Aase Haugen’s life paralleled the life of Theodora Cormontan in some respects. Both were born in Norway: Theodora in 1840 and Aase in 1841. Both immigrated to the U.S., Aase to Iowa in 1854 and Theodora to Minnesota in 1887. At age 13, Aase took over the responsibility of caring for her father and the other children when her mother died during the family’s journey from Norway, while Theodora helped care for her father when her mother died in 1865. Due at least somewhat to familial responsibilities, neither woman married. Both survived the passing of their fathers and other siblings.
In contrast, the Haugen family enjoyed financial success as farmers while the Cormontan family experienced economic decline and poverty. In 1910, as the sole proprietor of a significant estate with no heirs, Aase willed the 240 acre farm located five miles southwest of Decorah, Iowa and the rest of her estate to the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America to establish and maintain a home for seniors; the “Aase Haugen Home.”
(above) A contemporary view of the Aase Haugen Home, now a private residence.
In 1911 Rev. Otto Schmidt, pastor of Aase’s home church (Decorah Lutheran), organized and led a drive to collect donations to assist in making Aase’s vision a reality. A building that could house 50 residents was constructed on the farm site in 1914 and opened for operation in 1915. Rev. Schmidt resigned as pastor of the Decorah church to become the first superintendent of the Home, a position he held until 1944. In 1963 a new one-story Aase Haugen Home was built in Decorah, and in 1974 the last of the residents of the Old Home moved to the new facility.
(above) The handwritten record from the Aase Haugen Home for Theodora and Eivinda Cormontan.
Less than two months after their brother C.G.V. died, Theodora and Eivinda Cormontan became the 65th and 66th residents to enter the Home. Most of the people who lived there were first-generation Norwegian-Americans. Residents were encouraged to participate in the work that needed to be done on the fully-operational farm, and Theodora appears to have contributed to the music presented in chapel services conducted at the Home. One of the books from her personal library that came to us in 2011 was a Lindeman’s Koralbog, a Lutheran Church hymnal originally published in the 1870’s for use in the Church of Norway. Theodora’s signature may be found on the title page, and on the following page she wrote “Tilhorer [Property of] Theodora Cormontan. 1922. A.H.H. [Aase Haugen Home], Decorah, Iowa."
Theodora Cormontan passed away at the Home on October 26, 1922, at the age of 82. The Winneshiek County Record of Death reports that she died of "Mitral Insufficiency." This is more commonly known as "Mitral Regurgitation," a disorder of the heart in which the mitral valve does not close properly when the heart pumps out blood. It is the most common form of valvular heart disease. Probably due to errors in the Home records (see above), on her tombstone Theodora's last name is misspelled and the year of her birth is wrong.
The following obituary appeared on page 2 of the November 1, 1922 edition of the Decorah Public Opinion:
Deaths at Old Peoples Home. Two deaths of aged inmates of the Old Peoples Home occurred last week. On Wednesday Mrs. Karen Bruhelle passed away, aged 86 years, and on Thursday Theodora Nicolin [sic] Cormonton [sic] passed away, aged 84 years [sic]. Both deaths were due to the infirmities of old age. The funeral services were held Saturday afternoon from the Old Peoples Home, and interment was in the Assa [sic] Haugen cemetery. Both women had been at the home for quite a while and came to the home from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
It is likely that Rev. Schmidt officiated at the funeral and that the pastor’s wife, Mollie Helgerson Schmidt, was also present. Mollie was a musician and a friend of Theodora’s, and Theodora gave her original compositions and music library to Mollie before Theodora died. Theodora's sister Eivinda died of a stroke on November 8, 1924. The attending physician for both Theodora and Eivinda was Dr. Trond N. Stabo (1870-1946). A first generation Norwegian-American, Dr. Stabo served on the Board of Trustees for Luther College in Decorah and was a Norwegian vice consul.
(above) Theodora Cormontan sitting on the front porch of the Aase Haugen Home circa 1920.
More information on Aase Haugen and the Aase Haugen Home:
*Aase walked ten miles round trip to study her confirmation lessons in the Lutheran faith. She'd had little schooling in Norway because girls were not taught arithmetic or writing at that time, but Aase was confirmed in 1856 at age 15 with academic honors.
*While still in her teens, Aase became engaged to another Norwegian immigrant, but her father forbid her to marry because she was needed to run his household and care for the younger children. Her suitor died shortly after this, and Aase wore the engagement ring he gave her for the rest of her life.
*By 1893 Aase was the only one left in her family. Describing this time, she said "The days and the years are dark and dreary." Left with a sizable estate, she supported needy families and young men studying to become pastors. She gave $1,650 to the Decorah Lutheran Church for a new pipe organ. She died of cancer on August 13, 1910 at the age of 69.
*The 6/15/1911 edition of the Decorah Republican reported that the Home was originally planned for "the old women in this [Winneshiek] County." The June 29 edition of the paper noted that there was some thought of locating the Home at the recently closed St. Ansgar Academy , but the Haugen farm was always the first choice.
*The Republican reported on 9/21/1911 that Aase Haugen's will was being contested, even though she had been recognized as the sole heir by 1893. The challenge to the will was dropped before the end of 1912.
*In 1911 Rev. Otto Schmidt raised $32,500 in subscriptions to erect the Home, basically matching the estimated cost to build it. Schmidt resigned as pastor of the United Lutheran Church in Decorah by the end of March, 1915 to become the first administrator of the Home, and ably served in that capacity until his retirement in 1944. He was succeeded by Pastor T. T. Thompson (1944-1954) and Pastor Virgil C. Hougen (1954-1975). In 1974 the last residents moved into the new Aase Haugen facility in Decorah. In 1975 the original building was sold to the directors of the South Bear School, Dean Schwarz and John Nellermoe. Summer classes in pottery, painting, poetry, spinning, weaving and dyeing were offered for a number of years. Presently  the Home is owned by Lane Schwarz and serves as the home for his family as well as for his parents , Dean and Gerry.
*The construction of the Aase Haugen Home began in 1914. The building was completed in nine months. The workers stayed in tents during the six-day work week. Building materials came by train and were hauled up the hill to the building site by mules.
*The first resident, Civil War veteran Ivar Brandt, moved into the Home in February, 1915. By March 9 of that year the Home had 10-12 residents, and the number increased to 26 by the end of the year.
*The Home had 70 rooms, 9 bathrooms, a large kitchen, a women's dining room, a men's dining room, a women's sewing room, a men's card playing room, a chapel, laundry room and nurses' office. The Republican [?] reported in 3/4/1915 that the facility included "Oak furniture of a pleasing design," two fourteen-foot dining tables, a boiler for heat, a "storage battery" for lighting, an "inter telephone system," a hose attached to a water system on each floor to stop fires, and "a large power vacuum cleaner."
*From the 10/3/1917 edition of the Decorah Public Opinion: "The 'boys' of the AHH hereby wish to express their thanks and appreciation to the gentleman of Decorah who twice, so generously has remembered them with a box of cigars. The gentleman is an honored businessman of Decorah who has a warm heart fo the Old Boys. They appreciate his kindness and join in wishing him success and a long life."
The "boys" (and "girls") of the Aase Haugen Home. Picture taken on the Home's front steps in 1916. Reverend Schmidt is in the third row, first person on the left.