by John E. Xavier
Some Main Points of Johan U. Xavier's Life
Luther College, Decorah, Iowa - instructor of drawing, as Undergrad Assistant
Lutheran Ladies Seminary, at Red Wing, Minnesota, -1898(?)-1903 - Professor: theology, history, writing
Pacific Lutheran (Academy) Parkland, Washington - Professor: theology, biology, etc., librarian
Pacific Lutheran University - President, 1920-21, re-organization (PLU re-opened after World War I)
Parochial Schools, Minnesota - teacher
Public schools, Tacoma - teacher
(Note: Xavier Hall on the campus of PLU is named for Johan. The building has served in several ways: library, classroom space, and office space)
AB, Luther College, Decorah, Iowa
CT, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota
University of Minnesota, graduate studies
Lifetime Teaching Certificate, University of Washington (UW), Seattle
MA, UW, Seattle (Thesis: Swedish poet Gustav Froding)
Honorary Doctorate, Pacific Lutheran University (First such degree awarded by PLU)
Other Work or Trade-related Areas
Pastor - Norwegian Lutheran Churches, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pacific Northwest, as interim, "pinch hitter"
Church Leader - officer at various local levels; national delegate, Norwegian Lutheran Church conventions
Publisher/Editor- Johan hand-published several theological essays (including about one of the Ylvisakers), edited the Pacific Harold in the early 1900s and published various articles in area magazines.
Johan was closely tied to his immediate family. He was instrumental in persuading his parents, Nils Paul and Amanda (Norum) Xavier and seven of the nine Xavier siblings to move to the Pacific Northwest, after his own move there in 1904. There were two exceptions to this family migration. First, the eldest brother, Rev. Karl Xavier, who remained with his second wife, Bina, in the Midwest; and, second, sister, Marit, who lived with her husband Rev. Anders O. Aasen in the Midwest. (Only much later did the Aasen family head west, and that was largely into Canada, in the Western Provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.)
Brothers Nils Paul Xavier (II, sometimes "Neal," but never Junior)) and Henrich Muller Xavier ("Henry" but never, ever, "Hank") spent many years in Alaska. The two brothers were heavily engaged gold mining, newspapering, and education in the Nome, Alaska area and moved back and forth according to seasons or family reasons between Alaska and the Seattle area. Neal and Henry were also sponsors of sorts for youngest brother, Gothard ("Garth") in his forays into gold mining. Later, Garth entered the US Army in 1917 for World War I service, in the famous 20th Engineers and served in the forestry-related production and furnishing of building materials in France. Garth in the post-war era remained in the lumber industry.
In 1912, Johan was married at age 42 to Signe Skattebol, age 25. Signe, a PLU graduate, was related to the Heyerdahl family through her mother. Signe was an active individual and for several years filled the role of coach ("charge") of the women's basketball team at PLU. Johan and Signe had two children, adopted, Paul and Barbara. Paul, who worked in a CCC or WPA program during the Great Depression became a career US Navy petty officer. Barbara, who graduated from PLU, married Robert Clark, a US Air Force officer, who after a career in the Air Force, became affiliated with the NASA space program in Florida and other locations. Robert and Barbara were personally acquainted with the first "Lucky Seven" astronauts, and others as well.
Johan U. Xavier was closely connected to the Saami comunities in the Pacific Northwest. This was especially true in the Poulsbo area of Kitsap County, where Johan's Saami first cousin, Johan S. Tornensis, became the largest landowner in that county. (Initials are required here, as there were several Johans of the Tornensis family.) Johan S. Tornensis had originally been involved in a US Government project to introduce reindeer to the Alaskan food chain. This project, the Reindeer Project, engaged on a contract basis a number of Saami. Johan S. stayed on, and by the very early 1900s had made a considerable fortune in the gold mines of the Nome area in Alaska Territory There he had been an important figure in organizing and then legally protecting gold mining districts.
Most notably, Johan S. was active in the drawn-out legal struggles to defend Saami and Scandinavian property rights in the gold mining districts of the Nome area. North Dakota Republican machine boss, Alexander McKenzie, had conspired at the highest levels of government to take over the Nome gold field. "Big Alec," also known by some as "Alexander the Great," prevailed for considerable time and at considerable profit, but was finally foiled. McKenzie had to disgorge his ill-gotten gains and briefly served jail time until pardoned by President William McKinley. Honest government and military officials in the Territory of Alaska, Oregon, and California with great difficulty prevailed over McKenzie, and the mines were returned to the rightful owners.
Following the gold rush, Johan S. Tornensis and Johan Xavier were later among the key magnets to attract Saami and Saami Americans to the Seattle area.
