received numerous military honors, including a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and Combat Badge.
“He and his unit were captured by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge,” Yost said.
“He was sent to Bad Orb prison, which had the highest prisoner death rate of any of the German POW camps during World War II.”
An excerpt from Yost's book includes Van Moorlehem revealing that the U.S. Army did not notify his wife that he had been captured, although she may have known he was missing in action: “She had two kids and there she was — didn’t know if she had a husband or not. She had no phone. Then one night, I came home on a street car [in Chicago] at midnight, 12 o’clock at night.”
“(Art) was sharp, sometimes funny, sometimes sad,” Yost recalls.
“And he remembered several classmates; if not in great detail, it was in detail that was pertinent.” Van Moorlehem died at the Good Samaritan Society in Arlington. Funeral services were held on Saturday, Aug. 4 at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Marshall.
Interment with military honors were at St. Edward Catholic Cemetery in Minneota. Yost interviewed four of the members of the Class of 1940 for his book, including Tollefson.
“I’m grateful that I had a chance to talk to these four people,” he said.
“They had a lot to say and it meant a lot to be able to listen to their stories.” Tollefson lived near Van Moorlehem on a farm outside of Minneota.
“Art and I would ride together to school,” she said. “We didn’t have a bus then. Our parents would take turns bringing us to school.”
And Tollefson remembers Van Moorlehem as being different from the other boys in the class.
“Not all the boys were as nice as him,” she said, laughing. “Some of them would get into trouble and weren’t always nice to the girls. But Art was quiet and treated everyone the same.”
Tollefson was a year younger in school than most of her classmates. She turned 95 on May 22.
“I hadn’t heard that (Van Moorlehem) had passed away,” she said.
“I still can’t believe I’m the only one left from our class. But it was a long time ago that we were in school. I really just don’t know what to think about it.”