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Karl Rolvaag

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Subject: Elmer L. Andersen, Sandy Keith, List of Governors of Minnesota, Minnesota gubernatorial election, 1962, Orville Freeman
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Karl Rolvaag

Karl Rolvaag
Rolvaag in 1963
31st Governor of Minnesota
In office
March 25, 1963 – January 2, 1967
Lieutenant Alexander M. Keith
Preceded by Elmer L. Andersen
Succeeded by Harold LeVander
36th Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 8, 1963
Governor Ancher Nelsen
Preceded by Donald O. Wright
Succeeded by Alexander M. Keith
Personal details
Born Karl Fritjof Rolvaag
(1913-07-18)July 18, 1913
Northfield, Minnesota
Died December 20, 1990(1990-12-20) (aged 77)
Northfield, Minnesota
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Florence Boedeker
Profession politician, soldier
Religion Lutheran

Karl Fritjof Rolvaag (July 18, 1913 – December 20, 1990) was a American politician who 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. He was the son of Norwegian-American author and professor Ole E. Rølvaag.

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. Rolvaag is just one of four Minnesota Democrats to win a gubernatorial election with a Democrat in the White House.[1]

A native of Northfield, Minnesota, Rolvaag lived in his home town and graduated from St. Olaf College 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 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.


  • Minnesota Historical Society, Karl F. (Fritjof) Rolvaag
  • The New York Times, Ex-Gov. Karl Rolvaag, Minnesotan, 78, Dies, December 21, 1990


Correspondence, political files, subject files, personal files, news clippings, print materials, and sound and visual materials of Karl F. Rolvaag are available for research use at the Minnesota Historical Society.[2]

Political offices
Preceded by
Donald O. Wright
Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Alexander M. Keith
Preceded by
Elmer L. Andersen
Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by
Harold LeVander
Party political offices
Preceded by
Orville Freeman
Endorsed Gubernatorial Candidate,
Minnesota DFL State Convention

Succeeded by
Alexander Keith
DFL nominee for Governor of Minnesota
1962, 1966
Succeeded by
Wendell Anderson


  1. ^ Ostermeier, Eric (December 6, 2013). "Can Dayton Catch Lightning in a Bottle Twice?". Smart Politics. 
  2. ^
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