Johan U. Xavier's father, Rev. N.P. Xavier, in semi-retirement, maintained relations with several churches in the Pugent Sound area, where the old Arctic connections ran deep. An example is that of the Oaxa family, some of whom had immigrated to the US and whose family had been linked to N.P. Xavier in his twenties and thirties in the Alta area. The Oaxa partriarch, Waldemar, gave rise to the name of N.P. and Amanda's youngest son, Waldemar Gothard ("Garth") Xavier.
Two of Johan Xavier's brothers, Nils Paul ("Neal") Xavier II and Henrich ("Henry") Muller Xavier were gold miners, newspapermen, and involved in aspects of reindeer herding, and rural education--all in the Nome area, especially in Teller Station. The Xavier connection was strong to those Saami remaining in Alaska following the Reindeer Project era, as about one-half of them were related to the Xaviers. These relations of blood and marriage were due to the Tornensis, Haetta, and other family connections. (Johan's father, Nils Paul Xavier, was born of Johan O. Tornensis and Marit Qvanagen).
On the PLU side of things, Johan's younger sister Anna Charlotte Xavier was recruited by him in 1904 to be on the teaching staff there. Anna, who often suffered ill health, was an artistic woman who taught fine needlework. She had been well-trained in that discipline, at home and at the Lutheran Ladies' Seminary in Red Wing. That discipline at the time was considered as an important one for creative training and for home decoration. Anna, for whom Johan had built an addition for his bachelor home, also was offered a chicken coop compliments of Johan's carpentry skills, so she could keep chickens and gather eggs in free time. Anna continued to bear the burden of declining health, and died as a young woman in 1907.
PLU Archivist, Dr. Kirsten Rindal Shares Material with Xavier Family in 2004
PLU was the site of the Xavier Family Reunion of 2004. While the family was in residence on campus, several family members spent time with Dr. Kirsten Rindal, the PLU Archivist. Among those present were Edith (Bethke) Xavier, Becky Selid Mattson, Mary X. LaBelle, and John E. Xavier. Dr. Rindal spent time explaining the archives, particularly the acquisition of the extensive papers of Johan U. Xavier. Barbara X. Clark had gifted those papers, including J.U. Xavier's personal journals, to PLU. Worthy of note is that Johan and Signe Xavier both participated in the Xavier Family Reunion of 1956, held in Tacoma. Proof of this participation was found, among other evidence, in an entry by Johan extolling the golf prowess of nephew Valdemar Xavier, who tallied a hole-in-one at a Reunion golf outing. (Mary X. LaBelle, daughter of Valdemar, obtained a photocopy of said entry for her family records.)
Dr. Rindal explained several stories of Johan's colorful life to several family members. One oddity noted among several in Johan's journals was that during World War I, he never openly mentioned the war. This in spite of the vast implications, including his own stint as a carpenter at Ft. Lewis and the fact that his brother, Garth, was caught up in the then-top news event of early 1918, the torpedoing of the troop ship Tuscania. (Garth survived and went on to serve with an engineering outfit in France). In Johan's defense, the year of 1918 was very intensely draining on the emotional level, as father Nils Paul died that years and brother Karl was beset with several on-going crises. Johan may simply not have had the will or energy to make journal entries about what was then known as The Great War.
As a major souvenir effort of the 2004 Xavier Reunion, various Xavier Family members also posed for photos in front of the Xavier Hall building and sign. As usual, reunion t-shirts featuring PLU were in evidence, as well.
Sources: [This section still in progress, per JEX, November, 2012]
Philip A.Nordquist, Educating for Service: Pacific Lutheran University, 1890-1990. Tacoma, WA: Pacific Lutheran University Press, 1991;
Johan U. Xavier, List of Descendents of NP and Amanda Xavier Family, Parkland, WA: Self published mimeograph report, 1960, pp. 1-8
Johan U. Xavier, [Credential papers - education and work experience], Parkland, WA: Self published filing cards, no date. Pacific Lutheran University, Archive Summary: Papers of J.U.Xavier. Parkland, WA: PLU, 2004; pp. 1-12.
Olaf M. Norlie, et al., Luther College Through Sixty Years 1861-1921. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1923.
Olaf M. Norlie, et al., Who's Who Among Pastors in the Norwegian Lutheran Churches of North America. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1928.
Olaf M. Norlie, et al., School Calendar: Teachers and Educators in Norwegian Lutheran Schools and Colleges. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1924. Includes Johan U. Xavier, Signe (Skattebol) Xavier, and Anna Charlotte Xavier as faculty at PLU.
Olaf M. Norlie, et al., Norsk Lutherske Minigheten i Amerika. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1918. Includes the Teller Station and other areas of the Reindeer Project near Nome, the bailiwick of Rev. Tollef Breivig; pp. 391-392.
Carl Lomen, Fifty Years in Alaska
Carlson, Gold Mining in Nome